Departures Arrivals: A U.S. Dad Visiting His Son in Israel Finds God in Geometry

Meanwhile, an Israeli mom reunites with her toddler after being apart for the first time.

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
Jonathan Rosenberg, a 63-year-old man from Silver Spring, Maryland sits at a table in the airport in front of his laptop computer.
Jonathan Rosenberg, 63, lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

Jonathan Rosenberg, 63, lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.; flying to Vienna

Hello, can I ask how you spent your time in Israel?

Yes. I visited my son, who’s studying in a yeshiva here. He and I are American-born, but my maternal grandmother was born in Jerusalem in the period of Turkish rule, before World War I. Besides that, I also came to lecture at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. I’m a professor on sabbatical, so I can travel a little.

What’s your field of research?

Mathematical physics. There are a great many problems in physics that involve highly complex physical issues, but I am more of a mathematician than a physicist. My field is geometric structures in physics. I am interested in the effects of the geometry of space on physics. This year we’re celebrating the centenary of the discovery of the theory of relativity. It was Einstein who said that the geometry of space is dependent on geometry. From here I’m going to a conference in Vienna that is entitled “Higher structures in string theory and quantum field theory.”

I assume there’s no way you can explain to me what that means.

I can try. The real problem is to understand how the geometry that works with gravity is related to quantum mechanics. That’s the great puzzle that people have been working on for a hundred years now. We think of geometry as something deterministic, whereas quantum mechanics deals with probabilities. After all, it’s impossible to say exactly where an electron is; the more you try to locate it, the less you will know about its speed. That’s the basic principle of quantum mechanics.

As expected, I didn’t understand a thing. Again?

Quantities in quantum mechanics don’t connect with one another. A times B doesn’t equal B times A. The term we use is “noncommutative”; I deal with noncommutative geometry and I’m looking for an analogy – noncommutative geometry that will work with quantum mechanics.

Are you making progress?

Noncommutative geometry has developed greatly in the past 30 years. We are approaching a place where we know enough about it to integrate it with other things.

And what will happen then?

Even when you have a general theory in which everything fits and is consistent with everything else, there is still the problem of applying the theory. I am talking about the solution of specific problems by means of precise calculations – problems without an end.

Sounds a bit depressing.

Not at all. I do it because I enjoy it, for me it’s fun. It’s always been fun. I always wanted to be a mathematician.

How does your faith work with your mathematics?

I am religiously observant, it’s true, and I don’t think there is any contradiction between the two. I think of God in Maimonides’ abstract sense, not as an old man with a long beard. For me, God is expressed in the organizing principles of the universe, and geometry is of course part of those. By the way, Maimonides said that everyone should study mathematics, and I believe that’s true.

But so many people are afraid of mathematics.

That really is a big problem. I have a daughter who’s afraid of mathematics, so I understand the difficulty. I think people are mistaken about what mathematics is.

What is it?

Mathematics is asking questions and arriving at their solution by means of a logical thought process. There is no reason to be afraid of mathematics if you understand that it’s really only an efficient way to try to analyze things logically. The fact is that everyone practices mathematics all the time, whether they’re aware of it or not. Whenever you think about something and try to understand how it works – that’s mathematics. For some unknown reason, people assume that mathematics is different from the other spheres of life, but that’s a mistake – mathematics is part of life, it is exactly life. Did you try something out? Did you analyze the alternatives? Did you arrive at a decision? That’s mathematics. Mathematics is not the study of rules or doing long and complicated calculations, even if it occasionally involves that, too. That’s only a byproduct. It’s not the heart of mathematics.

Moran Foox Elder, 33, and Meshi Elder, 2 and a half, from Kiryat Motzkin.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Moran Foox Elder, 33, and Meshi Elder, 2 and a half; live in Kiryat Motzkin; Moran is arriving from Budapest

Hello, can I ask what you did in Budapest?

Moran: Sure. I visited Tzipi, a friend who’s doing a Ph.D. there, for four days! It’s the first time I left Meshi for such a long time.

How was it?

Moran: I missed her like crazy. Every time I saw a Hungarian toddler I thought of her.

How did you cope?

Moran: By shopping! Besides that, I received reports and Meshi made me video clips and we spoke on WhatsApp. But we didn’t really manage to talk on Skype.

Meshi: Skype no.

Moran: I was really afraid she’d be angry at me when I got back. Meshi is very close to me, and I was really uptight before the trip. But now I’m back and things look good. I’m glad I went. At first I planned a shorter trip, but then I said I have to be good to myself. It was the right time to go. You have to follow your heart.

Now you suddenly sound calm.

Moran: I was calm, I knew she was in the good hands of her father and grandparents. Having family support really helps. I also prepared her, I let her know in drips and drops that I would be going. I think a parent, too, has to be able to let go,; not to be a control freak. Today Meshi even got a day off from nursery school.

Meshi: Mommy, look: one, two, three, four, five, six.

Wow, she’s already counting.

Moran: We’re raising a little genius, but we’re biased. Meshi, did you eat the whole banana? Want more? It’s also important not to be afraid to enjoy life, especially because it affects the way you see things. It even affects the personality.

Do you feel that motherhood changed your personality?

Moran: Very much so. I am more realistic. It’s part of life, I guess. The divorce, too. Life is what happens while you’re making plans. There are surprises and you keep going.

What are you planning now?

Moran: I am studying to get a teaching certificate, and I’m working in a school and doing professional retraining to become a primary-school teacher. I have a B.A. in communications and a master’s in counseling and development, specializing in preschoolers. In short, after two degrees, I’m waiting to start making money already. After the first degree my dream was to be Miki Haimovich [a television presenter].

And what happened?

I worked in advertising, in the children’s department of the G. Yafit firm, but only a little. After four months in Tel Aviv, I decided to return to the north.

You acted fast.

Moran: I shared an apartment with a schizophrenic guy who had an iguana that he fed with carrots in our sink. And he bathed it in the bathtub.

You’ve just been awarded the prize for having the worst roommate of all time.

Moran: Yes, all the signs indicated that I should go home. To quote the familiar phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” So I went back north, met my now-ex-husband and decided to do a master’s. I loved school, even though my head was busy organizing the wedding and entering the labor market. In any event, the degree also gave me extra points as a mom.


Moran: Tools for coping with the sleeping issue. We were on top of that with a high hand.

How, for heaven’s sake?

Moran: By setting very clear limits and also giving plenty of warmth and love. She moved into her own room at the age of four months and also fell asleep on her own. I read that this is very important for the child’s self-confidence. All the grandmas and grandpas told us to let her be. “What do you care?” they said. But we stuck to it and profited. At 9 P.M., she was already asleep, like a clock. A daily schedule and consistency is what gives a child confidence. That’s important for education, and I am going to be a teacher.

What will you teach?

Moran: Literature. I wanted to teach primary-school children, that’s the field that attracts me most, probably I’ll end up being a homeroom teacher.

Meshi, which book that Mommy reads you do you like best?

Meshi: “Yael’s House” and also karpion [carp].


Meshi: Leviatan [whale]!

Moran: Ah, “Kaspion, the Little Fish.”

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