Natan Kopeika’s Bio

In June 1962 we graduated from Central and began our divergent paths through life. A few weeks later, I met my wife.

My parents had arranged a summer tour of Europe [2 weeks] and Israel [5 weeks] for me, through Yeshivah University. On the plane out of JFK to London, I was seated between 2 cute blond girls in our group who had just graduated from the Yeshivah of Flatbush High School. They were classmates. Being gentlemanly, I offered to change seats with either one. They declined. Soon dinner was being served. I continued my gentlemanliness, and forwarded a bowl of tomato soup to the girl sitting by the window.

At that same moment in the space-time continuum, the girl sitting directly in front of me shifted the back of her seat backward. The bowl of tomato soup began a flight of its own towards the window, but landed upside down all over Miriam’s lap. Unfortunately, it ruined her brand new outfit, which she was never able to wear again. Of course, I apologized profusely, profusely, and profusely.

In London, we visited all the tourist sites. We travelled to Stratford. We took in a Shakespearian play at The Old Vic. Then, our group celebrated Shabbat. Friday night I sat at the same table as Miriam. I began to realize she was not just cute. She was beautiful! We were both just 17, but I was in love. I tried to connect with her emotionally in Paris, Geneva, and Venice, but to no avail. Saturday night, we boarded the S S Hertzl for a boat trip through the Mediterranean all the way to Haifa, Israel. I was able to talk to her and tried to explain my frustration because I really, really liked her. To my surprise, she responded that she was beginning to like me too! I was in a daze. A very serious emotional connection began to be established, and it was strengthened in Israel.

On Thursday morning, we said our morning prayers on deck, facing the Carmel Mountains rising up majestically almost from the sea. It was very moving! It was the 17th of Tammuz in the Jewish calendar – a day of fasting commemorating the Roman breakthrough of the walls of Jerusalem. Exactly 3 weeks later, the second Temple was destroyed. We disembarked in Haifa on the 17th of Tammuz, and began a most exciting adventure. Every place was full of history.

When we returned to The States, she to Brooklyn and I to Philly, we kept it up – daily letters, phone calls every few days, Sunday visits, etc. She started Brooklyn College, and I the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at Penn. The intensity was too much for those circumstances and she broke things off. There was also another reason. She had explained at the very beginning that she was born a “bluebaby”, with a hole in her heart. She had undergone, as a toddler, a surgical procedure pioneered at Johns Hopkins by Dr. Blalock. This procedure became very famous. It enabled her to live an almost normal life, except for her having very limited energy and tiring quickly. She was due for open heart surgery at the end of her freshman year at Brooklyn College, and she thought it best to spare me the involvement. I was unaware of that, and was devastated by the breakup. It was very difficult to concentrate on my studies. I did not fail anything, but had very poor grades. I became very active in Yavneh, which was an organization of Jewish religious students. I founded a chapter at Penn. We set up Talmud classes, held social activities, organized conferences with other Yavneh chapters, etc. Even in my sophomore year, my grades were quite poor. Finally, in my junior year, my grades began to improve. In December, I suddenly received a letter from Miriam asking how I was doing, what is new, and maybe we ought to renew our acquaintance. I called her immediately and we set up a date. I think it was for New Year’s eve. By the end of that date, I think it was understood we were to be married. The wedding took place in spring break of our senior year, March 13, 1966. Thank G-d, her open heart surgery at Johns Hopkins resulted in total correction. (Today she suffers from insufficient heart functioning but, thank G-d, she is basically okay.)

My junior and senior year grades improved, and I was able to impress a professor of mine sufficiently so as to be offered a NASA Fellowship to continue for an M.Sc. degree at Penn. That professor was Joseph Bordogna, who later became Dean of Engineering at Penn, and later became Head of the Engineering Division at NSF. I continued for a Ph.D. there with Prof. Nabil Farhat. When I finished, I told him we were moving to Israel. He was quite surprised, but then surprised me by saying he was from Haifa, had studied at The Technion there, and was a member of the Bahai faith headquartered there.
In late December 1971 I defended my Ph.D. dissertation. On Jan. 5 1972 we arrived in Israel.

We have 3 Sabra [born in Israel] children. Each was and is a source of great joy. However, they seemed to go berserk in late teenagehood. Our oldest had problems with depression. Our daughter became very rebellious. Our younger son has a missing corpus collosum, which are nerves connecting both sides of the brain. More recent images show that they are not absent entirely, but they are very short. Nevertheless, thank G-d, each matured and married and started a wonderful family. The 8 grandchildren are sources of great joy.

My career here at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel, has been wonderful, thank G-d. My field is electro-optics, and my research specialties are imaging systems in general, and atmospheric optics and terahertz imaging in particular. I have been blessed with many outstanding students who have helped me publish a tremendous number of papers in the best international journals, as well as a few books. Many of those students have become faculty members at various universities. I am a Fellow of SPIE – The International Society for Optical Engineering. Not having been in the upper academic environs of our Advanced Class at Central, such academic success never crossed my mind during our times together at Central [and probably not yours either], so I am very thankful.

During our period at Central, I had been busy too with Jewish studies, and these continued during my undergraduate and graduate studies at Penn, and to the present as well. Before coming to Israel, I passed rabbinical exams. Several years ago, I was asked to become the spiritual head [voluntary] of our synagogue in Beer-Sheva, which is the historic Hadassah Synagogue started by doctors from Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, which set up a branch in Beer-Sheva after the massacre of the medical convoy on Mt. Scopus in 1948.

One thing I greatly regret is that around the time we came to Israel, I was unaware that Mark Packer was here too. I would have loved greatly to have connected with him.

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