Mara Beller

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Mara Beller

August 14, 1945 – October 30, 2004

by Aaron Beller

Photograph  of Mara Beller

Mara Baruch 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.  

Throughout her studies in Israel, Mara worked for the Russian services of Israeli radio, ultimately producing a weekly program on science in Israel. 

After her 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 United States. 

Mara 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.  

About two 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 cancer.  

She responded 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.  

During the 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: Copenhagen—Another Round. 

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 theater department. 

During a 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.  

Lastly she 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.  

During her 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 Ph.D. student.

Ultimately the cancer overtook her and she died with dignity as she had lived her life. 

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: 

How many 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: 

“There’s 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.

 

© 2005 Aaron Beller

   

 

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Acknowledgements: Special thanks to: Rob Ain, Alexander Ameen, Amber Ameen, Mary Ameen, Aaron Beller, Bruce Block and BHSS'63 CAP, Jon Dreyer, Janie Fischbach, Rick Goldberg, Fred Goldrich, Stuart Grassian, Ed Levine, Susan Rogers, David Schreiber, The Sound Professionals, Inc., Karen Whittlesey, and everyone who is providing support and encouragement for this project.

 
     
 

 

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