Assaf Razin: Biographical Notes
Tragedy, Memories, and Memorials
Throughout life we inevitably suffer losses. That is true for most of us. Many can gently let go of what they have lost and develop new passions to replace their losses. But it is never easy. The greatest tragedy in my family’s life started when our oldest son, Ofair, was diagnosed with (progressive) multiple sclerosis (MS) at the young age of 21.
Even now, the medical establishment does not know how people contract MS. Ofer Razin, was born on January 27, 1966 in kibbutz Shamir in Israel, the place where I was born too. At the age of six months we took him with us to Chicago, where I started my doctorate studies. When we returned to Israel he attended pre and primary schools, and later the Alliance high School at Ramat Aviv, a suburb of Tel Aviv.
After graduation from high school he started his army service where he became an intelligence officer and served almost 4 years. We, his parents, could very well have had an early warning signal about his problem in the Summer of 1984, but the doctors missed it completely.
In the summer of 1986 I participated in the NBER Summer Workshops in Cambridge. We spent a happy summer there. But in the middle of it Ofair (he insisted on this spelling of his name in order to have a better pronunciation of the Hebrew name in English) felt sick and he lost his eye sight; it turned out to be a temporary loss. The source of his problem was not diagnosed at this time as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disorder that that affects the central nervous system.
No one suggested using MRI tests, which are now daily routine procedures used in such cases.The actual diagnosis had to wait until Ofer’s last year as a junior officer in the Israeli army. Piece by piece he lost control of his body; But Ofer still took the deterioration of his motoric functions in his stride. He was always smiling and interested in the person he talked to; hiding the inside concerns he had about his future life. In the next year when he graduated from high school and was drafted to the army, as every young person in Israel at this age is supposed to do, Ofair’s enlistment to the army had been postponed because of the Cambridge episode. But he decided to volunteer and made a smooth transition to a career as an intelligence officer.
Although already handicapped, he had to undergo an intensive officer- training course. He did it because he wanted to make the army service a meaningful service. But in the fourth year of service (as required for officers) the eye infection episode came back. At that point, the MRI diagnosis of multiple sclerosis had been made with certainty. It turned out later to be one of the most debilitating forms of the MS disease.
With the MS diagnosis already confirmed, Ofer courageously started a real-life marathon race against time to complete his college education and built a career. His physical condition was progressively deteriorating: first he had to use a stick, then a walker. I still remember our experience in the first Persian Gulf War.
The First Persian Gulf War, Jan.– Feb., 1991, was an armed conflict between Iraq and a coalition of 32 nations including the United States, Britain, Egypt, France, and Saudi Arabia. It was a result of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990; Iraq then annexed Kuwait, which it had long claimed. Iraqi president Saddam Hussein declared that the invasion was a response to overproduction of oil in Kuwait, which had cost Iraq an estimated $14 billion a year when oil prices fell.
Saddam Hussein fired Scuds missiles at Israel every night continuously for 6 weeks, and Tel Aviv was targeted for obvious strategic reasons. Everybody in the A- zone of the country (Tel Aviv being one of them) braced every afternoon for the Scuds to hit the targets in the evening, when dark sets in on Iraq and the launching sites can be discovered by the anti- Saddam coalition forces.
During the period of terror Ofair stayed first on the second floor of our house (address: 16 Pilichovsky Street, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv; near Tel Aviv University, my workplace). He had to rush two floors down the first few nights to the bio- chemically secured shelter in the basement. After a few nights he moved himself to the basement to save the nightly trips down and up to and from the sheltered basement.
I tend to cite the words of Bob Dylan's Blowin’ in the Wind, paraphrased a bit:
How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?
Ofer walks down one treacherous road to become a man.
Alas, the answer my friend is blowing in the winds.
Ofer attended college at Tel Aviv University, double- majoring in Economics and Psychology. After graduating, he entered the Ph. D. Program in Economics at Georgetown University. He and I moved together to Washington DC, where he was supposed to begin graduate studies in economics at Georgetown University, in the Summer of 1991. Ronny, my second son, who is very technically skilled helped to equip the Toyota car that we bought second hand with devices so that Ofair would be able to get the wheel chair into the trunk, and then walk to the driver seat. In a matter of months he lost the ability to walk. With all the things you have to pay for in University, paying for health insurance is typically small potatoes. But what's last on the list for healthy students. Pre- existing conditions are not covered. We knowingly spent a lot of money outside the realm of the insurance coverage, on all sort of treatments and experimentation.
A shocking episode came once after Ofer participated in an HIH medical trial on a new drug. Ofer had to stop taking all other drugs during the trial, where he could have been only in a placebo group of the patients; and therefore risked a further deterioration in his condition which was very grave. After the end of the trial period the NIH doctor in charge of the trial told the two of us that because commercial companies are going to continue the trial for a few more years, and they would like to demonstrate success of the treatment the hard stricken patients could no longer continue with the treatment.
Ofair was among those who were thrown out. The Doctor brought the news as a matter of fact. We left the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, in great despair!
My former student from Minnesota, Matt Canzonneri, then the department chairperson, was extremely helpful in easing the transition period for Ofair once the school year started. Ofer then faced two challenges; the increased level of incapacitation and a rigorous course of study. During the final stage of the doctoral program,
Ofair worked mostly at home under the guidance of his dissertation advisor, Professor Susan Collins.
In the summers while at Georgetown, Ofer had the opportunity to work in the research department of the World Bank. He gained good experience of dealing with data, which was useful for writing his dissertation. The dissertation was completed a few weeks before his death on December 16, 1996.
Ofer, all alone by himself, made the fatal decision to end his life. He had fulfilled all commitments he took while still in control of his body. Rather than falling into the imminent stage of complete paralysis, while still in control of himself he decided that he should go. On the very last day he sent an e- mail to Ronny who was at Princeton as a graduate student of economics, and Ronny immediately called us in Tel Aviv.
I still remember the telephone very well. An hour later I was already on a TWA flight to New York, and then through a connecting flight to Washington DC. In Ofer's apartment I met Ronny and Daphna, who already arrived a few hours before me. Letters to the family members (including one to my mother, the only surviving grandparent), bills to be paid, and checks, were lying on his desk ready to be delivered.
A complete Ph. D. dissertation manuscript was ready to be sent to Georgetown University. The funeral (at which I asked that the second movement from Beethoven’s from Eroica— the “funeral March”-- will be played out loud during the funeral) took place in Kibbutz Einat (for a secular burial), and the Jewish tradition of the seven days sitting after the dead (the shivah) took place at our home at Tel Aviv. The shivah was an opportunity for us to see a few hundred of our friends, from different stages of our life, who all came to our home during the week.
On his grave I cited the Hebrew song (lyrics, Avi(noam) Koren, Music- Shmuel Imbermann, Singer-Shlomo Artzi) :
Et hageshem ten rak be'ito,
ube'aviv pazer lanu prachim,
Veten lannu lihyot shenit ito,
yoter mize anachnu lo tzrichim.
Give us the rain when the time is due,
scatter flowers for us in the spring,
And, let us see him once again,
we really do not wish for more than that.)
The official Ph. D. degree was awarded to Ofer by Georgetown University posthumously. The main chapter of his dissertation was prepared by Professor Collins for publication after his death. It now appears as Chapter 3: "Real Exchange Rate Misalignments and Growth," by Ofair Razin (Ofer thought that Ofair can be pronounced better by non Hebrew speaking people) and Susan Collins, in The Economics of Globalization: Policy Perspectives From Public Economics (Assaf Razin and Efraim Sadka, eds., Cambridge University Press, April 1999). The book, the Razin Prize in Georgetown University, and The Ofair Auditorium in the Eitan Berglas School of Economics’ building at Tel Aviv University, are all dedicated to my son’s memory.
Past Speakers over the last 9 years in the Razin Prize event at Georgetown University areleaders in our fields: Jacob Frenkel, Kaushik Basu, Ken Rogoff, Paul Krugman, Jeff Sachs, Michael Mussa, Elhanan Helpman, Stan Fischer, and Dani Rodrik (I gave the first annual lecture.) Our friend Bob Flood has been at every one of the events. He knew Ofair well; he is one of my heroes for the way he has conducted himself in pursuing a brilliant research career, notwithstanding the daily struggle with MS.
I feel that this is a tiny bit of what I owe Ofer for his courage and for what I learned from him throughout his short life, as to how one can conduct oneself himself with dignity under a non stop stream of adversities, and still be such a harming person to talk to. How many years can a mountain exist before it's washed to the sea? The answer, my friend, is that 30 year of lifetime is blowing in the wind; just like that (paraphrasing Bob Dylan again).
Ten years after Ofair’s death I remembered him in memorials by singing quietly a paraphrased version of Bernie Taupin’s lyrics of the famous Elton John’s song, Daniel.
Ofer is traveling tonight on a plane, all alone
I can see the red tail lights heading for Zion
Oh and I can see Ofer waving goodbye
God it looks like Ofer, must be the clouds in my eyes
They say that Zion is nice, though I've never been
Well, Ofer says that it's the best place that he's ever seen
He should know, he's been there enough
Oh, I truly miss Ofer, I miss him so much
Ofer is traveling tonight on the plane, all alone
I can see the red tail lights heading to Zion
I can see Ofer waving goodbye
God it looks like Ofer, must be the clouds in my eyes
Oh God, it looks like Ofer, must be the clouds in my eyes.
At the time when Ofer’s illness became more and more acute I shifted my place of work more and more from Tel Aviv University to America : first, one stint at Yale University and several stints at the University Chicago; second, a year long visit at the IMF in Washington DC( to be even closer to Ofair). I had to quit my position as deputy provost at Tel Aviv University, which originally was supposed to put me on a track to top university administration positions), in order to stay with Ofer in the US. Ironically, the shift of emphasis in my career, back to full- fledged academic activities, has been an extraordinarily good move. I must admit that I much more enjoy academic research life over academic administration! My academic activities led to a level of professional recognition and great intellectual fun, that the son of two Kibbutz pioneers never dreamed would have been possible.
Taken from Assaf Razin's web site at:
1. Ph.D dissertation a special chapter in
Assaf Razin And Efraim Sadka (eds) -Economics of Globalization: Policy Perspectives From Public Economics, (1999), (Publisher's Release) Cambridge University Press, with from Ofair Razin's PH.D dissertation: Real Exchange-Rate Misalignments and Growth, by Ofair Razin and Susan M. Collins
2. Ofer Razin Hall In Tel Aviv University,
3. Georgetown University Lecture serie