A Most Distinguished Immigrant

Carl Alpert, journalist, historian and Technion fund-raiser, 1913-2005.

Carl Alpert was born in Boston, studied business administration and became the editor of the local Jewish paper, The Jewish Advocate. He was the national president of the Young Judea youth movement, the editor of The New Palestine - the official publication of the Zionist Organization of America - and also published a column in Jewish newspapers entitled "The Oracle," in which he answered readers' questions, such as: "Is it true that a Jew predicted the discovery of America before Columbus' journey?" (The answer: Yes, 250 years earlier, the Spanish kabbalist Moses de Leon asserted that the world was round).

He also wrote reference works such as "The Zionist Handbook: A Dictionary of Zionist Terms and Information" (1973) and "Palestine Between Two Wars" (1944). He married Nechama Tannenbaum and they had three children: Yami, Yoel and Ruthie.

Gripping novelist

In 1952, Alpert accepted an offer from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa to establish a public relations and fund-raising department. He immigrated with his family and for 35 years was responsible for collecting donations from around the world, something that was critical for the Technion, particularly at the time of the move to the new campus. After his retirement, he devoted himself to writing a history of the Technion, a two-volume work that reads like a gripping novel.

In the introduction, he explains how he designed the plot: He placed an imaginary telescope on the campus and "invited" different people to peer through it and describe what they saw - a student sees classrooms and laboratories, parties and late-night study sessions; a lecturer sees students, publications and a struggle for advancement; an administrator sees donations that are slow in coming, deficits and strikes; a high-tech industrialist sees candidates to fill the missing ranks in his empire; a benefactor sees plaques and dinners in his honor, and so on.

Technion President Prof. Yitzhak Apeloig says that in preparation for the post, the first thing he did was "read Carl Alpert's brilliant books about the Technion, and from them I drew knowledge about its fascinating history, which is so tightly interwoven with the history of Zionism and the arising and development of the State of Israel." In 2003, an employees' center at the Technion was named in Alpert's honor.

As an immigrant from the United States, Alpert was always concerned with easing the absorption of other immigrants like himself. In 1956, he published a practical guide for immigrants from North America, containing detailed advice on how to adapt to life in this country.

Friendly advice

He encouraged the men to bring lunch to their workplace, because that's what everybody does, and advised the women, upon whom the heaviest burden rested and upon whose acclimation the success of the entire family depended, how much maids could be hired for by the hour - though it's hard to find one who speaks the language (English). He warned that, in stores, the immigrants wouldn't find the kind of service they were used to, but counseled patience: "If the saleswoman is busy exchanging recipes with the customer before you, please be patient with her. Perhaps you ought to listen in, anyway. Maybe you'll like the recipe."

He recommended that immigrants try to distinguish between genuine hardships and the simple way of life in Israel and also pointed out the advantages of this lifestyle. For many years, Carl and Nechama also assisted with the absorption of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Alpert continued with his journalistic writing until his very last days. For close to 70 years, Jews around the world read his articles that were published in dozens of newspapers, about life in Israel and the goings-on in the Jewish world. Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, editor of Denver's Intermountain Jewish News says Alpert "had journalism in his blood. He was always looking for a good story, always fair and careful to present both sides, always terrific at telling a story from different and unexpected angles." Goldberg says readers will especially miss Alpert's articles about the holiday period, when he would "invite" to his sukkah eminent guests from every generation and invent dialogues between Herzl and Maimonides, for instance. And he also had readers cracking up with his stories about Israeli chutzpah.

In 2002, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of AACI (the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel), of which Alpert served as president for two years, the president of the state presented him with a certificate of appreciation for "his extraordinary achievements in the fields of journalism and public relations." That same year, he was also named a Yakir Haifa (Distinguished Citizen of Haifa), by the city where he lived for 50 years.