A Jewish Nobel Prize Winner's Gift to Girls

When Professor Ada Yonath, the bubbly, animated scientist with Einstein-like hair as well as intelligence, received the phone call several days ago informing her that was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, she thought someone was playing a joke on her.

“I said, ‘Yeah, right, so should I make an appointment for the hairdresser now?’” she recalled at the press conference this week. “As you can all see, I did not make that appointment,” she laughed, with a wonderful gleam in her eye.

Yonath’s prize for discoveries about ribosomes is cause for celebration, especially for Jewish women. It gives her a place not just in the annals of human history, but also in the hearts and diaries of countless girls.

I can just picture all those science-loving girls. They are the ones who, like Yonath, prefer to be in a lab rather than at the hairdresser, who may be quiet in class or walk with their noses in a book, who are perhaps irreverent and independent-minded, girls who love a good experiment and would rather read science fiction than go to the mall, girls whose idea of a perfect birthday gift is a microscope or telescope rather than a Barbie, girls who wonder why they don’t fit in.

It’s tough being a gifted girl. They are often ignored or deemed iconoclastic. But today, thanks to Yonath, these girls and women are beaming, glowing with pride and creativity, their spirits bursting with the knowledge that “if she can do it, so can I.” Yes, a woman can succeed in science, wild hair and all.

We’re all proud of the some 165 Jews who have won Nobel Prizes.

Yet we seldom note that just eight of them, including Yonath, are women: Gertrude Elion, Gerty Theresa Cori, Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nadine Gordimer, Nelly Leonie Sachs, Lise Meitner and Rosalyn Yalow, according to The Shalvi Jewish Women’s Encyclopedia at the Jewish Women’s Archive.

It’s not that women are not as capable as men in science, as Larry Summers notoriously suggested, but rather that they are so seldom seen, appreciated and rewarded.

According to Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, in “Nobel Prize Women in Science,” only three percent of all Nobel Prize scientists are women, and they virtually all had a very rough time of it:

She also writes, “If a woman formed a long-term scientific partnership with a man, the scientific community assumed that he was the brains of the team and she was the brawn.”

This is why gifted girls need extra special encouragement. As Dr. Carol E. Watkins writes here:

All of this makes Yonath’s accomplishment even more meaningful and worth highlighting.

Her achievement sends a wonderful message to girls: Don’t give up. Be who you are, and you will be a true gift to the world.

Tagged as:

Your Comments

The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not and will be deleted. Egregious commenters will be banned from commenting. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

A Jewish Nobel Prize Winner's Gift to Girls

Thank you!

This article has been sent!