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Postal Service Releases Stamps Honoring Jewish Scientist, Lyricist

May 9, 2005
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The U.S. Postal Service is issuing commemorative stamps this month honoring a brilliant 20th-century Jewish scientist, physicist Richard Feynman, and a stellar Jewish lyricist, E.Y. “Yip” Harburg. Feynman, a free-spirited scientist, musician, linguist and bon vivant, shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics for his contributions to quantum electrodynamics.

A native of Far Rockaway, N.Y., Feynman helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II while still in his 20s.

For nearly 30 years, he was a professor at the California Institute of Technology — known as Caltech — where he was equally famed for his path-breaking research and his spellbinding classroom lectures.

Barry Barish, a colleague and co-worker, said, “After Einstein, Dick Feynman was perhaps the smartest man of the 20th century.”

Feynman, a larger-than-life figure, died in 1988 at 69. He was the subject of the movie “Infinity” and the play “QED.”

He was slated to be honored in his birthplace on Wednesday. The Far Rockaway post office will release the stamp bearing his image in a ceremony featuring drumming — one of his favorite pastimes — and readings from his popular works.

Caltech will celebrate the stamp issue on May 20 by screening a documentary featuring Feynman and a display of his memorabilia and books, including his popular “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman.”

The four-stamp set in the postal American Scientist series also includes mathematician John von Neumann, who was born Jewish but converted to Catholicism, geneticist Barbara McClintock and thermodynamicist Josiah Willard Gibbs.

Harburg is being honored in a separate series of stamps for “writing the lyrics to more than 600 songs distinguished by their intelligence, humanity and inventiveness,” according to the citation.

Born on New York City’s Lower East Side to Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Harburg is best known for his lyrics to “Cabin in the Sky,” “Bloomer Girl,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Finian’s Rainbow.” Among his most memorable songs are “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” “April in Paris” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”

Each of the 37-cent stamps features a portrait of the honoree and drawings illustrating his or her major contributions.

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