12.12.2021 - online

Meet the Family: Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski

Chaim Zelig Słonimski. Brodaty mężczyzna z długimi włosami.
fot. Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich

Lee Slonimsky, a great grandnephew of Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski (1810–1904), will explore the legacy of this astronomer, inventor, educator, and popularizer of science in conversation with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. What does his legacy mean to Lee and to future generations?

  • Live in English: Sunday 12 December, 2:00PM EDT / 11:00AM PDT / 8:00PM CET / 9:00PM Israel.
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“Meet the Family” – online conversations with the descendants of distinguished Polish Jews, moderated by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator of POLIN Museum’s Core Exhibition.

Join the next “Meet the Family” conversation. Lee Slonimsky, a published poet and novelist, will offer personal insights into the life and work of his famous ancestor Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski, inventor of a four-way telegraph and a calculating machine and publisher of the first popular science magazine in Hebrew. Chaim Selig Slonimski was also the grandfather of Polish poet Antoni Słonimski. Lee will reveal what he finds so inspiring about his great granduncle and why his legacy is important today.

The “Meet the Family” series accompanies the new Legacy gallery at POLIN Museum. The 26 individuals featured in this gallery, when considered together, form a collective portrait of Polish Jews and their achievements. The “Meet the Family” series goes beyond the 26 luminaries featured in the gallery to many others and broadens the discussion to consider how their lives illuminate the history of Polish Jews, and how the history of Polish Jews illuminates their lives. The series will offer a unique opportunity to meet their descendants, some of whom are devoting their own lives to preserving the legacy of their distinguished forebears.

The conversation with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett explores the lives, work, and legacy of these exceptional individuals. How did those who achieved so much overcome limitations, pursue their goals, and take responsibility for themselves and others? May those we honor in these conversations inspire us today and in the future.

Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski was born in 1810 in Bialystok and died in 1904 in Warsaw.  Astronomer, inventor, educator, editor, publisher, and popularizer of science, he believed in the compatibility of science and Torah, comparable in its own way to the efforts of Philo, the Hellenistic and Alexandrian Jewish philosopher, to achieve harmony between the Bible and Hellenistic thought. 

In 1856 Słonimski invented a telegraph that could send two telegrams in each direction simultaneously. Even earlier he invented a calculator. He was the author of a biography of the geographer Alexander von Humboldt (1858), compiled a book about Halley’s Comet (Kokhava’ de-shavita’, 1835), and published a book about astronomy (Toldot ha-shamayim,1838). His popular science magazine, Ha-Tsefirah, the first of its kind in Hebrew, featured articles on everything from scientific inventions to dinosaurs.  His mathematical achievements range from the invention of calculating machines – its underlying concept has entered the history of computing as “Słonimski’s theorem” – to perfecting the Hebrew calendar in light of astronomical discoveries.

Lee Slonimsky, great grandnephew of Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski and second cousin to Polish poet Antoni Slonimski, was born in New York City in 1951. His paternal grandparents came to America from Poland in 1905. Lee is a well-published poet, with nine books in print and a tenth, Bright Yellow Buzz, forthcoming in 2022.  His third book, Pythagoras in Love, has been translated into Greek by Stamatis Polenakis, a Greek National Poetry Prize winner, and into Polish as Zakochany Pitagoras by the distinguished poet Henryk Cierniak. Lee has spoken at the Athens Centre and the Athens Academy in Greece, the Keats/Shelly House in Rome and St. Andrews University in Scotland. He is also the literary executor of Daniel Hoffman, poet laureate of the United States 1973-74 (under its previous title, Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress). He has coauthored three novels, the Black Swan Rising trilogy, With his wife, Carol Goodman, a Hammett Prize and two-time Mary Higgins Clark Award winning novelist. 

Lee has also been a pioneer in the field of socially responsible investing, with his hedge fund Green Hills Partners LP, and advocates for the humane treatment of animals.

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator of the Core Exhibition at POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and University Professor Emerita at New York University. Her books include Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage; Image Before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864–1939 (with Lucjan Dobroszycki); They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of Jewish Life in Poland Before the Holocaust (with Mayer Kirshenblatt); The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times (with Jonathan Karp); and Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, Memory (with Jeffrey Shandler), among others. She has received honorary doctorates from the Jewish Theological Seminary, University of Haifa, and Indiana University, was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was decorated with the Officer’s Cross of the Order Merit of the Republic of Poland. She is the recipient of the 2020 Dan David Prize and 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Folklore Society. She serves on Advisory Boards for the Council of American Jewish Museums, Jewish Museum Vienna, Jewish Museum Berlin, and the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, and advises on museum and exhibition projects in Lithuania, Belarus, Albania, Israel, New Zealand, and the United States.