Supreme scientist, to the very end

I received an email from Prof. Ami Citri informing me of the sad news that his father, Prof. Nathan Citri, passed away at home in Jerusalem just before Rosh Hashanah. Though well past 90 and officially retired from the Hebrew …

I received an email from Prof. Ami Citri informing me of the sad news that his father, Prof. Nathan Citri, passed away at home in Jerusalem just before Rosh Hashanah.

Though well past 90 and officially retired from the Hebrew University since 1989, Nathan Citri had never stopped seeking simple solutions to intractable world health problems. Together with Ami’s mother Naomi, who died in 2011, Prof. Citri invented a prototype for bedside kits that detect and identify “superbugs” from blood or urine, yielding lifesaving information within minutes rather than days.

He’d taken the prototype to England to get the ball rolling on developing the kit. When I came to his home to interview him earlier this year, he’d related how the expert with whom he met there predicted it would take a couple of years for the product to be commercialized. “Look at me,” he had told the expert. “I don’t have that kind of time. We need to do this right now.” And so the kit was fast-tracked toward getting the European CE Mark of approval.

I had asked him for his secret to longevity, and his smile faded. He refused to speculate on that, he told me, because he could make no sense of the topic. His parents and teenage sister were murdered by the Nazis – he had escaped to Palestine through the Youth Aliyah rescue project in 1937 – and in 1995 his beloved elder son from his first marriage, Yoav, was killed in an accident. Photos of Naomi and Yoav hung above his workspace, where he was involved in developing yet another medical diagnostic kit until shortly before his death.

Ami Citri, a neurobiologist who this academic year began a double appointment at the Hebrew University as an assistant professor at the Silverman Institute of Life Sciences and at the Safra Center for Brain Sciences, said in the email that there was no funeral for his father.

“Since my father committed himself to science in life and death, his body was returned to the Hebrew University Medical School,” he wrote.

Our sympathies go out to Ami and his half-sister Miki, a social worker at Hadassah University Medical Center.

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About Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.