The Eulogizer: Cryonics pioneer Robert Ettinger and Isaac Judah Ashkenazy, Cochin’s 10th Jew

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Learn about their achievements, honor their memories and celebrate Jewish lives well lived with The Eulogizer. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Read previous columns here.

Robert Ettinger, 92, pioneered freezing bodies after death

Robert Ettinger, who pioneered the belief in and technology of preserving the dead at low temperatures in the hope of resuscitation and healing of terminal diseases, died July 23 at 92. He was frozen immediately and stored at the institute he founded near his home in suburban Detroit.

Ettinger became the 106th person at the Cryonics Institute whose body is stored upside down in a vat of liquid nitrogen at minus 321 degrees.

Ettinger’s 1964 treatise, “The Prospect of Immortality,” put forward the idea that "if civilization endures, medical science should eventually be able to repair almost any damage to the human body, including freezing damage and senile debility or other cause of death."

"No matter what kills us, whether old age or disease, and even if freezing techniques are still crude when we die, sooner or later our friends of the future should be equal to the task of reviving and curing us," it said.

Ettinger was born in Atlantic City, N.J., to immigrant parents and was severely wounded in World War II in Germany. While recuperating, Ettinger spent time thinking about preserving life through technology, an idea spawned by “The Jameson Satellite,” a science fiction story published in 1931 he had read in the pulp magazine Amazing Stories.

The story is about a man who has his corpse placed into orbit, believing that outer space would preserve his body. The body is found millions of years later by aliens who put the man’s brains in a mechanical body. The trope of “cold sleep” became a common one in science fiction, with authors such as Robert Heinlein and others using it, as well.

After recovering from his war wounds, Ettinger earned master’s degrees from Wayne State University in physics and mathematics, and taught both subjects in later years at the university.

“The Prospect of Immortality” brought Ettinger notoriety, including appearances on TV programs, lectures, additional publications, and development of the Cryonics Institute in 1976. Ettinger’s mother became the first person to be preserved at the institute, and later his first and second wives were stored there. Additional cryonics facilities are in Russia, Arizona and California.

Scientific support for cryonics is less than overwhelming. An article in the Detroit News and a 2010 profile of Ettinger in The New Yorker included descriptions of how Ettinger’s body would be preserved, plus a discussion of the issues surrounding the technology and science. The field’s advocates, led by Ettinger’s group, are stalwart in their beliefs.

"He did what he thought was necessary and appropriate and didn’t worry much about what people thought," said his son, David. "The people who are scoffers are like the people who said heavier-than-air flight won’t work." 

Isaac Judah Ashkenazy, 83, one of Mattancherry, India’s last 10 Jews

Isaac Judah Ashkenazy, one of the remaining 10 Cochin Jews of Mattancherry, the western part of Kochi, a city in the southwestern corner of India with that country’s oldest functioning synagogue, died July 30 at 83.

Ashkenazy was a bachelor with two sisters in Israel. He was born and raised in the town, and worked for the regional electrical utility.

Blogger Thoufeek Zakriya, a self-described Indian Muslim who is cataloguing the history of the Jews of Cochin, described Ashkenazy as “Uncle Isaac for me, tolerant and pious by nature and so friendly by behavior." Zakriya also said that "His solitude life was not at all a matter for him, always uses to be happy, crack jokes and makes us happy and was a kind of fun-loving person.”

The origins of the Cochin Jews can be traced as far back as the 10th century, when the king of Malabar granted rights and privileges to a Jew named Joseph Rabban.

The Paradesi Synagogue in Mattancherry (click here for pictures) is the oldest in the former British Commonwealth and was built in 1568, an era in which the region’s Jews were prominent in the worldwide spice trade. The synagogue is located in the quarter of Old Cochin known as Jew Town and is the only one of the seven synagogues in the area still in use.

Prior to 1948, the community numbered about 250. Since the creation of the State of Israel, the majority have made aliyah.

 

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