Benoit Mandelbrot: Mathematical Genius and Jewish Survivor

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.”

Read more at Tablet

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

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University