The Sky is Not the Limit!

by Chaim Chesler

Professor Albert Einstein is the focal point of this Limmud FSU for Russsian speakers that is taking place this weekend at Princeton University, New Jersey, the place that gave the great scientist (and many others like him) a home and a refuge after he decided not to return to Germany from a visit to the United States in 1933.

Princeton is and was the crucible in which many pre-eminent Nobel prize winners, among them many Jews, were able to pursue their scientific interests. Einstein was one of them “I came to Princeton to conduct research, not teach” he wrote in his book “Out of My Later Years,” in 1950.

Among other Jewish Nobel prizewinners who studies and taught at Princeton were the somewhat lesser known name, Jeno Wigner. The Hungarian-born scientist came to the United States in 1930 and was one of the fathers of the famed Manhattan project on nuclear energy. Another was the American economist Paul Krugman a columnist at the New York Times who won the Nobel prize for economics in 2008. Other Jewish Nobel prizewinners associated with Princeton include Daniel Kahneman, Steven Weinberg and Richard Feynman.

Feynman was born in Queens, New York in 1918 to parents who had emigrated from Russia and Poland. The non religious parents encouraged their children to study. Feynman received the Nobel Prize in for his work on quantum mechanics, which, of course was a field of major interest to Einstein. The story of these people can be a source of inspiration for any Jew especially those of Eastern European ancestry. Every fifth Jew in New York speaks Russian Eastern European Jews who arrived in the Goldene Medina were familiar with the expression “The Sky is the limit” but many of them they proved that the sky is actually not the limit!

We understood this very well and therefore decided to make every effort to mount conferences based on the inspiration which motivated these Nobel prizewinners. Hence our Limmud FSU Nobel Year events which took place in 2010.

The story of Albert Einstein like so many other Jewish Nobel prizewinners from Europe has concerned us since the beginnings of Limmud FSU in 2006. Limmud FSU events for Russian speakers have taken place in six different countries on several topics including economics, culture, science, quality of life, Jewish heritage and much more. We have fulfilled the dream of bringing to a new generation of Russian speaking immigrants the wonderful story of an older generation of emigrants and their priceless contributions to the world of science and technology.

Furthermore, we even managed to bring together the two great competing powers in the space race – the United States and the Former Soviet Union race, into one conference that took place in Beersheba in May 2011. Among the guest participants at this conference were the Jewish Amerucan astronaut, Dr Garrett Reisman, together with two Russian cosmonauts, Michail Korniyenko and Gen. Alex Leonov, the first man to walk in space. So here with feet firmly placed on the ground in Beersheba, with the participation of the three astronauts, we proved that the sky is indeed not the limit.

Here in Princeton we are again proving that the sky is not the limit, which is something that we, the organizers strongly believe to be the case.

I would like to take the opportunity of thanking the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for lending us some of the best minds involved with the Einstein archives at the university and of course, Princeton University for opening its door to us and making us welcome.

So here we are at Princeton and knowing as I do, the nature of the participants of Limmud FSU, I too can assure you that the sky is not the limit.

Chaim Chesler is the founder of Limmud FSU, the first head of the Jewish Agency delegation to the FSU during the mass aliyah and the former treasurer of the Jewish Agency.