Prof. Efraim Katzir, who served as Israel’s fourth President from 1973 to 1978, died in his home in Rehovot Saturday evening. He was 93.
Katzir had been hospitalized for several weeks due to an illness but was released to his home after some improvement in his condition.
Prof Katzir, sitting second from left, in a recent photo taken at the Weizmann Institute.
Katzir was born in Kiev, Ukraine, as Efraim Katchalsky and made Aliyah to Israel with his parents when he was still a boy. He was raised in Jerusalem and received his doctor’s degree in biology from Hebrew University. He worked on the research and development of explosives in the Haganah underground and was appointed to head the IDF’s Science Corps during the War of Independence. He later became Chief Scientist for the IDF.
Katzir with Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, 1977 (GPO).
Katzir was among a group of scientists who founded the Weizmann Institute, where he established the Biophysics Laboratory. He received the Japan Prize in 1985 for pioneering research that served as the basis for development of medicines. He was among the founders of the Biotechnology Department on Tel Aviv University and was the first Israeli elected to the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S.
As President he encouraged the establishment of Judaic Studies departments in colleges and universities abroad, in order to stem the tide of assimilation. He was President during several of Israel's most dramatic moments, including the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the rise of the Likud in 1977, and the visit to Israel later that year by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
His brother, renowned chemist Prof. Aharon Katzir, was killed in a terror attack on Lod Airport in 1972. His wife Nina died in 1986.
Efraim and Nina Katzir had three children: a son, Meir, who is a professor of mathematics at the Haifa Technion, and two daughters. The daughters both died tragically: Nurit, a successful actress, died in December 1966 when gas from a heating stove leaked when she slept and poisoned her. Her younger sister Irit committed suicide, after sinking into depression following Nurit's death.