The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2004
My military service and professional career – have they collided with one another?
Following graduation, it was time to repay my national debt and serve in the IDF. I served for three years (1973-1976) and did it gladly. Serving in the army has always been regarded as an integral and important part of Israeli life, and an entry card to its society, giving one the feeling of sharing – everyone takes part in protecting this land and its inhabitants. In addition, the service itself was extremely interesting, technically, but also socially and historically. Technically, since I served in interesting units. Socially, since the military service is a wonderful humane experience, the best melting pot one can go through, generating true friendships during hard times, friendships that are therefore deep, true and lasting. Historically, it spanned an interesting period. Initially I served in the navy, as a physician in the missile boats fleet. The year was 1973, immediately after the October Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) war, and Israel faced a problem of protecting its southern gates, the Red Sea and the marine entry to its port in Eilat. Marine transportation through the southern gates of the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb strait, and the narrow Tiran (Sharm-a- Sheikh) strait were threatened by the Arab countries that neighbored the water way, mostly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but also Yemen and Somalia, and Israel had to stretch its marine arm. To do so, it was necessary to transfer missile boats from the main naval bases in the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. At that time Israel did not have diplomatic relations with Egypt, and the Suez Canal was blocked by ships sunk by the Egyptians during the June 1967 Six Day War. Thus, the decision was to bring the boats from Haifa to Eilat, sailing via the Mediterranean Sea, the Gibraltar strait and around the West and then East coasts of Africa. I was the physician on the “Reshef”, one of the two modern Israeli missile boats that were built in the Haifa naval shipyard. One can imagine that for small missile boats, such a long, several weeks voyage, a large part of it in the open Oceans, is rather complicated, and for many reasons also risky. Beyond fuelling and provision of supplies and spare parts to the crews and boats, one has to think of sailing in waterways surrounded by hostile countries, many miles away from home and a long flight distance for the Israeli Air Force. Another problem was obviously medical, how one treats emergencies, from possible gunshot wounds through “simple” daily problems like appendicitis, in a small ship, far from any medical facility and with limited diagnostic and treatment capabilities. I was particularly concerned, as I was a young physician with almost no clinical experience. I assume this would have been a challenge for more experienced physicians as well. Luckily, the voyage was smooth. The remaining part of my three-year service was also interesting. I spent that time in the Research and Development (R & D) unit of the Medical Corps, developing a broad array of sophisticated devices for the soldier in the battlefield. Because of the broad range of experiences acquired, the military service has been my ever best school for real life “sciences”. During all these years (1973-1976) I maintained tight connections with Avram and fulfilled my duties as an “external” department member: during vacations from the military, and along with other members of the department that grew meanwhile, I taught continuously the course in Clinical Biochemistry to 3rd year medical students. I should mention in particular Michael (Mickey; see also below) Fry, with whom I have remained a good friend to the very present. Also, in 1975, during the military service, I married Menucha, a physician and a graduate of Tel Aviv University School of Medicine. Menucha was a resident in internal medicine in Tel Aviv Municipal Hospital, and we built our first home in this city. Marrying Menucha brought my wanderings to an end, and I felt I had again a family and a home. During all the years since the death of my father (1963-1975), I did not have a real stable home, and I wandered between the homes of my brother and sister-in-law in Tel Aviv and of my aunt in Haifa. They were truly wonderful, but I needed a base, and Menucha, with her quiet approach and warm acceptance, along with our beautiful apartment, provided me with this, so much needed, shelter.