Benoit Mandelbrot: Mathematical Genius and Jewish Survivor

Oct. 29 2014

The late Benoit Mandelbrot, best known as the founder of fractal geometry, was born in Warsaw to a family of Polish-speaking Jews in 1924. In 1931 he and his family moved to Paris. They spent World War II hiding in a French village, where friends of his uncle—also a famous mathematician—took them in. In his posthumous memoir, The Fractalist, Mandelbrot tells the story of his childhood as well as of his later mathematical career. Adam Kirsch calls attention to Mandelbrot’s reflections on how he escaped the fate of most of French Jewry:

“Our constant fear,” Mandelbrot writes, “was that a sufficiently determined foe might report us to an authority and we would be sent to our deaths. . . . We escaped this fate. Who knows why?” One reason why, he suggests, is that his academic brilliance won him special consideration. “Xenophobia lost, meritocracy won,” he writes, and this would become the motto of his French experience.

The history of Eastern Europe, according to Mandelbrot, “included a growing number of stories in which a would-be ‘butcher’ is oversupplied with potential victims, and a person perceived to be special is somehow spared. Father must have felt it was very bad to be overly conspicuous, but very good to be seen as rare and special. This attitude, which he probably brought from Warsaw, created in me an elevated level of commitment and ambition.”

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Holocaust, Jewish genius, Mathematics, Vichy France

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror