|Click above to watch a video celebrating 75 years of the American Technion Society. Learn about the origins of the organization, its evolution through the years, and how it has helped the Technion become the leading university that it is today.|
The American Technion Society (ATS) is proud to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Since its founding in 1940 by a group of visionaries, the ATS has flourished, raising more than $2 billion in support for the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
On this page you will find stories of the people and the events that have been the building blocks of the organization. Check back on this page to see new postings throughout our anniversary year.
If you would like to share your own 75th anniversary story or photos, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ATS History Part I: The People Behind the Partnership
A model of the Technion’s original building was exhibited in the 1939 New York World’s Fair — one long, two-story building featuring a domed entranceway and other Eastern-flavored arches.
How would one begin to represent the Technion today?
“Technion City” consists of 90 buildings stretching across 327 acres on Mt. Carmel, and affiliated campuses are going up with international partners in China and New York City. The Technion is home to three Nobel Laureates in chemistry, and has 18 academic faculties, 50 undergraduate and 82 graduate programs, plus its own medical school and space research institute. Its more than 96,000 graduates are credited with driving Israel’s high-tech economy — many having founded or led more than 50% of the high-tech Israeli companies on NASDAQ.That’s an impressive résumé — and one that was built together with supporters of the American Technion Society (ATS).
Since its inception in 1940, the ATS has raised more than $2 billion for the Technion, supporting students, faculty and their research with scholarships, fellowships, academic chairs, housing, state-of-art laboratories and literally building most of the campus. The vision, generosity and commitment of ATS donors nationwide have helped the Technion achieve life-changing discoveries in medicine, computer science, environmental engineering, materials engineering, life sciences, aerospace, defensive technology and nanotechnology. From humble beginnings, the ATS has helped the Technion become the renowned global institute it is today, providing solutions for many of the world’s toughest challenges.
Einstein at the Table
In 1940, when Technion Physics Professor Rudolf Samuel arrived in the U.S. to fundraise, he was armed with plenty of inspiring stories to help woo potential donors. Technion students were dominant in Haifa’s branch of the Haganah. They led protests against deporting refugees, and helped enlist soldiers in the fight against Hitler.Yet, with war raging in Europe, he worried that other causes would surely trump his. He forged ahead and held a festive fundraising dinner at Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria on May 8, 1940 in honor of Albert Einstein. The unique appeal of science and technology proved persuasive. Even though the room was packed with more academics than millionaires, by the evening’s end, donors had pledged a total of $10,000 — a significant achievement considering the median annual income was then $956. The ATS was established, albeit with a rather lengthy name: The American Society for the Advancement of the Hebrew Institute of Technology in Haifa, Palestine, Inc.
Prof. Samuel was to stay for just a year. But due to his fundraising skills, he stayed until 1945, crisscrossing the U.S., and establishing support groups wherever he visited. Many of those early outposts became part of today’s network of 14 ATS offices.
Just as the Zionist spirit swept up the Jews of Palestine, circa 1948, it also took root in the U.S., shaping early fundraising efforts. One such example was Gerard Swope, the longtime head of General Electric. Outraged by the British Mandate forces turning Jewish concentration camp survivors away from Palestine, Swope, who hadn’t displayed his Jewishness before, became an ardent supporter for the creation of the Jewish state. When he died in 1957, he left the ATS an unprecedented $8 million, which stood for decades as the ATS’s largest gift.
Watch this space for more stories about the American Technion Society and how the Technion flourished thanks to the generosity of many supporters over the years.
Tribute to Lewis Weston: Visionary Leader and Friend
Lewis Weston was fond of the saying: “There’s no limit to what you can achieve, as long as you’re not concerned with who gets the credit.” And indeed Lew, a longtime partner at Goldman Sachs, achieved a lot—without a lot of fanfare.
Lew passed away in August 2015 at the age of 89. He is remembered as a devoted, hands-on advocate and a great leader. “He was a wonderful president, a true statesman and a great friend. He displayed vision and excellence in every job that he did,” says Melvyn H. Bloom, ATS Executive Vice President Emeritus, who worked with Lew throughout his ATS career.
In his four decades of involvement with the ATS, he served as President on both the local and national levels and was a member of the Technion Board of Governors. He was a Technion Guardian, a distinction reserved for those who support the university at the highest level, and a recipient of both a Technion Honorary Doctorate and Honorary Fellowship. He was also awarded the Technion Medal in 2008 — the university’s highest honor.
“We have lost an extraordinary supporter and friend,” says Jeff Richard, ATS Executive Vice President. “Lew was a man of vision, passion and leadership, who has made possible today’s, as well as future successes. He will be sorely missed. ”Lew was attracted to the ATS in the early 1980s after learning of its commitment to on-campus housing for Technion students and other student-focused programs. “His passion was the students,” says his wife, Libby. “They touched his heart.” He quickly became involved in various committees, but was most instrumental as National Treasurer and Investment Committee Chairman in parlaying his financial acumen to revamp ATS investment policy. Initiating a shift of a substantial portion of investments from government bonds to the stock market, Lew made major financial policy changes that built the ATS endowment fund through its principal period of growth.
During the same time period, he became the longest serving President of the New York Metropolitan Region, holding office for a decade. Then in 1990, Lew was elected to a three-year term as ATS National President. In that role, Lew refined the Mission program and led many of the ATS Israel trips, including the Mission to Celebrate Israel’s 60th Anniversary. He also strengthened the regional structure of the organization, expanding the local chapters and encouraging local involvement. “He brought in new people, moved them along, and each time made more of a commitment himself,” says Mel.
Lew established the Lewis and Libby Weston Laboratory for Spectroscopy of Optoelectronic Materials, and the Beatrice Weston Unit for the Advancement of Students — which provides crucial academic and personal counseling to students from pre-university through the graduate level. The program was named in honor of his first wife, Beatrice, who pre-deceased him in 1986. But for every program that bears his name, there are dozens of scholarships, prizes, general funds and research projects that do not. “Accolades were not important for Lew,” says Libby, his wife of 26 years.
What did inspire him, she says, was the determination to “give back.”
Born in Brooklyn, Lew graduated from James Madison High School with honors and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy, attending Officer Candidate School at Cornell University. After his military service, he earned his bachelor’s degree from City College of New York (CCNY). Lew was a proud alumnus of this first free public institution of higher education in the U.S. In 1951, he joined Goldman Sachs in the research department and later headed the investment banking firm’s syndicate department. He was named a General Partner in 1967.
“He grew up poor, made a success of his life and GAVE BACK,” says Libby. “He played basketball at Avenue P playground, and never forgot where he came from.”
Lew and Libby clicked over their mutual passion for ice hockey. Lew was an early investor in the New York Islanders, Libby a New York Rangers fan. “But where was he going to find a woman who loved hockey?” says Libby. Usually gentle and reserved, Lew showed a less restrained side at the games, screaming at the defensemen from the VIP Center section of the Nassau Coliseum, Libby recalls.
The two had an active cultural and social life, with season’s tickets to the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic. They spent time at their homes in Bermuda, the Hamptons and Boca Raton, Florida. They also shared a love of exotic travel, venturing to far-flung places like Papua New Guinea, Tibet, Tunisia and Nepal. Though he suffered from kidney disease during the last five years of his life, Lew stayed busy — dining with friends, playing bridge twice a week and watching his favorite team, the New York Islanders.
Most important, “we knew that to each other, we were both #1. It was a storybook marriage,” says Libby, his wife of 26 years.
Tribute to Ben Z. Sosewitz: A Pillar of the Technion Community
Journalist Tom Brokaw coined the term “the greatest generation” for those who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II, and went on to build modern America. Ben Sosewitz embodied that generation — with a strong work ethic, sense of responsibility and commitment to serve his country and Israel.
A devout Labor Zionist and tireless ATS leader, Ben passed away in November 2015 at the age of 88. He is remembered for his wisdom, organizational acumen and “menchlichkeit,” a Yiddish word for humanity. “Ben was warm and generous with his time and money, and was a terrific fundraiser,” says Steve Laser, a close friend, past president of the ATS Chicago Chapter, as well as a past National President of the ATS . “He was a great mentor, who helped me through many tough decisions, and an inspiring leader. We all owe him a great debt. He leaves a great legacy.”
Ben served as the Chicago Chapter President, National President and Chairman of the Board, and as the Chairman of the Technion Board of Governors. In 1998, together with Larry Jackier, he co-founded the ATS 21st Century Leadership Development Program, which has since graduated five classes who are building the ranks of local and national leadership. Together with his late wife, Shelley, he was a Technion Guardian, a designation reserved for those who have supported the Technion at the highest level. In 2008, he was awarded the Technion Medal — the university’s highest honor. He was also a recipient of a Technion Honorary Doctorate and Honorary Fellowship.
Among his many gifts to the Technion, Ben established the Ben and Shelley Sosewitz Dormitory, the Ben and Shelley Sosewitz Academic Lectureship and the Shelley Sosewitz Memorial Music Scholarship Fund. He contributed to numerous Technion programs including the Asher Space Research Institute, and to Chicago Chapter projects such as the West Central Soviet Absorption Fund.
“Ben Sosewitz was that rare find — a truly statesmanlike leader. His wisdom and insights contributed greatly to what we achieved at the ATS and the Technion,” says Melvyn Bloom, ATS Executive Vice President from 1985-2014. “He was a brilliant and deeply committed Zionist who served at every level of leadership, all the way through chairing the committee that searched for my successor.”
“Ben positively transformed the face of the ATS by launching the leadership program, initiating changes at the professional level and bringing in new supporters,” adds Jeff Richard, current ATS Executive Vice President.
Born in Chicago in 1927 to immigrant parents from the shtetls of Poland, he was named Benzion (son of Zion). Theirs was a Yiddish-speaking household, infused with Labor Zionist ideology. Ben’s parents and siblings made aliyah to Israel in both the years before and after Israel’s statehood. So he always had one foot in Israel, but he made his life in Chicago.
“From early on, he wanted to know how he could be of service,” says his daughter, Leah. “He had a social conscience and a service mindset.” During high school, she said, he ran a newspaper drive for the war effort and served in the Navy. He attended college on the G.I. Bill, but quit to help provide for his family, selling upholstery door-to-door as a traveling salesman. Eventually, he made his way back to school (accepting a loan from a friend), taking classes while raising his family, and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1958. In picking a major, “he looked at a list of what was needed in Israel,” says Leah, and chose hydraulic engineering.
His skills were a boon to Chicago as well, where he served as Superintendent of the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago. There, he helped build the Deep Tunnel Project that stemmed the city’s flooding problems, and was paid a visit by then President Richard Nixon to show off the area’s new water treatment plant. “Bits of his intellectual DNA are in O’Hare Airport’s infrastructure, the ever-expanding Illinois Tollway, and even in our sewer system,” says family friend and media personality Ken Davis, who hosts the television show Chicago Newsroom.
In 1972, he became the president of an engineering management firm, which was acquired by the public company Envirodyne Engineers. He took the company private and eventually sold it to AECom, staying on as chairman until 1993. He retired and became a consultant in 1997.
Leah describes him as a hands-on dad to her and sisters Arna Yastrow and Miriam Sosewitz Clarke, making them and their children his “bubbieish” matzo meal pancakes during Passover while doing the latest dances in the kitchen, and a caring husband to his wife of 48 years. The two loved classical music — Ben was on the board of the Chicago Chamber Musicians — and playing piano. Ben was also close with his extended family in Israel, and helped out financially with medical bills, visits to the U.S. and other needs. Those connections, his Zionist upbringing and engineering skills, fueled his nearly five-decade-long interest in the Technion.
“When he became involved with the Technion, it just lit him up,” Leah recalls. “He was absolutely enthusiastic about what the Technion could do, not only for Israel but for the world.” During his last six months, as his health deteriorated from cancer, Ben made sure he was available to his ATS colleagues. “He had a deep love of Israel and overarching belief that Technion innovation was going to help the world. He died believing that 100 percent.”
Video Celebrates Father and Son Technion Connection
As we celebrate 75 years of the American Technion Society, we reflect on the people who have made the organization such a success. Many Technion supporters are part of multigenerational families with a legacy of giving to the Technion. One such family is the Seidens, who have been involved with the Technion for three generations, before the founding of the State of Israel and since the genesis of the ATS. Two members of the Seiden family, Louis and Samuel, attended the inaugural ATS dinner at New York’s Waldorf Astoria in 1940. And today, Samuel’s son and grandson, Norman and Stephen Seiden, respectfully, are both Technion Guardians who continue that legacy.
In this touching video, hear Norman and Stephen discuss what a lifetime of supporting the Technion has meant to them.
A Story of Firsts
Joe Gurwin was likely the first and only person to have two satellites named after him.
Which is a good thing. If there are any aliens out there, we’d want Joe to be the first human they encounter. Because Joe, recalls Executive Vice President Emeritus Melvyn Bloom, was not only a forward-looking philanthropist, but a mensch who embodied humanity’s best traits during his lifetime.
There was Gurwin TechSat I and then Gurwin TechSat II, because as it turns out, in Israel, building a satellite is in some ways simpler than launching it.
Professor Zehev Tadmor, Chairman of the Samuel Neaman Institute at the Technion and a past Technion president, tells the 20-year-old story as if it happened yesterday. “Joe provided the impetus for the Technion’s satellite program because as Israel was developing rapidly in science and technology, space was the logical next frontier,” Prof. Tadmor explained. Additionally, Russian immigration brought a ready-made resource: highly trained space engineers, some of whom were instrumental in advising and working alongside students in the design and construction of the Gurwin TechSats, making them one of the first student-built satellites in the world. Even today, only a handful of the world’s largest universities provide their students with that kind of hands-on experience.
Prof. Tadmor recalls traveling to Kazakhstan for the launch of TechSat I. Kazakhstan was selected because there were few other affordable options, plus there was a new company there that retrofitted intercontinental missiles into rocket launchers.
“We figured that if these missiles were designed to target American cities, they should be able to target space,” says Prof. Tadmor.
The Technion delegation arrived to see four satellites, including the Gurwin TechSat I, prone on a huge truck in a remote area. Radio Moscow was broadcasting every move. The four missiles were moved into vertical position, the gas in the canister below was readied to shoot them out, and within minutes the satellites were in the air and igniting on their way into space.
“You can see our proud rockets going up! Next we’ll see American dollars falling down on us!” shouted the excited radio announcer.
“But the satellites were quickly lost,” Prof. Tadmor recounts. “Ours, we learned later, fell into the Pacific.”
Mr. Bloom was in Joe Gurwin’s Palm Beach apartment along with some reporters when he got the news. Gurwin took the news in stride. “Well,” Gurwin said, in typical fashion, “I heard I’m in the ocean, so we’ll just have to try again,” and he immediately offered to fund the building and launch of another satellite.
Gurwin TechSat II, like its predecessor, was built by Technion students. It was launched from Kazakhstan by an established, experienced company, and was so cleverly designed that it circled the globe for more than 11 years, until 2010, long after the other satellites with which it was launched were no longer operational. It provided valuable scientific information and a platform for many of the Technion’s aerospace advances that followed. It was among the first to strive for the greatest sophistication in the smallest possible size, anticipating today’s focus on microsatellites.
The Gurwin TechSat program was conceived and created in Israel’s first research institute dedicated to space: the Norman and Helen Asher Space Research Institute (ASRI). Established in 1984 by the legendary Chicago supporters, ASRI remains a visionary multidisciplinary center, unique in Israel and world renowned. Its graduates, together with ASRI scientists, launched Israel into the space age in 1988 with Offeq-1 and Offeq-II, the first Israeli satellites developed at Israel Aircraft Industries, placing the tiny nation among the elite group of only eight nations capable of launching satellites.
Today the ASRI brings together leading researchers in astronomy, astrophysics, aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, autonomous systems and computer science from all the nation’s universities and industry, and establishes international collaborative projects. It’s vital to the nation’s defense, and constitutes a vital export.
Finally, going back to the beginning of the firsts, the Technion’s Faculty of Aerospace Engineering was the first in Israel and remains the country’s only center for educating the nation’s space pioneers. It was established by a forward-looking group of Technion professors in 1953, before Israel had built a single plane. Its graduates, in turn, founded Israel Aircraft Industries, one of the country’s largest and most profitable companies. The Kfir C-2 fighter plane, the first of its kind and crucial in Israel’s defense in the 1960s and 1970s, was developed by Technion graduates. The chief engineer for the project was Joseph Singer, who was to become president of the Technion.
Today, the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering continues to educate the aerospace engineers who maintain the nation’s edge in defense and industry. Most recently, it was a Rafael Advanced Defense Systems team consisting entirely of Technion graduates who developed the Iron Dome, the world’s most effective missile shield. Today, propelled by the need to identify and address constant terrorist threats, Israel has become a leader in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), which can perform military surveillance and react to changing tactical situations. The groundwork for these futuristic vehicles was laid in earlier decades by Professor Daniel Weihs and funded by Scott Black and other supporters.
Thanks to visionary supporters like the Ashers and the Gurwins, the Technion continues to expand the frontiers of space with research that sounds futuristic, but often becomes accepted science that also happens to be lucrative. Here are some of the new directions being pursued at the Asher Space Research Institute:
- A much more efficient rocket engine for space satellites using Technion-manufactured diamonds, field-tested by NASA on the Atlantis Space Shuttle.
- Ramtech – a two-stage ramjet rocket – designed, built and launched by undergraduate students.
- SAMSON (Space Autonomous Mission for Swarming and Geolocation with Nanosatellites) will test a swarm of multiple nanosatellites, each the size of a shoebox. They will find signals of people on Earth who are missing or in distress, as well as provide a platform for speedier communications and very high-resolution photography, possibly of planets beyond the solar system. SAMSON is the flagship project of the Israel Space Agency, developed by research at the Technion in cooperation with Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries.
- The “Flying Susita,” a four-passenger aerial vehicle reminiscent of the preferred mode of transportation for that ’60s animated space-age family, is another intriguing student project.
- Searching for a cheaper alternative to the current rocket-based travel between Earth and the moon, another group of students developed a design for a lunar space elevator with the heavenly inspired name “Jacob’s Ladder.”
- And revolutionary electrical thrusters, based on ionizing fuels, allowing microsatellites to go farther for longer.
Israel’s entry into the space age started with the Gurwin TechSats, a bold, imaginative project that demanded collaboration between multiple sciences and scientists as well as corporations and government. It captured the imagination of talented young people, attracted them to the Technion and set the university on a path to international recognition. The size of a mini refrigerator, it showed that something small can be not only beautiful, but also thrilling and admirable, just like Israel.
“When you can’t be bigger, you need to be better,” says Professor Ehud Behar, immediate past director of the Asher Space Research Institute. He adds that he sees space research as fascinating, unlimited, lucrative and essential to progress.