The 2009 Dr. Bernard Heller Prize was awarded to Dr. Arno Motulsky, Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Medicine and Genome Sciences at the University of Washington, by Rabbi David Ellenson, HUC-JIR President, and Ruth O. Freedlander, Co-Trustee of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation. The presentation took place at the HUC-JIR/Cincinnati Graduation Ceremony on June 7, 2009, at Isaac M. Wise Temple, 8329 Ridge Road, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Dr. Arno Motulsky is the “Father of Pharmacogenomics,” the role of genetic variation in the response to drugs.
Ruth Freedlander said, “Dr. Heller was deeply concerned with the survival of the Jewish people and with the transmission of Jewish religious and cultural heritage. His encyclopedic knowledge of Judaism and his life reflected his abiding interest in philosophy, Jewish thought, and scholarship. He frequently referred to himself as a trustee of his wealth for Israel. Dr. Motulsky’s survival and his extraordinary scientific contributions to humankind, speak to the enormity of loss sustained by the murder of one-and-a-half million Jewish children during the Holocaust. How many future doctors, scientists, writers, artists were deprived of the opportunity to live, create, and contribute to this world, just because they were Jews? In honoring Dr. Motulsky, we also pay tribute to their memory and the infinite potentiality of their lives.”
Rabbi Ellenson said, “Dr. Motulsky, a loyal son of the Jewish people, is an inspiring scientist whose life is fashioned by powers of observation and the tenacious devotion to research. In the course of his life's journey, he has been nourished by the most human experiences which have marked his creative energies. His personal gifts of mind and heart have earned him extraordinary gratitude and respect.”
Dr. Motulsky grew up in Nazi Germany, which he left in 1939, although he did not make it to the United States until more than three years later. When he was 15 years old, he boarded the S.S. St. Louis, along with his mother, brother, and sister. The ocean liner sailed from Hamburg to Cuba, but was turned away in Havana Harbor after the Cuban government canceled the transit permits of most of the 1,000 refugees on board. The ship returned to Europe, where Dr. Motulsky's family was given asylum by Belgium. After a year in Brussels, the family received their American visas, but Belgium was taken over by the German army before they could leave. Dr. Motulsky was sent to a succession of internment camps in France before he was able to renew his American visa. Ten days before his 18th birthday, Dr. Motulsky was able to cross into Spain, then Lisbon before he finally arrived in Chicago.
Drafted by the United States Army when he was 20, Dr. Motulsky was placed into a special program to train army doctors. The army sent him to Yale and later medical school. He became involved in genetics after studying with the hematologist Dr. Karl Singer in Chicago. He began to study hereditary blood diseases.
In 1957, after publishing an article reporting that two drugs had negative interactions with enzymes produced by certain genes, he wondered if the same might be true of other pharmaceuticals. His question set off a revolution in research.
Dr. Motulsky is currently involved in assessing the role of genetic polymorphisms in resistance and susceptibility to disease from environmental agents. He studies the social impact of human genetics and has participated in various national committees dealing with these issues. He has been elected to the National Academy of Science (NAS), the Institute of Medicine of the NAS, the American Association of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.
The Dr. Bernard Heller Prize in Arts, Letters, the Humanities, and Religion is an international award presented to an organization or individual whose work, writing, or research reflects significant contributions in these areas. Previous recipients include Dennis B. Ross, Special Middle East Coordinator in the U.S. Department of State; Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, chief negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords; Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and advocate for Holocaust restitution; Count Folke Bernadotte, posthumously, for rescuing thousands in the concentration camps during the Holocaust; and Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel, for his exemplary leadership, wise statecraft, and moral leadership for over sixty years.
The Dr. Bernard Heller Prize was established by the Co-Trustees of the Dr. Bernard Heller Foundation to honor Dr. Bernard Heller's memory, life, and belief in the Jewish tradition. Dr. Bernard Heller was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1949, served on the faculty as Visiting Professor of Jewish Ethics and the Philosophy of Religion at HUC-JIR/New York, was the Director of Restitution of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc., the agency charged with the restitution of cultural property seized by the Nazis from European Jewry and Jewish institutions, and served the only liberal Jewish congregation in India, the Progressive Union of Bombay. Dr. Heller pursued his interests in business as one of the founders of the predecessor to the United Brands Corporation and the West Indies Investment Company in the U.S. Virgin Islands.