The Prize for PerseveranceWritten by Aviva Werner, 11 of November, 2011
When I saw the news headlines announcing that Professor Dan Shechtman, an Israeli, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, I was proud. But when I read further and learned the details of his story, I knew that we just had to interview him for Babaganewz. Professor Shechtman discovered something called quasicrystals, but his fellow scientists initially rejected this discovery. He was mocked, expelled from his scientific group, and made a laughingstock. But he persisted, eventually proving the truth in his discovery and now winning the coveted Nobel Prize for it. Professor Shechtman is not only a brilliant scientist; he is a role model of Jewish values for our children, particularly the value of hatmadah (perseverance).
But how does one go about contacting a famous personality like Professor Shechtman for an interview? Well, when it’s a Hollywood celebrity we want to interview, we turn to Gerri Miller, an entertainment writer from Los Angeles. Thanks to Gerri’s connections, Babaganewz has featured the likes of Zachary Gordon and Marissa Jaret Winokur. When we want to interview someone in government—American or Israeli—we usually work through the official’s office or PR department. That’s how we’ve scored interviews over the years with senators (including Senator Russ Feingold), Supreme Court justices (including Ruth Bader Ginsburg), and so many others.
But how could we connect with Dan Shechtman, an Israeli university professor, a few days after the announcement that he won the Nobel Prize? I assigned the interview to Babaganewz writer Howard Blas. Howard’s first stab at the assignment had him tracking down leads at Israeli universities, looking for a personal connection to Shechtman. But then, in a moment of brilliance, Howard tried the obvious: He e-mailed the professor directly at the address listed on the Technion’s website. And sure enough, Professor Shechtman himself responded immediately: “Howard, I will be happy to help… Danny.” Says Howard, “This is what I love about Israel and Israelis—they are accessible!”
It was a strong interview. Professor Shechtman shared with Howard and our Babaganewz readers why he wanted to be a scientist, how he suffered for his beliefs, and why he persevered. For example, when asked how people reacted to his discovery, Shechtman answered, “Friends tried to divert me to the right directions; enemies tried to mock me and expel me from the scientific group. In the first year or two, life was not easy; that is okay—some suffer for their beliefs. The Jewish people have suffered for thousands of years for their beliefs. I knew I was right and can prove it.”
Check out the complete interview with Professor Shechtman and an accompanying lesson plan, which focuses on the value of hatmadah (perseverance), here.