Friday, November 25, 2011

A Love Story

         Everyone in my generation knows who Irving Berlin is, or was, and all of us have heard and know many of the hundreds of songs he wrote. What is not so well known or remembered is the story of his love affair with his wife and the songs he wrote to note its ups and downs. He had been married briefly, in February 1912, but his wife contracted typhoid fever on their honeymoon in Cuba and died in July at the age of 20. For the next dozen years he worked full-time at his craft and became one of America's most successful songwriters.

       In 1925 he met a young socialite, Ellin Mackay, 16 years younger than himself. It was love at first sight for both of them. She was the daughter of a millionaire, Clarence Mackay, the head of AT&T, and he strongly opposed the affair. Both were public figures and the affair was prominently played up in the tabloids----the immigrant Jewish songwriter and the debutante Catholic heiress. Mackay did everything he could to hinder the love affair, even sending his daughter off to Europe hoping she would forget him while they were apart. When they married in 1926, Mackay disowned his daughter and disinherited her from a substantial fortune. (They were reconciled after a few years as grandchildren came along and the marriage appeared to be permanent.) The marriage actually lasted 62 years, until Ellin died in 1988. Berlin died just nine months later, in 1989, at the age of 101.
       During their turbulent courtship, Berlin wrote some of his most endearing torch songs, especially at the times when they were apart. A few examples: All By Myself; What'll I Do (When You Are Far Away); All Alone; and Remember. When they were together and happy, he wrote one of the great upbeat songs of our times--Blue Skies, which was recorded by all the recording artists of the era. Then, when they were married, he wrote one of the great love songs of our times--Always-- and gave it to his wife as a wedding present. The royalties from that song alone made Ellin Mackay Berlin an independently wealthy woman. Here are the lyrics for these two ever-popular songs:

I'll be loving you, Always, With a love that's true, Always, When the things you've planned, Need a helping hand, I will understand, Always, Always. Days may not be fair, Always, That's when I'll be there, Always, Not for just an hour, Not for just a day, Not for just a year, but Always.

Blue Skies, smiling at me, Nothing but blue skies, do I see. Bluebirds, Singing a song, Nothing but bluebirds, all day long. Never saw the sun, Shining so bright, Never saw things, Going so right. Noticing the days, Hurrying by, When you're in love, my How they fly. Blue days, All of them gone, Nothing but blue skies, From now on.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Inventions On Display

       Early in 2011, the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem featured an exhibit of important inventions developed by Israelis over the past sixty years of the country's modern existence. Some forty-five inventions were chosen for display, but it should be noted that not all the companies invited to participate did so and not all the important inventions were included. Nonetheless, many of those chosen have made an impressive contribution for the benefit of mankind generally and for Israeli society specifically. 
       An outstanding example is a micro-irrigation process in which water is released in slow drips to provide precise irrigation quantities to certain crops. Developed by Netafim, a kibbutz owned company, it is especially valuable in areas where water is in short supply. The company now operates in 112 countries with thirteen factories around the world. Another company, HydroSpin, is developing a pipe generator that supplies electricity to monitor such water control systems in remote areas where access to electricity is not readily available. In the field of water control, another development has the potential for worldwide change in the coming years. It is the process of extracting air from water, a unique system developed by Like-a-Fish company that will enable scuba divers to operate without air tanks. More important, it will enable submarines to remain submerged for extended periods and it will make possible underwater research habitats for science experiments.
       Several inventions in the field of medicine are included in the exhibit. An optical heartbeat monitor utilizes a revolutionary camera and laser light to view the heart as it beats in order to detect unusual motion. Anyone who has ever undergone surgery and been attached to monitors that record all the various bodily functions that must be measured during the recovery period will appreciate this---a device that can be inserted either into or under a mattress to monitor and display all the necessary vital-sign measurements for the duty nurse, with no annoying or uncomfortable contact points attached to your body. Another device, developed by The Given Imaging Company, is the Pillcam, a pill containing a tiny camera that can view and transmit pictures of the entire gastrointestinal tract as it winds its way through the body. It has already saved lives by disclosing abnormalities from the inside that would never otherwise have been detected early enough to treat successfully.
       Dozens of other innovations and inventions are on display in this exhibit, far too numerous to describe in this limited space. And this says nothing about the remarkable advances made in Israeli medical research in the treatment of various diseases. For example, the disease known as Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS, for which there is no known cure and which usually causes death within five years of its onset, is undergoing a groundbreaking experimental study at the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem that has the potential for slowing or even stopping the progression of this disease. Patients from all corners of the world come to Jerusalem for treatment of medical problems, a true tribute to Israel's continuing contribution for the betterment of mankind.