Early Days in the Weizmann Institute

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Prof. Joe Jaffe

Prof. Joe Jaffe, one of a dwindling group of eyewitnesses to early Weizmann Institute history, has turned to writing in his retirement. Since Jaffe's eye seems always to have a twinkle, the result is a collection of charming, light-hearted vignettes recently published in the United Kingdom by New Guild. The Manchester-born author worked as a physicist in England during World War II and was recruited by Dr. Chaim Weizmann in 1948 to join his fledgling Institute.

The book opens with tales about the author's arrival in Rehovot, including a nerve-racking journey from the airport in an armored truck, and his first impressions of the Institute's charismatic scientific director, Prof. Ernst Bergmann, and other staff members. One of the stories is an amusing account of the gathering of Institute scientists in a lab to listen to the proclamation of the State of Israel on the radio. Many of them left the room in tears, only to find out later that their weeping was due not to emotion, but to tear gas, which -- as was later discovered by Jaffe -- leaked from a glass vial accidentally knocked off a bench in the midst of the applause at the climax of the ceremony. The book is peppered with numerous anecdotes about Dr. Weizmann and his right-hand man Meyer Weisgal, who is credited with "completing Weizmann's task by shepherding the Institute through its adolescence and a crucial additional period of growth."

Jaffe, who left the Institute in 1968 to found one of Israel's first hi-tech companies, today divides his time between writing and freelance industrial consulting.