Some years ago, I started a contest for high school students inspired by the courageous deeds of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Consul to Lithuania in 1940, who against his government's orders, issued over 2000 transit visas to Japan to Jews escaping Europe. These refugees, mostly from Poland,  were trapped in Lithuania because the Germans had already invaded Poland and the Russians who had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, were moving westward. Their only hope of getting escape the Holocaust was through Japan. Sugihara acted on his conscience rather than on protool and took the risk and issued the visas during a two-week period in August 1940. My parents (Rachel and Aleks in the book, were recipients of such a visa, visa#459, and it is due to that, that I owe my life, and by extension, the life of my son, my granddaughter and unknown generations to come. Sugihara lost his diplomatic position after the war due to this "incident", but was eventually recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem in Israel.

I wanted to do something meaningful to commemorate this deed and so devised the essay contest open to New York City High School Students, and endorsed by the New York Board of Education. The student was to write an essay on some moral or ethical choice he or she had made in his or her own life and describe the effects of that choice. It was called "The Sugihara Do The Right Thing Contest".  A group of invited volunteers constituted the Judges' Panel to select the winners. Winning students got substantial cash prizes, donated by the Kleiner Family Foundation. This contest ran independently for several years after which it became a project of ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and the Board of the League in New York became the Panel of Judges.

The contest spread to Boston where it was organized by my son, Dr. Jordan Smoller and to San Francisco where it was organized by Robert Kleiner, my nephew and son of Eugene and Rose Kleiner (who have their own amazing story). Eventually, it included an exchange program where Japanese students came to the U.S. and American students went on a trip to Japan, partially supported by free airline tickets from All Nippon Airlines. Aspects of the program continued under ADL auspices in a somewhat different format.

And here is the exciting news: Last year, Matt Chanoff a San Francisco philanthropist and venture capitalist, serves on the boards of Shining Hope for Communities,(SHOFCO), which combats gender inequality and extreme poverty in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya by linking tuition-free schools for girls to accessible social services for all. Matt has brought the contest to Nairobi, to SHOFCO, and this year for the first time, prizes have been awarded in Kenya!

What an amazing chain of events: Sugihara's moral, courageous act, impacted, among many others,  the lives of my parents, me, my descendants, all those winners of the Sughara Do the right Thing Contest in the US., and now in Nairobi, and who knows how far their influence has spread and will continue to spread!


And now on a different topic - did you know I also wrote a Biostatistics and Epidemiology textbook? My other life.Below is a review of third edition. But now there is a fourth edition which i co-autho red with my son Dr. Jordan Smoller, and which is expanded in scope from the third edition - more genetics and other topics. Check it out.

. 2004; 3: 36.
Published online 2004 Oct 19. doi: 10.1186/1475-925X-3-36
PMCID: PMC529458

Review of, "Biostatistics and Epidemiology" by S. Wassertheil-Smoller

Reviewed by Daniel J Schneckcorresponding author1

Wassertheil-Smoller S: Biostatistics and Epidemiology 3rd edition. Springer-Verlag; 2004. 243pp. Indexed. ISBN 0-387-40292-6

If you need to know anything basic about Biostatistics and Epidemiology, this book belongs in your library! Unlike most science and technology books – which, I have concluded after nearly 42 years in this business, tend to be written less to teach and communicate information than to impress the reader with how much the author knows about the subject matter – this one, refreshingly and quite successfully, ensures that the reader comes away with a better understanding of the topics of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, as a result of the authors' genuine desire to convey information in a clear, concise, relevant, understandable, and very readable way.

In nine Chapters and nine Appendices, spanning 243 pages (which include ample references and suggested further readings), the indexed material covers a wide range of fundamental principles that form the basis for such subjects as: (1) The Scientific Method; (2) Probability Theory; (3) Statistics; (4) Epidemiology; (5) Screening Methods and Techniques; (6) Clinical Trials; (7) Quality of Life; (8) Genetics; and (9) Biomedical Ethics. A unique feature of the way the book is written, is that individual Chapters can be read out-of-sequence with no loss of continuity. The reader can skip around, omit certain sections, and still glean what he or she needs to know without feeling cheated. That's not easy to do, but this author does it well.

I found the material to be written at a very comfortable cognitive level – aimed mainly at medical, upper-level-college, and graduate students – and sequenced in a logical manner, thus making it easy to follow and totally user-friendly. The author has a special talent for reducing complicated concepts to an easily understandable level. For example the Appendix dealing with Genetic Principles gives the best introductory synopsis of this topic that I have seen anywhere; and the "middle Chapters" that address "Mostly About" – Statistics (Chapter 3), Epidemiology (Chapter 4), Screening (Chapter 5), Clinical Trials (Chapter 6), Quality of Life (Chapter 7), and Epidemiology (Chapter 8), are gems!.

What are especially nice are the many relevant, easy-to-understand and practical examples, that the author judiciously and effectively intersperses with the theoretical background material; and, the Chapter Summaries that conclude most of them. There is a very well-balanced give-and-take between theory and practice. I also liked the wonderful (sometimes witty) little parables and anecdotes that give the book a charming personality. In all, I would offer my compliments to the author for a "job well done!"