Dad's Memorial Service                16-Sep 2015

Reflections by Josh Bers (Abe’s son)

This location, the MIT Chapel, is ideal for celebrating dad's life. Not only were mom and dad married in this very space back in 1966, but MIT was his center for so many years. From the maze like building 20 to the glass and concrete of building 38, dad was never far from Kendall Square. As a child I spent many hours in his lab-space waiting for him to finish his work, but actually hoping he wouldn't so that I could continue to play on computer consoles with direct connections to MIT's mainframes.

Let me tell you 3 stories about dad:

When I was younger, one of my favorite Saturday activities was to visit Harvard Square with dad. Dad was a man who loved his rituals and his weekend trip to Harvard Square was, like his hourlong tooth maintenance and drinking Evian water, a dependable part of his routine.

Once in Harvard Square we would visit: Hillside dry cleaners, Wordsworth bookstore and Pamplona coffee shop not necessarily in that order. My favorite was Pamplona because it was there that Dad and I would interact. Mostly we played a game of memory with the sugar packets. Each packet had an image on the back and we would arrange them in rows and take turns trying to find the matched pairs. He would have an espresso and a media noche sandwich and I would have a hot chocolate.

Food was another one of dad's rituals. Just ask my mother. Ironically the week that dad died, her stove died as well, symbolic of the end of almost 5 decades of service performed daily by mom for dad. Mom recounts one of the earliest arguments that they had was around a dish that mom had specially prepared for him but he found to have too much curry. From an early age, I benefited from Dad's discerning palate as he would frequently take us to fancy restaurants and especially on his sabbatical year in Paris. There we lived directly above a 1 star restaurant named Chez Georges. By the end of the year dad had become close friends with the owner and his son Bernard and I had learned how to order steak frites and eat sauce bernaise with my filet mignon. The culmination of our year at the culinary capital was a visit to the famous La Tour D'Argent for my 10th birthday. I still have the post-card they give you when you order the canard presse (pressed duck). Apparently, I ate duck # 572,717!

Travel and foreign languages were infused in dad's life from an early age. By the time he was 5 he spoke three languages, German, Romanian and Yiddish. His hometown went by 3 different names depending upon whom you asked: Cernauts, Cernavtsi or Czernowitz. As a survivor of the Holocaust, dad's family escaped the ghetto and deportation to concentration camps. After the war, he finished high-school in Bucarest then followed his cousins to South America via Austria and Italy and by boat to Buenaventura Colombia. There he spent a single year learning English and fixing radios before moving to Berkeley California where he started college. Upon graduation, he moved to Cambridge and MIT where he remained the rest of his career and life. Although he only arrived in an English speaking country at age 19, his English, like most of his languages, was almost without accent. Almost, his children were not fooled and teased him mercilessly when he would slip up. When angry he would begin to drop articles and stammer in what may have been a mix of Romanian verb structure. Instead of telling us to "turn off the light" or "brush your teeth" when we refused to get to bed, we would hear "close light", "brush teeth" and "close door" to which we would respond with peals of laughter and mocking mimicry, "close light", "turn off door"...

He would sometimes drawout his ssess into zzz's: dizzapointed, plauzzible or turn a u into a eu: permeutations, perturbations... Rachel and I would parrot these back ceaselessly, to our constant amusement, however, he didn't seem to mind.

For those who are not keeping track, that was the third story, however, I will borrow one from a friend for my final dad story. This one comes from my close friend Steven Gordon whom I have know since I was 13. It was the summer after our senior year of highschool and Steven had spent the night at my house. In the middle of the night Steve snuck out for an amorous assignation. To his surprise, he was greeted with "Hi Steve!" as he passed my father's study on his way to his car at 2 AM. Steve peaked in to see him working on some lecture notes or problem set preparation. Not a question was asked as to Steve's intended destination or query of expected return. Several hours later, jets cooled, Steve returned to my house and crept past my dad's study where the light was still on, only to hear "Hi Steve!" once more without a hint of surprise or follow up questions. Steve replied "Hi Mr. Bers" and continued downstairs unperturbed.

Dad was always and until the end of his life fully absorbed by his work. As many of you know, after "retirement" he worked constantly for a dozen years on his book. His last weeks he made a monumental effort to complete the text. Rachel and I helped him to write the one patently non-technical section, the preface. I had always felt unable to comprehend dad's work at a detailed level due to my lack of mathematical depth/skill; however, I thought I should at least try. So I picked up a random chapter and here is what I read: Page 1328 Chapter 21.2....

An equation with a quadruple integral has a footnote explaining that “To simplify the writing, the limits on the integrals are omitted, but, as relativistic causality requires, their ranges must be such that the primed and double-primed space-time 4-vectors lie within the backward light cone…..”

I guess that I wasn't wrong!