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The Final Journey

IBM Haifa Labs News Center

The Final Journey

For years, Professor Josef Raviv and his wife, Joanna, would fly abroad in separate planes, so that if something were to happen to one of them, their children would not be left to fend for themselves. Last week, the two met their deaths in an automobile accident in New Zealand. Their friend, Professor Kurt Weiser was also killed. Weiser's wife Ora, miraculously survived. Raviv, an IBM employee, was considered one of the world's leading Israeli computer scientists. He constantly mixed business and travel, and vice versa, declaring "let's work and have fun -- time is precious."

Only a few months ago, the high-tech sections of the Israeli media reported on the new development center established on the Haifa University campus by Professor Josef Raviv. "The building of this center represents another considerable expansion of IBM Israel's activities," stated Raviv, "and we expect to continue on this course for years to come. The integration of a research laboratory that will work in product development is a major opportunity for innovative and unique developments and products, something which is difficult to do anywhere else."

In the Haifa center, as in the rest of IBM's centers, people were shocked to hear the news of Raviv's death, and condolence letters began to flood in from all over the world. At the IBM Laboratory, in the Matam Business Park, employees set up a memorial corner. There is also a memorial site on the Internet. At age 65, when most people retire, Raviv was getting started. "He was a young man at his peak," said Ettie Gilead, a manager at the Haifa center who was Raviv's personal assistant for 15 years. "He was 65, but he was like a flower picked before it blossoms," she added.

The car crashed through the bridge

For years, while their three children, Alon, Lori and Lisa, were still young, Professor Josef Raviv and his wife, Joanna, would fly to overseas vacations or family visits in separate aircraft. Their concern for their family was so great that they preferred to fly separately; if something terrible were to happen to one of them, their children would not be left alone. Only after the children had grown, Josef and Joanna began to fly together.

Last week on Thursday afternoon, the Ravivs were killed in an automobile accident in New Zealand, when their car overturned and fell into the Jacobs River, near Christchurch. Also in the car were Professor Kurt Weiser and his wife Ora, with whom the Ravivs were vacationing. Professor Weiser, a senior professor at the Technion, was also killed. The New Zealand local police reported that at approximately 1:30 p.m. Thursday local time (Wednesday night in Israel), a rental car carrying 4 Israeli passengers crashed into the Jacobs river after breaking through the wooden guardrail on the bridge. The three died at the scene. Ora Weiser was the only survivor. Apparently, she did not fasten her seat belt and was thrown from the window of the car. She suffered from shock and minor injuries. The funeral for the three victims was held yesterday.

Twenty-five years before the success of Internet companies, and three decades before Israeli companies were traded for hundreds of millions of dollars on the stock markets, Professor Raviv was one of the pioneers of the Israeli high-tech industry. Twenty-seven years ago, he began the research activities of IBM-Israel, and he managed it until his final day. Under his direction, the Haifa Research Laboratory became the largest and most important center outside of the United States. Traces of Professor Raviv's work can be found today in many IBM products, which started their course on workstation monitors at the Haifa Laboratory. Raviv also influenced a long and impressive list of Israeli enterprises that were founded by former students from the Technion and by others who, at one point, worked under Raviv before leaving to pursue individual projects.

Sent by his mother to the United States

Raviv, considered one of the most famous Israeli computer scientists worldwide, was born in Bialystok, Poland, in 1934. "When he was 4 years old," said his daughter, Lisa, "he immigrated to Palestine with his family, after having fled Poland. The extended family, which remained in Poland, perished in the Auschwitz concentration camp. My father studied at the Herzliya High School in Tel Aviv, and was very talented and mature for his age. After completing high school at age 17, his grandmother sent him to study in the United States. He went on his own, and studied electrical engineering at Stanford University in California.

On the Stanford campus Raviv met Joanna, a talented psychology student and the woman who later became his wife. They married at age 21. After Raviv completed his master's degree and Joanna finished her psychology studies, the two returned to Israel and Raviv enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces, where he served in the air force. Three years later, at the end of his military service, the couple returned to the United States, where Raviv completed his doctoral studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

All three of their children were born in the United States. Alon and Lori, the eldest children, were born in California, and Lisa, the youngest daughter, was born in New York, where the family moved in 1964.

That same year, Raviv began working as a researcher in the IBM's Watson Research Laboratory in the United States. He later headed various research teams. In 1971, after spending a sabbatical year in Israel and talking with the late David Cohen, General Manager of IBM-Israel at that time, Raviv convinced IBM management to begin research and development activity in Israel. One year later, in 1972, Raviv and his family immigrated to Israel. The research center at IBM-Israel was underway.

At the time, the center was located at the Technion, and employed only three researchers. Throughout the following years, the center grew to become IBM's largest research center outside of the United States, with approximately 300 researchers and 100 students. Raviv's unique activity earned him respect and appreciation from all ranks of IBM management.

"Josef," says Ettie Gilead, "was a patriot and Zionist in every way. If he had stayed in the United States, I have no doubt that he would have become an important figure at IBM. Instead, he chose to come and live in Israel. He traveled abroad countless times to interview Israelis and convince them to return to Israel and work. It was important to him that people work and produce in Israel."

Through the years, Raviv also served as a professor at the Technion, the University of Connecticut, and Berkeley. He registered eight patents in the United States, and received numerous awards, including the Golden Jubilee award from the IEEE - the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. In 1974, he was one of four authors of a scientific article entitled "Optimal Decoding of Linear Codes for Minimizing Symbol Error Rate." The idea for the article came about when Raviv began working at the IBM laboratories, where he established and managed the first team to work on problems with computerized recognition of continuous speech. Raviv and this team estimated that within 10 years a solution would be found to this technological challenge. In the end, it took twice as long until the appearance of the first commercial product, and the work in this area continues today. Last year, this article was named one of the 50 most influential articles during the 50-year history of the "Information Technologies," journal published by the IEEE. The article was selected from more than 6000 articles printed in the journal throughout the years.

In Israel, Raviv held several public positions, including the presidency of the Israeli Association for Information Technology and trusteeship at Haifa University. He was a member of the management boards for Elbit Medical Imaging and Softel.

Only a few months ago, on his 65th birthday, Raviv retired as manager of the IBM research center in Haifa, and began working on his latest assignment -- to establish an additional development center in Israel.

Four names

"Over the last few days, I realized one of the unique qualities that characterized my relationship, and other people's relationships with Raviv. " said Dr. Micky Rodeh, director of the Research Laboratory and acting director of the Haifa Development Center, as well as a former student of Raviv's at the Technion. "It is a quality that makes him unique. Generally, a person has only one name. As a senior employee and manager, he was Raviv. If I needed to tell a co-worker what my boss had said, I would use the name Raviv. There were many others that called him Professor Raviv, even though he hadn't taught in years, because he had retained a sort of status. His second name, Josef, was used by those who felt close to him, but still only in a semi-formal setting. The third name, Yossi, was reserved for the more intimate group of friends and family. In spite of the fact that I have known him for many years, I almost never called him Yossi -- only a few times, and under special circumstances, such as when we were on long trips together or late at night. Finally," Rodeh said with a smile, "there were people who called him Joe. This name fit him well, mainly because he was a very cosmopolitan person. You could even say that he was never entirely Israeli. Even his Hebrew was a sort of translation of English thought, with borrowed phrases, such as 'take your time.' He had within him a mixture of cultures, to the extent that it was nearly impossible to determine one predominant culture. Aside from his sophistication, there is another reason that the name 'Joe' fit him so well -- it is the name of a person who can maneuver people and set them up, in the positive sense. He was very successful at maneuvering, so that he always came out on top, without anyone having felt set up and without them having a clue as to how it happened.

"These four names symbolized the amazing mixture of the four aspects that simultaneously existed within Raviv's character, and which made his personality so multifaceted. Another aspect, related to the others, is the unique situation that he was involved in, and the fact that he was able to build things under circumstances that, in my opinion, no one else could have accomplished successfully. His success was based on a rare ability to recognize and seize opportunities - which he did many times, starting with the establishment of the new research center in Israel. His rare ability to predict trends in technological development enabled him to establish teams of experts and provide prompt solutions to new problems, time after time."

With respect to technological development, the Haifa laboratory did not develop around one central product, but rather with a universal approach to dealing with a wide variety of technological fields, starting with communication and multimedia, to programming languages and verification tools, algorithms for storage management, compression and decompression methods, Internet search and navigation systems, and more.

"He had an almost magnetic charisma," added Rodeh, "which opened every door for him at IBM. His manner of thinking did not take difficulties into consideration. In spite of the fact that he led a small group of only 50 people, when he needed computing resources, he didn't hesitate to turn to the most senior employee at IBM and ask him to solve the problem, as if it were the most pressing problem the senior employee had. He was not shy and he got results. Josef initiated the expansion of the laboratory's activities and carried it out before the proper authorization was received. I would say that without his courage, the lab would not exist today."

Through the years, said Rodeh, this courage led Raviv to several bold decisions. "For years, there was an understanding that the center was somehow a part of IBM-Israel, and that the company must provide an infrastructure. Slowly, however, an imbalance developed between the two organizations. IBM-Israel was oriented toward marketing, and here, the research group was growing, and had entirely different needs. As a result, the question arose: Where do we go from here? Since the opportunity arose for the research center to become a Laboratory for the IBM Research Group, it was necessary to examine the pros and cons of this opportunity. After a difficult struggle, Josef made a decision that, I feel, was very brave: to join the IBM Research Group."

Aside from his position as an important researcher and his status within the company," said Raviv's children, Josef Raviv was first and foremost a devoted family man. "My father," said Lisa, "was a person who worked from morning until night, but despite the work and frequent trips overseas, he was involved in every aspect of our lives. He was a great father and loving grandfather, who was crazy about his grandchildren, and was willing to go anywhere to get a toy for his grandchild. I don't have the words to express his love for his grandchildren. He would tell me that he dreamt about them at night. He and my mother were like second parents to them."

Lori: "They were an amazing couple. They loved one another, and us, the kids. They were always ready to invest tremendous effort to help us with even the smallest request. We never heard either of them say "I don't have time," or "I'm too tired."

At his side

Joanna Raviv was a clinical psychologist at a Haifa center for child and family therapy, and she ran her own private clinic. When she and her family immigrated to Israel in 1972, she studied Hebrew in an intensive course and initially treated only English-speaking patients. However, she quickly became fluent in Hebrew and began working with children and adults.

As long as I can remember," said Lisa, "my mother was a person who only thought of other people -- never of herself. She was always giving. She took amazing care of us, and as soon as she became a grandmother she took off one day of work per week and traveled all over the country to care for her grandchildren. She was a brilliant woman. She completed her psychology studies with honors. She was a very striking and bright person with a lot of soul. She never stopped thinking about others for a moment. Even on the last night before their trip, she came to take care of my children."

"Joanna was an extraordinary woman," said Ettie Gilead, "the kind of woman with whom a man like Professor Raviv could build his life's work. Never once, no matter what the hour, did Joanna grumble or give the impression that she was disturbed when someone called their home. She had great respect for her husband's work, and supported him in every way."

On her last birthday, Josef threw a party in her honor, inviting friends, family, acquaintances, and colleagues. "Joanna is entitled," said Josef while honoring her at the party, "to hear people say all the wonderful things about her that she deserves."


The Ravivs have been friends with the Weisers for many years. "In fact," said Lisa, "our families have always been close. Ora Weiser studied with my father at the Herzliya High School. They met again in the United States, when Kurt was also working for IBM. After we immigrated to Israel in 1972, they also decided to immigrate, and did so one year later."

Ora Weiser, a tour guide, was the one who planned the joint vacation with the Ravivs. As Paul Horn, IBM's Vice President of Research, wrote in his message of condolence for Raviv, they had wanted and dreamed about this trip for a long time. "Josef," said Micky Rodeh, "was a person who like to enjoy life. If one can say that Joanna lived and sacrificed herself for others, Josef placed equal value on himself and others. He could fly for many hours and, after landing, when everyone else was exhausted, search for a good restaurant. He went to China when no one else visited there, because he would always combine his trips with his work. He loved life, and would always say: 'let's work and have fun, because time is precious'. He had the ability to get the most out of everything -- the big and small joys of life, work, and family. He had wanted to go to New Zealand for a long time. It was the trip of his life."

The above text was translated from an article by Yaffa Shir-Raz that appeared in Maariv's weekend magazine on October 22, 1999.


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