Professor Reuven Feuerstein, Nearly a Nobel Prize Winner


Ruth Judah


Two years ago this month, Professor Feuerstein was told that his nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize was not successful. The Professor passed away this year, so this much lauded prize will never reward him with the honors he deserved. But, the Nobel Peace Prize would have been wholly appropriate given Feuerstein’s cutting edge educational and learning styles. It would have been a meaningful compliment to the collection of multi-national awards that Professor Feuerstein received before his death, which ended his vibrant career in April at the age of 93. Fortunately, his legacy lives on, Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding.

The nomination was specifically focused on his work with developmentally disabled children and adults around the world. “I suspect that it will be a very long time before there will be a Nobel Prize of Pedagogic Sciences,” noted a supporter, Andrew Sutton, but if there was such a prize, Feuerstein would surely have won.

Born in Rumania, Feuerstein had nine siblings. He escaped to Israel in 1944 and immediately started a teaching program for child survivors of the holocaust. With only a teacher’s qualification, he quickly understood the devastation the children had experienced with the destruction of their communities and families. These child survivors were referred to him because they has scored so poorly on IQ tests and they had been considered unteachable. Feuerstein worked with a team of teachers and psychologists and tested the children further discovering, “The IQ tests we did on these children had no way of taking into account the horrific experiences they had lived through, or of telling, we believed, what their true potential was. When we assessed the children differently through a routine to measure their learning capacity, rather than their present performance, we discovered that all of the children had potentials that had been completely submerged in the standard IQ tests.”

As the Professor developed ways that could repair the psychological and educational problems that faced these severely traumatized kids, he developed an individualized learning and recovery program and recognized that beneath our exterior lies a deeper essence that we can tap into. Soon he became known for his confidence that all intelligence is malleable within the right teaching environment. Feuerstein’s Theory asserts that intelligence is not fixed, but is modifiable.

Professor Feuerstein won global respect as a leading Israeli clinical psychologist for more than 50 years. He mapped out a meaningful way to deal with a vast array of mental issues, learning challenges and social ineptitude. His teaching style insists that learners are taught to think about their own thinking so they can progressively increase their functionality, regardless of their limitations.

Professor Feuerstein’s remarkable learning programs have benefitted families, kids and adults throughout Israel but also helped individuals living in communities as disparate as Rwanda and Eskimo. His dedication and repeated success stories have helped people across the world find a way to include themselves in society because of the educational programs taught at 85 Feuerstein centers on every continent and in more than 40 countries. The legacy is further enhanced by the books the Professor authored; Amazon offers seven that explain different elements of his learning style.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, enjoyed a close relationship with Professor Feuerstein and referred families on many occasions. In an interview with Jewish Educational Media’s “Living Torah Series” Feuerstein explained that the Rebbe gave him the determination to successfully bring Jewish people back into regularized society, even when their choices had taken them down the worst paths. Feuerstein had a deep appreciation for the far sighted view that the Rebbe envisioned for children with chromosomal problems, epilepsy and grave social ineptitude, believing that they could all be turned into, “high functioning, normal functioning individuals who can be brought very close to study, to Judaism, etc.”

Today it is recognized that the Professor’s Feuerstein Method successfully socialized a vast array of people, from Holocaust survivors to Down syndrome and autism patients, from survivors of the world’s worst genocides as well as adults and children who suffer from a broad collection of developmental and mental disabilities.

Eli Wiesel once said, “In Jewish history there are no coincidences.” It is no coincidence that Feuerstein’s memory and legacy are still being recognized. Rabbi Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the UK, sent his weekly email over the holiday season with an anecdote that is perfect for a man of Feuerstein’s broad reaching humanity. Rabbi Sacks attributed the story to Feuerstein’s son who spoke to Sacks at a tribute that Rabbi Sacks was recording for the Professor.

“Feuerstein had been working with a group of Native American Indians and they wanted to show their gratitude. So they invited him and his wife to their reservation. They were brought into the Indian chief’s wigwam where the leaders of the tribe were sitting in a circle in full headdress.

As the traditional welcome ceremony began, the professor, an orthodox Jew from Jerusalem, was overwhelmed by the incongruity. He turned to his wife and said to her in Yiddish, “What would my mother say if she could see me now?!” To his amazement, the Indian chief turned to him and replied in Yiddish: “And what would she say if she knew I understood what you just said!”
The Yiddish-speaking Indian chief told Feuerstein his story. He had grown up in Europe as a religious Jew, but having survived the horrors of the Holocaust, he decided that he wanted to spend the rest of his life as far away as he could from Western civilization, so he joined the Indians and became their doctor. Feuerstein was the first Jew he had met in his self-imposed exile.”

Meanwhile, the legacy of Professor Feuerstein lives on. The Feuerstein Institute headquarters is located in Jerusalem, headed by its President, Rafi Feuerstein, the Professor’s eldest son. At his father’s funeral, Rafi explained that his father, “….created an impossible combination. He put love, compassion, responsibility and morality into his system.” The system promises to make a difference for generations of children and adults that continue to flock to the Feuerstein Institute:

Imagine a method……beyond limitations……that improves how EVERY person learns……from the youngest child with Down Syndrome……to gifted students……and everyone in between…
…that unlocks university gates for students from underprivileged backgrounds……and can also prevent dementia in the elderly… That method is FEUERSTEIN