August 14, 1945 – October 30, 2004
by Aaron Beller
Photograph of Mara
was born in the former Soviet Union and emigrated to Israel 1964. In 1967,
during her undergraduate studies in physics at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, she married Aaron Beller.
her studies in Israel, Mara worked for the Russian services of Israeli
radio, ultimately producing a weekly program on science in Israel.
daughter, Dana, was born in 1971, Mara chose to study history and
philosophy of science completing her M.Sci. in 1976. Her son, Michael, was
born the following year, after Mara emigrated once again, this time to the
completed a Ph.D. in the history of science at the University of Maryland
in 1983 and began her career as a lecturer in the Hebrew University the
same year. Over the years Mara became one of the leading experts in the
history of quantum mechanics.
years before her book Quantum Dialogue (1999) was published she
presented herself for promotion to associate professor. Hebrew University,
in an unprecedented double promotion, appointed her full professor on
April 1, 1998 (she thought it was a joke).
In 1998 she
also published her response to the “Sokal Hoax” affair: “The Sokal Hoax—At
Whom are We Laughing?” This short paper was meant for a popular audience
and elicited by far the greatest response to her work.
A major part
of Mara’s creative life was carried out under the cloud of illness,
fatigue, and pain. In 1989 she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
The next eleven years she lived a full life, though with constant pain and
tiredness. She managed to care for her family and continue her best
research until January 2000, when she discovered she had advanced ovarian
well to the initial chemotherapy and decided to live her life to the best
of her ability. Mara was A multifaceted person, and she continued to express
her creativity to its fullest extent.
writing of Quantum Dialogue Mara developed a dialogical method for
reading scientific texts. A colleague told her that a Russian literary
theorist, Mikhail Bakhtin, had developed such a method for reading prose.
Bakhtin claimed that his dialogism could be applied to prose, but not to
poetry and science. She wrote The Word with a Loophole and The
Word with a Sideward Glance:
Dialogical Approach in Science and Literature to show how the system
is applied both to science and literature.
When the play
Copenhagen came out Mara did not like the history or the message of
the play (she probably knew more about Bohr and Heisenberg than almost
anyone else). She responded with a third act for the play:
She in fact
wrote a play herself called Entanglement. It is about a fictional
relationship between Einstein and the Russian poet Tsvetaeva. An abridged
version will be performed a number of times by the Hebrew University
clinical trial at the Yale Medical School she wrote a dialogical analysis
of the famous poem by Tsvetaeva, “Novogodnee” (New Years Greeting), which
Tsvetaeva wrote in response to Rilke’s death. She completely turned around
the usual interpretation.
wrote Summer in New Haven during the clinical trial, which is a
narrative of the relationship between the women in the trial and the love
for her family.
fight with cancer, Mara continued to teach her students. Overcoming her
fatigue she would appear in class only days after chemotherapy and held
class in the same high standards she always had. Even in the final week of
her life Mara worked to ensure the graduation and success of her final
the cancer overtook her and she died with dignity as she had lived her
I was married
to Mara for almost 38 years and I miss her all the time. No matter how
well I knew her, she always managed to surprise me.
She was a
dedicated wife, mother and grandmother, and she was a great listener with great empathy
for all people. At a memorial for Mara at the Hebrew University a person
rose and said:
good friends does a person have? One, two? Everybody here who has
talked about Mara mentions her as a best friend. That is the kind of
person Mara was. You could tell her your deepest problems and secrets
and she would always respond with emotion, empathy and discretion.
Mara was open
minded. Many times a day or two after an argument with me, she would tell
me that I was right. It is more difficult for me to behave like that. On
the other hand, she stood up for what she believed and was very
persuasive. It was not easy to endure her sharp words. Once in therapy
with Mara in Philadelphia, the therapist told me:
no point for you to argue with Mara. You have no chance of succeeding.
Best just agree with her.”
In her last
paper, where she wrote an analysis of Tsvetaeva’s poem to Rilke after he
died, Mara claimed that it was possible for Tsvetaeva to continue to have
a dialogue with Rilke after he died. I certainly would like to have a
dialogue with Mara now. I need her and I miss her.