The Poetry of Science



Prof. Ofer Lider

A competition held in memory of Prof. Ofer Lider bridges the gap between art and science

Building bridges between the culture of science and the culture of the humanities, wrote the British scientist and writer C. P. Snow in 1959, is crucial to modern society. In his book The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, Snow predicted that understanding between the two will come with the creation of a “third culture,” which will enable members of the two cultures to communicate with one another.
Prof. Ofer Lider, who until his untimely death headed a research group in the Institute’s Immunology Department, was one of those forging the foundations of the third culture. Along with his important scientific work, he engaged his feelings and emotions. He was endowed with sharp powers of observation, enhanced by empathy. He took a delight in using words to describe, with a delicate, precise, poetic sensibility, his close observations of the seemingly tiny things that make life a worthwhile adventure.
Ofer died tragically, after a long illness, at age 49. Those who loved him, both in the Institute and beyond – family, scientists, writers and poets – chose to remember him in a way that contributes to the coming of the third culture, building bridges between science and poetry, literature and art. Thus was born the Ofer Lider Prize for creative writing by a scientist. Scientists from all the research institutes and science-based industries in Israel are encouraged to enter the competition and try their hand at writing fiction or verse. The short story that follows is the entry of Dr. Racheli Efrat Steinberg, a medical doctor who does genetic research in the Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheva. The story Wings received an honorable mention in the competition.

Matan Ba’Seter (Hidden Offering)*
Prof. Ofer Lider
How your soul deliberated,
Perhaps to add a word,
A prayer.
How many times your pen approached the page
To touch,
Breath held
Your hand sucked back,
And then in one full verse
Your living marrow tied me to you
In bonds of blood
My soul seeking life.

*Written on September 6, 2002, by Ofer as he was being infused with a stem-cell transplant from his then anonymous donor, Tracy.
Matan Ba’Seter refers to the ancient Jewish teaching that the highest level of human charity occurs when the identities of donor and recipient are hidden from each other. Anonymity thus guarantees the selflessness of the act. In his poem, Ofer imagined the moment the hidden benefactor reached the decision to make a gift of her living blood. Paradoxically, the hidden offering created a personal bond between two people – a bond all the greater for its anonymity.