My grandfather, whom we fondly knew as GrandDoc, was an exceptional person who brightened the lives of many people. In addition to his roles as a devoted husband, father and grandfather, he was an incredibly accomplished mathematician and physicist, as well as being one of the founding members of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah synagogue.
His unique name has an interesting history, dating back to when my mother first learned to speak, and would call him by his first name, George. As that felt inappropriate to my grandparents, my mother was given several options of new names (such as Dada, Daddy, etc.) but chose to call him Doc as my grandparents had jokingly suggested he could be named Dr. Weiss (he had a Ph.D after all). The name stuck, and everyone in the community knew him as “Doc.” After my older brother, the oldest grandchild, was born, my grandfather’s name evolved and he became known as GrandDoc.
When my siblings and I were younger, he returned the favor and gave us nicknames befitting our personalities. As kids who liked to make messes and not clean them up, we were called Cyclone, Monsoon, and Hurricane. As we grew up, our nicknames also evolved; I became known as Shorty after I surpassed my grandparents’ refrigerator in height. Grandoc possessed a unique sense of humor. He loved bad puns and witty jokes, and his laughter was contagious.
When my grandfather was young and deliberating over his vocation, he considered becoming a journalist or a mathematician. Ultimately, he settled on the latter because through his work he would be able to help people in many different ways. As he once quipped, “I would rather be making the news, than reporting someone else’s.” Nevertheless, he did not seek fame or go out of his way for accolades, despite completing his PhD in record time (two weeks) and conducting post-doctoral research at the highly-regarded Weizmann Institute in Rechovot, Israel.
Although he was offered prestigious positions at respected universities such as Harvard and Bar-Ilan, he chose to work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). There he felt he could conduct more impactful research. He worked at NIH for over 48 years, where he would write roughly 600 papers along with 8 books. Put another way, he published approximately one paper a month for 48 years, an astonishing feat of productivity that is rare in any field of science. Along the way, he received a number of awards for his advancements in mathematics and science.
His focus however, was producing work that touched the lives of many people. One of his most notable contributions was a mathematical concept known as Continuous Time Random Walks. The applications of his work were broad, including models of traffic congestion, deepening our understanding of financial markets, and, of course, numerous medical applications. His work has much relevance to our lives, even though we may not realize it. For example, Continuous Time Random Walks can model how medicine diffuses through the bloodstream.
Despite the many noteworthy professional accomplishments and professional awards, the only thing he liked to brag about was his grandchildren. He loved spending time with us and developed a unique bond with each grandchild. On Shabbos, my siblings and I would go over to my grandparents’ house and make Kiddush with him. At these special moments, we would discuss many different topics over some delicious homemade cake. My grandfather had a sweet tooth, which made going to have Kiddush or dessert with him extra yummy. My grandmother always has the house stocked with many of our favorite goodies, so we never leave hungry. As GrandDoc wisely taught, dessert is the most important part of the meal. One time, there was a bake-sale fundraiser for the Hebrew Academy. When my grandparents arrived, the only food GrandDoc would buy was my grandmother’s cookies. He knew that no one could outdo her baking!
When my siblings and I learned to read, swim, or achieved other childhood milestones, he would treat us to Ben Yehuda Pizzeria or Baskin Robbins to celebrate these accomplishments. Also, he made sure to attend every one of our birthday parties, and took photos of the children which he gave to them; a habit he started at my mother’s and uncles’ birthday parties. He was a very gifted photographer, and we were his favorite subjects.
A special trait that my grandfather had was that he had a modest personality and did not portray himself in a haughty way demanding attention. Nevertheless, people would always come and chat with him, even if they did not know him so well. Oftentimes, they would seek his advice in the world of mathematics or science.
Aside from his tremendous devotion to his family and work, my grandfather was a religious Jew who meticulously kept every Shabbos and Yom Tov, limiting the amount of days that he could work (making his productivity all the more remarkable). In fact, he was part of the 2nd Minyan at Young Israel Shomrai Emunah before Rabbi Anemer zt’l. For many years, my grandfather often led a popular Parshat Hashavua and Tanach Shiur every other Shabbos.
My grandfather was committed to helping others through tzedakah, and one of his favorite charities was The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, an organization that gives money to the families of righteous gentiles who saved Jews in WWII. The Foundation really fit my grandfather’s personality, since it shows hakarat hatov (gratitude) to these families. Some of GrandDoc’s relatives had themselves been hidden from the Nazis. In daily life, my grandfather was very thankful for the many things that people did for him and he made sure to always tell them.
My grandfather left behind a wonderful legacy. His wife Delia Weiss, daughter Miriam Friedman (Steve, Matan, Edan, Merav), son Alan (Shira, Jake, Ben, Noah, Ari) and son Danny (Liora Greenberg, Judah, Raphael Dean). He told me on multiple occasions that he felt he had accomplished a lot and had lived a very full life. He was pleased with the lifestyle that he led, and although he always wanted to do more, he was proud of his accomplishments.
In such a hectic time, he knew how to live life to the fullest and how to move forward at a moderate, unhurried pace. My grandfather’s first Yartzheit was Sunday February 4th, 2018, the 19th of Shevat. Yehi Zichro Baruch.
Edan Friedman is a Senior at the Berman Hebrew Academy and is Captain of the Volleyball team. He attends Young Israel Shomrai Emunah and the Kemp Mill Synagogue. He is the Gabbai at the YISE Youth Minyan, He will be attending Yeshivat Har Etzion (Gush) followed by the University of Maryland.