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Portrait: Ephraim Katzir

Ephraim Katzir (Katchelsky) (1916-2009)

World famous scientist, the Fourth President of the State of Israel and one of the founders of the Weizmann Institute.

Katzir was born in Kiev, Russia as Ephraim Katchelsky in 1916. When he was elected as President of the State he changed his name to Katzir. In 1925, when he was nine, he immigrated with his family to Jerusalem. In 1933, he graduated from the Hebrew Gymnasium of Jerusalem. He was a member of the socialist youth movement associated with Mapai and a member of the Haganah. In 1939, Katzir finished the organization's first officers' course and afterwards he was appointed as the commander of a students' unit of field infantry (HaChish). In May of 1948, he was appointed as the commander of IDF intelligence.

Katzir studied biology and chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1938, he received an M.A. in natural sciences and in 1941, he received his PhD. In 1949, he was among the first scientists to join the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, where he founded the department of biophysics. He headed the department until he was elected as the President of the State.

Within the framework of his scientific work, Katzir sponsored and managed important scientific research. Some of the most important Israeli scientific researchers are counted among his students. His work in developing the idea of amino acid polymers as models for natural proteins increased the understanding of the biology, chemistry and physics of proteins. It influenced genetic decoding and contributed to the understanding of the immune system responses to and development of different synthetic drugs and materials. Katzur received many prizes for his work. In 1959, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Life Sciences, and in 1966 he was the first Israeli inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1985, he won the Japan Prize. He founded the periodical "Mada" and was the head of the Israeli Association for the Advancement of Science and was appointed as a head of the unit for Science Oriented Youth.

Along with his academic work, Katzir also worked on defense and public initiatives. He was one of the senior advisors to the Minister of Defense and the security establishment. In the years 19661969, he served as the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Defense and was the head of the Committee to Organize Government Research created by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. The Committee recommended, amongst other things, to appoint head scientists in the government ministries. After the implementation of this recommendation, cooperation between the government, academia, industry and agriculture increased and there was a marked increase in the governmental research budget and scientific activity within the Israeli market.

In April 1973, as the Labor Party candidate, Katzir was elected by the Knesset as the President. Only four months later, the Yom Kippur War broke out. During and after the war, he would tour the front lines, meet with soldiers, visit the houses of bereaved families and visit the wounded in hospitals. As part of his work, he also hosted Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in Jerusalem in November 1977. During his term as president, Katzir instituted the "Presidential Award for Volunteerism," which is given out every year to people and organizations which do volunteer work.

In 1978, Katzir chose to leave at the end of one term, returning to his scientific work. He initiated the establishment of the biotechnology department at Tel Aviv University and was the head of the program for a few years. In 1988, he headed the National Committee for Biotechnology. Following its recommendations, the government began to cultivate the biotech industry. Similarly, from 1986-1990, he served as the global president of the Ort network of technological schools. He helped to establish academic colleges and advised government agencies. Katzir was married to Nina, an educator and English teacher. His older brother, Aharon Katzir, who was also a senior Israeli scientist, was killed in 1972 during a terror attack at the Lod airport.

President Ephraim Katzir passed away on May 30th, 2009 and, in accordance with his wishes, was buried in Rehovot.

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