Toufik Mansour: "I think that Israel gives great
opportunities to minorities to achieve positions in higher education."
"My grandfather was a human calculator; he
could do all kinds of calculations in his head. My father only went
to the fourth grade, but he could do four-figure multiplication in
his head. I guess I inherited their genes."
the University of Haifa's newest math teacher and researcher, was
explaining how he became the first member of the Druze community in
Israel to become a university lecturer in mathematics.
Druze are an Arab-speaking minority within an Arab minority in
Israel, a community loyal to the state that has suffered hundreds of
casualties in its defense, and whose men serve today in high-ranking
and sensitive positions within the Israeli military and security
forces. The Druze in Israel comprise approximately 85,000 people,
about 1.8 percent of the total Israeli population and about 10
percent of the country's minority population. The Druze are centered
in Israel, Syria and Lebanon, but also have sizeable expatriate
communities in France and the United States, centered in Detroit.
The Druze religion is a monotheistic faith that emphasizes
inner and hidden layers of meaning, in the spirit of the neo-
Platonic philosophy that was very influential at the time when the
Druze religion was born. The Druze believe in the reincarnation and
transmigration of souls, and are great believers in secrecy. A great
emphasis in the Druze community is placed on education, and
Mansour's success at math was a consolation prize for his parents
who wanted him to become a doctor - the most coveted position while
he was growing up in the village of Isfiya in the Carmel Mountain
range near Haifa.
"I have loved math since the age of
0," the 35-year-old Mansour said. He earned his bachelors degree in
Math at the Haifa Technion but dropped out of the Master's program
due to financial difficulties. After three years of working as a
teacher in different schools, from elementary to high school, he
returned to his higher education, but transferred to the University
Mansour had actually written his Master's thesis
during his three-year working interval, and the Math Department at
Haifa, impressed with the work, accepted it and then admitted him
into its doctoral program. He finished his dissertation, with the
suggestive title of 'Permutations with Forbidden Patterns,' in three
years. The budding mathematician had obtained initial results within
six months and sent off a paper to a conference in Moscow. It was to
be the first of a string of conference appearances and published
In fact, the American Mathematical Society's Internet
site, 'Math SciNet', which lists mathematicians around the world and
their publications, shows that Toufik Mansour has now authored or
co-authored twenty articles. Quite an impressive record, considering
that he received his doctorate only two years ago.
at home at the University of Haifa," Mansour said. "I was well
treated, both mathematically and economically."
doesn't feel that his Druze heritage had an effect one way or
another on his appointment to the faculty, and says it was based on
"I don't think achieving this position is dependent
on my identity as a Druze, or was in spite of my identity as a
Druze. I think that in order to achieve this position the only
important factor is your resume," he told ISRAEL21c. "But I think
that Israel gives great opportunities to minorities to achieve
positions in higher education."
After gaining his master and
armed with a Bourse Chateaubriand, one of the French government's
most prestigious academic grants, Mansour went to Bordeaux to do
post-doctoratal work, but the experience proved disappointing. There
weren't the numbers doing research in his particular branch of
discrete mathematics as he had been led to believe; but worse, with
the exception of a professor who became his supporter, French
mathematicians remained aloof, not interested in his field.
Using the Internet as a math-dating service, he looked for
research partners, and he proceeded to write more papers without
even meeting his co-authors in person. "In the past year, though, I
have met four of the people I wrote with," he noted in passing.
Thanks to the Internet, he remarked, his year in France became one
of his most successful.
Mansour next garnered a European
Community Research Training Network grant, the only scholar from the
University of Haifa to receive one, and spent the next year in
Gothenburg, Sweden. The Swedes appreciated him and his research and
sought him out from the first day that his supporter at Chalmers
University of Technology in Gothenburg recommended him. Ever
gracious, he expressed himself grateful for the friendship of these
Swedish colleagues and mentors, who also helped to make his and his
family's life easier there.
The objective of his two years
of post-doctoral research, Mansour said, was "to get to know [others
in his field], to strengthen [his ability in his particular field],
and to learn [both more about his field and about other math
areas]." He summed up his experience like this: "I managed this last
[objective] more than I expected."
The Druze mathematician
now found himself at a crossroads. Sweden, it was made clear to him,
was out. So, should he return to Israel or accept a position in the
United States? His wife Ronit, who had been left alone with their
two young daughters, one an infant, in Israel for the first half of
his stay in Sweden, pushed for a return.
That summer, the
University's Math Department made him a three-year offer, financed
by a prestigious Maof grant from the Council for Higher Education.
As a young married doctoral student, he also taught at four
different colleges to finance the construction of his
in his childhood village, as well as to supplement his income.
Now living back in Isfiya and with his girls age seven and
two, Mansour is ready to take on the challenges of his new position.
But he said he's not going to push his daughters to follow in his
"They can decide for themselves," he said with a