NEW YORK (Jan. 21)
Dr. Benjamin Levich, a former refusenik whose effort to immigrate to Israel garnered worldwide support from scientific communities, died Monday night of a heart attack in Fort Lee, NJ. He was 69 years old. He will be buried Thursday in Israel next to his wife Tanya, who died in 1983.
Levich, creator of a new science known as “physico-chemical hydrodynamics,” divided his time equally between New York and Tel Aviv, holding simultaneously the positions of professor of engineering at Tel Aviv University, and Albert Einstein Professor of Sciences, as well as director of the Institute of Applied Chemical Physics and Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Physics, at the City College of the City University of New York.
Levich immigrated to Israel in December 1978 after a nearly seven-year struggle to leave the Soviet Union. At the time of his application to emigrate, in February 1972, Levich became the highest-ranking scientist to apply to leave.
Prior to his visa application, Levich was department head of electrochemistry at the Institute of Hydrodynamics of the Soviet Academy of Sciences and held a professorial chair at Moscow University. He was expelled from both positions following his application to emigrate.
During his period of refusal, Levich was deprived of all opportunity to engage in scientific activity, and he and his family were constantly harassed by the authorities.
A TEST-CASE FOR THE SOVIETS
Levich was a test-case for the Soviets, and as a result of his application for an exit visa, other Jews in high scientific positions were also emboldened to seek visas.
In May 1976, 1,000 scientists in New York called upon the Soviet Academy of Sciences to use its influence in urging the Soviets to allow Levich and his wife, Tanya, to join their sons Evgeny and Alexander in Israel. In July 1977, more than 100 Western scientists held a three-day conference at Oxford, England, to draw attention to Levich’s case.
Levich’s arrival in Israel was greeted by Israeli government officials, representatives of universities, other Soviet immigrants and relatives. But Levich seemed particularly pleased by the handshake of a policeman. “I had a good feeling shaking the hand of a friendly policeman,” Levich said.
Levich was the author of more than 150 papers in theoretical physics, electrochemistry and hydrodynamics. He also wrote a four-volume textbook on theoretical physics that was translated into English, German, Spanish, Czech, Portuguese and Chinese.