By Miriam Karp
A mere drop in the big ocean of humanity, Jewish people are disproportionately represented in expanding the frontiers of science and humanities. Being only .22% of the worlds population, we have received 22% of the coveted Nobel Prizes. This year Professor Robert (Yisrael) J. Aumann won the Nobel Prize in economics, for advancing the understanding of conflict through game theory.
Replete with pomp and circumstance, lavish opulence and strict protocol, the ceremony is always held on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobels death. This year December 10 fell on Saturday and Aumann, like Agnon in 1966, faced the challenge of remaining true to his Jewish values while participating in the august honor.
The ceremony is held at night, but there is a requisite Saturday morning dress rehearsal. Choosing tallit over tux, Aumann prayed at the Chabad House, and was feted with a kiddush by the Israeli ambassador and Stockholms Jewish community.
Later that week the professor lectured at Handel University in Gothenburg, and was further feted at a special dinner catered by Chabad. As the short winter afternoon drew to a close, the celebrity left his audience for the Mincha prayer, leading the afternoon prayers in a conference room with Chabad Rabbi Alexander Namdar.
The menu of the grand banquet for 1,300 guests in Stockholms City Hall is always a closely guarded secret until the day of the dinner; suspense and interest mount in the weeks leading up to the gala. But this year the chefs had to reveal the top-secret menu to Stockholms kosher caterer to create kosher delicacies similar to the main menu.
Dr. David Rosen, Dr. Aumanns son in law, described the feast: The Kosher table settings of brand new gilded heavy silver, fresh from the kiln china and recently blown gold-stemmed crystal stood ready. Conversation flowed with fine kosher wines and special kosher old pale liquors. The Swedish menu of rare snow-grouse-breast covered in reindeer meat was NOT served to us. Our kosher contingent enjoyed a less gamy fare of goose covered in fillet of beef. That tasty texture was relished along with whole blanched green snow beans and northern forest champignons in espagnole roux.
In addition to kosher food and Shabbat observance, other challenges were overcome. The de rigueur tails and trousers with braids had to first be checked for shaatnez, the biblically prohibited mixture of linen and wool. Since there is no shaatenez lab in Sweden, the garment was flown to Israel to be examined. The forbidden shaatenez was indeed found in the tails, and replaced by an expert.
Professor Aumanns 35 family members were the largest cheering section, quite visible by their distinctive dress. The men wore knitted kippot, while the women sported colorful head coverings. It was an emotional moment as Swedens King Gustaf presented the prize to the 75 year- old scholar, who rose to accept his award in a white kippa that matched his flowing white beard and formal shirt.
Prof. Aumann's toast at the Nobel Banquet opened with the Jewish blessing:
Baruch Atah Ado-nai Elo-kainu Melech HaOlam HaTov v'HaMativ; Your Royal Highness, we have, over the years, participated in the scientific enterprise - studied and taught; preserved, and pushed forward the boundaries of knowledge.
We have participated in the human enterprise and raised families. And I have participated in realizing a 2000-year old dream - the return of my people to Jerusalem, its homeland.
This recognition is not only for us, but for all game theory, in Israel and in the world - teachers, students, colleagues, and co-workers
I offer my thanks to these, to the Nobel Foundation and the Nobel Committee, to our magnificent hosts, the country of Sweden, and to G-d, Who Is good and does good."
The inspiring words and the sight of the good professor surrounded by his 4 children (a fifth son was killed in Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982), their spouses and 19 grandchildren and great-grandchildren expressed Jewish endurance and continuity, as this noble scholar honored Jewish ideals and traditions, and was graciously accommodated by the Swedish royal court and the Nobel Academy.