By Dan Edelen
On the bustling walkways of New York City, Meir “Michael” Silver ’77 encountered street preachers as a high school student.
In questioning Silver’s knowledge of Judaism, the itinerant pastors planted seeds that have grown into a lifelong pursuit for Silver as he builds a bridge between his seemingly disparate interests in science and faith. His acceptance of their challenge culminated in 2007 when he left his financially stable life of science in the Empire State for the uncertainties of leadership of medical start-up companies in Israel.
“God is the first cause,” says Silver from his home in sunny Beit Shemesh. “I don’t know how a scientist, when looking at how complex the human body is, can accept that it could possibly be created randomly.”
Awakening at Lafayette
His personal exploration of the spiritual world, which began in high school, was energized during his college years.
“I really didn’t know much about my own religion. If I wanted to know something about Judaism, I had to learn it myself,” says Silver. “My awakening was at Lafayette.”
Fascinated with the physical world from an early age, Silver majored in physics at Lafayette. As he pursued his degree, he also pursued knowledge about his faith. Assisting him in his quest, Howard J. Marblestone, the late Charles Elliott Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures, provided insights in languages, and Robert I. Weiner, Jewish chaplain and Jones Professor of History, added to Silver’s spiritual growth and historical knowledge of his people.
Silver transitioned to biophysics at Johns Hopkins, later earning a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science.
After graduation, he held senior positions in the medical and pharmaceutical industries, developing biomarkers in clinical trials for oncology, central nervous system, and cardiovascular therapeutics. He also has significant achievements in medical imaging systems research and development.
Medical industry innovator
Through his innovations in the medical industry, Silver has discovered a way to connect his scientific disciplines. But finding a means to bridge his historically Jewish roots to his life and work would take a much longer, 30-year path.
“Elation” is the word he uses to describe a summer day in July 2007 when he, his wife, and four children left Monsey, N.Y., for Israel and uncertainty.
“I moved to Israel for spiritual reasons,” he says, “not to make a million dollars,” although he adds, “It won’t be failure if I do!”
When Silver stepped foot in the Holy Land, he experienced a spiritual rebirth and left behind Michael and adopted his birth name, Meir.
“Not a lot of my classmates know about this change,” he says.
As vice president of Azimuth Therapy, Silver oversees clinical uses for powerful radiotherapy instruments that employ beams from particle accelerators to destroy cancerous tumors. Concurrently, he serves as president and scientific director of start-up Mazal Plant Pharmaceuticals, which uses botanical sources to create anti-HIV drugs and pharmacological solutions for improving good HDL cholesterol levels in the body. His third venture, in the development stage, is creating a potentially world-changing oral insulin drug.
Despite new horizons, Silver still calls upon his days at Lafayette. He has reacquainted himself with his second love, singing. While at Lafayette, he won best actor in a supporting role for his performance in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and regularly appeared in theater productions.
Unknown to his classmates, he even auditioned for the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. Today, he says, “I channel my singing into the Jewish liturgy as a cantor, the one representing the prayers of the congregation to God.”
Crossing the bridge back to science, Silver says of his work, “In Israel, there is a drive to excel at whatever you’re doing. Whatever Israelis want to do, they do 150 percent.”
For Meir Silver, that intersection of science and faith yields that same abundance.
“I appreciate seeing how complex life is,” he says. “Life is an open miracle we see every day.”