To mark the first anniversary of the passing of Prof. Morris Srebnik, some pieces written by his family members, students and friends are displayed. With this dedication the School of pharmacy remembers him with great sorrow.
When I think of my father, after the first sad thoughts, come the funny ones. He liked to laugh, I think, though he also had a strong aptitude for being very negative. He had his way with nicknames for everything and everyone. As if he refused to call people by their proper names. He also had expressive faces to display his emotions. A few more thoughts later, I realize what a special mind he had. He was an intellectual. His mind contained knowledge about everything, it seemed to me. He was curious until the very end, and not only about his research in chemistry. He would get excited like a child about everything: his discoveries in the lab, new technology or software, exciting political figures, movies and books…
He was born Benjamin Leib in a refugee camp in Germany, right after the war. His biological father, who survived the war, died at the camp from appendicitis. His mother remarried at the camp and hence obtained our family name, Srebnik. Soon after, the extended family that remained got on a boat to Montreal, Canada, and lived there for some years. His childhood was not a happy one, he told me. His parents were grossly affected by the war, worked late nights, and were strict and harsh. Later on they moved to Brooklyn NY, were his father lived until he died at the age of nearly 101, in 2009.
He travelled a long road before he reached the pharmacy school at the Hebrew University. As a young man, he wanted to be a writer, a dream that never left him. In his office, indeed, I found a book about writing prose and grammar. He liked to believe that my daughter, Emma, will be the writer. He spent some time as a taxi driver in Toronto, where he told me he met some of the most interesting people in his life. At the age of 20, he decided to make aliya, came to Israel, and served in the army. He met my mother on a cruise to Greece, as both of them stared with pity met because both were tending to an injured albatross in a cage.
His first job as a family man was in the coalmines in Timne. He worked there for some time, and left the job when one of his friends lost his life due to a collapse of the mine.
Following his mother’s terminal illness, he started his studies in the school of pharmacy in order to become a pharmacist and have a secure job. Clearly, he did not stop there, and continued to finish his Masters and PhD at the department. He left a mark on his advisor Prof. Mechoulam, as he did during his post doc year with Nobel Laureate Herbert C. Brown. He had an exceptional mind. After some years at the University of Toledo, he returned to the Hebrew University. He was fully devoted to his work and studies.
At home, we also grew up with medicinal chemistry. Everything was smelled before its use, whether food or shampoo or clothes. He would bring us esters to smell, and bits of leftover chromatography paper to do experiments on inks. We would also provide shelter for experimental animals for their last days of their life. We’d play with test tubes and beakers, instead of play kitchens. Apart for chemistry and animals, he also loved music. He introduced me to Mozart’s Requiem as a young girl, and throughout the years the ethereal music echoed in his home, alternating now and then with Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and The Rockey Horror Picture Show sound track.
An enlarged picture of Morris at the age of 3 shows a curly-headed boy pointed with pride at a large watch on his little hand. Already then he was attracted to gadgets and mechanical equipment. He would take apart every present he got, to the frustration of his parents. His mother and father called him ‘the fixer’. He knew how to fix everything at him with his ‘golden’ hands, which later he would apply to reactions at the lab. He also excelled in his studies, and another picture of his youth shows him checking exams of his peers with great concentration.
He was passionate man. Biking exhilarated him. Music stirred him. Dishonesty angered him. Discrimination enraged him. My father gave his whole being to whatever he believed in. Inequality between Muslims and Jews depressed him, yet he would not stop listening to the news. Our family conversations of late were about the injustice of Palestinians. His smartphone is still tuned to Al Jazeera… He ached for the struggles of his Arab students, and did his utmost to give them education and hope for a better their situation. He was an idealist, and the big and small annoyances that we all learn to live with lay heavily on his shoulders.
His cats gave him comfort; they were like family. He even wrote a short adventure story about his four favorite ones. He spoke to them, caressed them, and provided them with numerous forms of shelters, playgrounds, snacks, all in his home. His love of animals was clear. At a long line to a theatre one evening with my mother, a crippled dog chose him among the crowd. He picked her up and brought her home. My favorite picture of myself is at the age of about 9 months, crawling on my parents' bed with 4 of her puppies surrounding me. He left behind him approximately 20 cats for which he devoted much of his time. In general, such devotion he had for the weak and the sick.
He had this sort of addiction for biking as well. The young riders who joined him and the numerous accidents he has had over the years did not stop him from continuing with intense and dangerous bike rides. His passion for biking lasted on and off for about 40 years. He covered the country on his bike, and for years did not miss a weekend to do an impossibly hard bike trip. Biking was his venue for venting his thoughts and feelings. It gave him physical and emotional energy to go on with the bureaucracy of everyday life.
He died doing what he loved. On the morning of Friday December 2, 2011, he woke up knowing that he would see us, his family for lunch. That morning consisted of emails and phone calls to his colleagues, and getting on the exercise machine before his drive to Ramat Gan. Unfortunately, I imagine that he exerted himself a bit too much, and lay down to rest in peace.
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I was six years younger than your dad and as you can imagine that seem enormous when you are young. I always understood that your dad was his own person. I remember that he rode a motorcycle at one point and taught himself Russian. I always thought that he was so intelligent. Perhaps too intelligent for those of us who were not on that level. He knew what he wanted and went after it. I remember one Christmas I went on a trip with my parents and my brothers stayed home with your dad at our house. Well when we came home there was a hole in one of our walls and the story was that New Year's Eve was one hell of a party.
He was at once brilliant and an enigma at times. I wish my aunt could have seen what a successful individual he became. He accomplished so much. I remember when he taught himself Russian for no other reason than to do it. He followed his inner voice which while at times troubled, ultimately brought him to do what made him happy.
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I remember your Father very well as an honest, hard-working and sincere research scientist. When I was a graduate student at Purdue University back in the 1980's, I always remember seeing your Father working diligently hard on his research work in the chemistry lab every day of the week and many times from early in the morning until late in the evening. Also, what I remember very well and importantly about your Dad is that he was a man of peace and hoped that one day all humans will learn to live peacefully with one another and accept each other's different languages, cultures, and ways of life. I don't know of anything else at the moment, but these two excellent attributes of your Father I remember very well. Even after years of being apart when I completed my Ph.D. in Chemistry at Purdue University in 1986, he and I always kept in contact via E-mail. Last but not least, I always enjoyed your Father's great sense of humor and I always looked forward to receiving mail from him. He and I had much in common.
I met Morris in 1986 at Purdue University where we worked in Professor Herbert C.Brown,s group in the same laboratory room, called “the big lab”. At that time Morris, daughter studied at Purdue, and his wife and sun were in Israel. Morris was feeling lonely, and my feelings were similar, since my wife and children could not join me in USA. From the very beginning we found several areas of mutual interest in addition to chemistry. Regarding future plans in chemistry at that time, he was interested in catalytic reactions of boranes and organoboranes, and later undertook research in this direction as the university professor.
In the laboratory, as personal assistant to Professor Brown, he had several duties in addition to his research, which was well organized and conducted efficiently with imagination and enthusiasm. During our trip by car to the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Denver, accompanied by dr P.V.Ramachandran, at present the professor at Purdue University, we had plenty of time to discuss chemistry, listen to music (Chariots of Fire was our favorite), and talk about food when hungry. Morris was dreaming about the taste of grapes in Israel.
We visited Professor Gary Molander at the University of Colorado Boulder who worked earlier with Professor Brown, and a few places of interest on our way back to Purdue. Less pleasant was our encounter with the state police (too high speed). Morris was the driver, and our discussion afterwards was very vivid. In a few situations during the trip and also in the laboratory, I was pleased to see empathy in his behavior.
Beside chemistry he had a lot of ideas, several related to money which he needed to support the family. We discussed such ideas as manufacturing improved protective car covers which could be folded instantly, or how to buy the best shares to become successful.
Religion and the relation to God was also the subject of our talks. Before Yom Kippur he asked me if I would like to go to the synagogue on that occasion. In my childhood, even before I could read and write, I used to spend hours with an illustrated Bible, and through all my life I keep interest in Judaism. Consequently, I accepted his invitation with pleasure and we participated in the service on that day. He also introduced me to Rabbi Engel at the B,nai B,brith Foundation Center at Purdue, a man of great heart, who invited me to the Center on several occasions, sometimes also to his home. Some time later Morris went with me to the Sunday Mass which he wanted to see.
Later Morris decided to take a job at the Aldrich Chemical Company He used to drive, almost every weekend, a long distance from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Lafayette, Indiana, to see his daughter. From time to time he stayed overnight in my apartment during these visits. The period at Aldrich was short and he returned to the University.
After I left Purdue we met several times at international conferences, and the Brown Lectures and Symposia at Purdue. The last one was the Imeboron conference in Sendai, 2005, where we planned to write a book on new aspects of boron chemistry.
During his work at the Hebrew University he was very active in the area of biological aspects of boron chemistry, and was fascinated with the unusual properties and resistance to treatment of bacterial films. One of his medically oriented directions was the research project opening new possibilities in the BNCT therapy of cancer. At the conference in Moscow in 2002, he participated with his two Palestinian graduate students recommending them for postdoctoral positions. It was clear to me that his cooperative ability and tolerance, which I could see when we worked at Purdue, remained an important part of his personality when he was the university teacher and research director.
Dear Morris, although we will not meet again, you will live in my heart and mind till the end of my days.
Whenever I see a Snapple (or PanAM airline in an old movie) I think of him, he certainly was the most interesting person at UT (University of Toledo) Chemistry. No one else had his ability to be interested and well studied on so many topics, Kristin recently laughed remembering how Morris knew about baby diapers - I asked him about cloth diapers eighteen years ago when my first son was born, and Morris knew all about the topic.
He was certainly an interesting fellow, I do not remember any dull moments when he was faculty at the University of Toledo. He was always busy in the lab and writing papers, he loved his boron chemistry. It was so refreshing to see such excitement for chemistry. He left behind a lot of original work that will keep his memory strong in human society for quite a while.
He came to the University of Toledo in 1990 as an Assistant Professor and left to return to Israel the year before he would have applied for tenure. He seemed to desire working in a larger university environment, although he did set up a very efficient machine for the conduct of his research and was very productive. Few could compare in enthusiasm and productivity.
He ran his own independent group and laboratory, which usually had three or so students (he may have had as many as six students at one time) working under his supervision.
Morris was a great practitioner of Organo borane chemistry, a good teacher, but most of all he was a good human being and friend. He has certainly made a positive impact on my life.
Over the years I studied under his tutelage we became close. I speak about him often both when advising my research team and at home with Poonam, my wife, who was also a graduate student at Toledo at the time. My only regret now is not taking more time out of my busy schedule to reach out to him more often. I always assumed that Morris is always there like a rock for me like he used to be during my graduate student days. He did take care of his entire group like a father takes care of his kids. A part of my success is definitely due to his teaching us his hard work for success ethic.
Know he was very close to you. He used to talk a lot about you, how clever you are, the universities you would attend, how much he pushed you to excel, etc. Your loss must be unbearable, considering his untimely death. Please take some solace in knowing he is very proud of you and your accomplishments.
I happened to be your father's first Ph.D student and I owe him a lot as far as my training as a chemist. He got me started and that is so important. He was so full of life every single day we spend together, I can't remember a single day that he was not excited about something and of course always excited about chemistry. He was a great chemist, professor and friend to me. Even though we did not communicate often after I graduated I never forgot him and I was always talking about him to other people.
Hijazi Abu Ali
I first met Professor Morris Srebnik in 1998, when I began my PhD studies under his supervision. His friendliness and courtesy coupled with his deep devotion to science quickly led me to realize that I was working with one of the most brilliant and receptive minds I had ever come across in my academic career.
Despite our different backgrounds, Professor Morris was unbiased. He looked past the categorizations of race, religion and politics and believed in a more peaceful, humanitarian approach to existence. In the world we live in today, that ability to overcome such precedent judgments requires great wisdom and depth of soul, both of which Professor Morris humbly encompassed. The ability to benefit mankind disregarding one's own hardships and cruel experiences is an attribute only the great can achieve. Having a vast knowledge which extended well past chemistry, in combination with such a warm and compassionate soul, Professor Srebnik benefited us all. He was more than just a mentor; within this man was a great friend, a brilliant scientist, and such an inspiring, freehearted individual. It has been a year since the world lost Professor Morris, and it has not been the same since. A great contributor to the scientific community, Professor Morris affected the lives of many. His guidance, wisdom, and sincere sense of compassion live on through us all. May he rest in peace, he will never be forgotten.
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Morris Srebnik - was one of the most unique personalities I've ever known: big heart, caring, enthusiastic, always seeing the glass half full and trying to give you the best solution for your problem, accept people for who they are, had a big passion for Chemistry and always conveyed it to all the students in the lab around him; personally, I was always inspired by his love to research, his readiness put the gloves on and to help you out on the bench. I admire his persistency and openness to all new things and his support by providing the push to get things done. I was lucky to have Morris guiding me through my research and always remember him as a great scientist and an amazing person.
For the memory of Prof. Morris Srebnik
Morris…you were a life friend to us….even more than that…you were like an older brother to us…..I recognized you when I started my PhD almost fourteen years ago … almost the same time I started my family. You visited me home several times and we had nice talks in addition to enjoying the village.
You always were fair …. you gave everyone the scientific credit that he deserves regardless of any other considerations. You always were concerned about the interest of me and the others on the career and personal levels….I remember how much happy you were when some interesting results were found, that delighted you not only for your own, but also for the progress of the others.
I met many of your friends inside the country and abroad, and they did not stop talking about your achievements and how good scientist you are.
Morris….learned a lot from you…and I promise to continue your way in my career….I will do my best in order to proceed.
Morris… we had almost a life time together, I will always remember you ………..Thank you and lay in peace.