Oral-History:Jacob Baal-Schem

Jacob Baal-Schem

Jacob Baal-Schem has been heavily involved with various organizational unit and boards of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for over thirty years. He joined the Life Members Committee in 2004 and the History Committee in 2008 (and rejoined the History Committee in 2015), and was also a member of the IEEE Transnational Committee and the IEEE Communications Society. His involvement with these groups led to the initiation of historical projects including the regular Region 8 history conferences (HISTELCON) beginning in 2008, more collaboration between the Life Member and History committees, and increased activity and involvement of Life Members. Additionally, he serves as chair of the Life Members Chapter Group in Israel and served as the IEEE Israel Section Chair from 1978 to 1981 and Region 8's History Activities Coordinator. For his many contributions to IEEE, Baal-Schem received the Larry K. Wilson Transnational Award of 1987 for his involvment in initiating MELECON in 1981, and the IEEE Region 8 Volunteer Award in 2008. Currently he holds a position on the Section's Audit Committee and is an IEEE Life Member.

In this interview, Baal-Schem discusses his involvement with the IEEE, especially regarding the Life Members Committee and the History Committee. He recounts his push for greater involvement in historical projects and for collaboration between the various groups. Additionally, he reflects on the evolution of the groups throughout the years, and of the accomplishments and problems of his own region and of the organization as a whole.

About the Interview

JACOB BAAL-SCHEM: An Interview Conducted by Andrew Butrica, IEEE History Center, 24 December 2014.

Interview #699 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to Indiana University and to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Jacob Baal-Schem, an oral history conducted in 2014 by Andrew Butrica, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Jacob Baal-Schem
INTERVIEWER: Andrew Butrica
DATE: 24 December 2014
PLACE: Telephone Interview

Start at IEEE

BUTRICA:

This is an oral history interview with Jacob Baal-Schem on 24 December 2014. Let’s begin with you and history. Am I correct in thinking that you’ve been on the IEEE History Committee before?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, I’ve been for several years on the History Committee.

BUTRICA:

Do you remember when you first joined?

BAAL-SCHEM:

No, I don’t remember exactly the dates. I’ll be on the History Committee next year, as well.

BUTRICA:

Okay. How did you get on the committee? Did you express an interest?

BAAL-SCHEM:

I expressed interest. I was with Dick [Richard J. Gowen], who was for many years the chair of the Committee, and I expressed interest in this. I talked with several people, and I said that I would be interested in the subject of history. I was also the initiator of the function of History Activities Coordinator for the Region, Region 8. I believe I was the first History Coordinator in the Region.

BUTRICA:

I just checked here. It says that you joined the History Committee in 2008.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, that sounds true.

BUTRICA:

Okay. What sort of initiatives did you push when you were on the History Committee?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Excuse me?

BUTRICA:

What sort of initiatives did you push when you were on the History Committee?

BAAL-SCHEM:

I pushed two activities mainly. One is an activity of having a history conference, which we have in Region 8, and which we’ll have in Israel in August next year, actually. The second one was an activity to have joint activities between the Life Members and the History Committee and History Center.

HISTELCON

BUTRICA:

Let’s start with HISTELCON (HISTory of ELectro-technology CONference). How did the HISTELCON come about?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Exactly, when I came in 2007, I brought together some people who were interested in history of telecommunications and electronics, what we call in Region 8 electrotechnology. I brought them together, and we formed some group of people who were interested in history. And thereby, I was nominated as, they say, the History Activities Coordinator. I suggested to Region 8 to hold a history conference, and I was supported by the Region 8 director, Jean Rémy, and we organized the first conference, which was held in Paris in 2008.

BUTRICA:

Where was it held?

BAAL-SCHEM:

At the Military Hotel in the actual center of Paris.

BUTRICA:

Which center was that? The Military History?

BAAL-SCHEM:

It’s the officers club of the French Army and the Navy in the center of Paris.

BUTRICA:

Yes. That’s not out at Vincennes, where the military archives are kept, but rather in the center of the city. That’s quite an interesting connection.

BAAL-SCHEM:

The connection was mainly because of the contact between academicians—people of the Academy in France—with this officers club, and they got permission to hold the conference.

History Committee-Life Member Cooperation

BUTRICA:

Okay. How did it come to you, the idea to bring about greater cooperation between the History Committee and the Life Members?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Oh, I myself am a Life Member, and I have been also a member of the Life Members Committee for many years. And I firmly believe that the Life Members are the people who made the history, and therefore they should be involved in the history activities of IEEE.

BUTRICA:

It looks like you joined the Life Members Committee in 2004. That’s about right, I guess.

BAAL-SCHEM:

I believe so. You must check all the activities. I don’t have exactly the dates of the activity. I’ve been involved actively for the last over 30 years, and I have been in many activities, but in the last 10 years, I would say, it was mainly between Life Members and History.

BUTRICA:

What sort of activities have you managed to organize jointly between the History Committee and Life Members?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Not much. In that, I did not succeed so much. I am striving for it for many years. I do it here in Israel in my function as chair of the Life Members Chapter Group in Israel, so I organize the meetings to deal with historical events, but in the world I believe that my main activity was getting Life Members to participate in the history conferences that we have held.

History Center Interactions

BUTRICA:

Okay. How about the History Center? Have you had many interactions with the History Center? And if so, why were you involved with them? What were you doing with them?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Well, I have a lot of contacts with the History Center, especially with Michael Geselowitz, the head of the History Center, and with his people. What I have done, I have learned from them how to organize an oral history interview, like you do now, and I have interviewed Uzia Galil, who is actually the father of Israel high technology.

BUTRICA:

Interesting. Very good, very good.

BAAL-SCHEM:

You look in GHN (Global History Network), you find this interview.

BUTRICA:

Okay. Have you done any other oral histories?

BAAL-SCHEM:

No, none.

Life Members Committee Becomes International

BUTRICA:

Okay. Now, one of the other areas I think you can address is the Life Members Committee becoming more international. They were asked to start including more members who were from outside of the United States and outside of Canada. Do you think the Life Members Committee has become more international?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Well, I believe that I pushed very much into this direction. I was member of many committees: the Transnational Committee. I even have the Transnational Award of IEEE, and I am very much involved in this transnational activity of IEEE. I suggested to have more contact with the different Regions, and actually in Life Members Committee we have people from different Regions, and the tendency was really to get the Life Members worldwide to get active.

BUTRICA:

Weren’t you, though, the first member of the Life Members Committee who was from outside of North America?

BAAL-SCHEM:

I don’t know, exactly.

BUTRICA:

Okay. It sounds like you’ve been very active in you Section and also in your region, and it seems that one of the trends with the Life Members Committee from about 1999 forward has been for the Life Members Committee to become more involved with local groups and Sections including those overseas.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, exactly. I believe that I initiated the idea of getting a yearly meeting of the Life Members Committee regional officers, and we had several of these meetings.

BUTRICA:

Okay. The Life Members Committee has been an advocate of Life Members as well as IEEE members aged 65 and above. They’ve managed to get reduced conference registration fees for Life Members and other benefits. It seems, however, that there’s been a struggle on the part of the Life Members Committee to protect the privileges and rights of Life Members and older IEEE members. Do you find that to be true?

BAAL-SCHEM:

I believe the Life Members Committee was interested to get the Life Members having the same facilities that were given, despite the fact that suddenly IEEE realized that the number of Life Members was rising, but we always had the idea that the Life Members should get a different (and lower) fee and the facilities at the conferences. I was very in favor of this in my region, and then in conferences in which I was involved. Also at the Communications Society, we always gave priority and a special fee to Life Members.

BUTRICA:

But that was a local, if you will, initiative within your region, as opposed to the IEEE across the board. What you’re talking about is something that deals with just your Region as opposed to the IEEE overall.

BAAL-SCHEM:

No, I believe now there is a rule at IEEE that Life Members should get at the conferences a fee which would be equal or lower to the fee paid by students.

BUTRICA:

Right. That is the rule now, but it has not always been enforced. There have been complaints about that.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, but where I was involved, for example, the Communications Society, which I am also a member, has always enforced it, and even provided the lower fee requirements to Life Members than to students.

BUTRICA:

Within the Communications Society, have you attempted to do history projects jointly with the Life Members Committee?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Not with the Life Members Committee. I was member of the History Committee of the Communications Society together with Mischa Schwartz and organized a special session on the history of telecommunications at the IEEE Global Communications Conference (GLOBECOM) in 2008.

BUTRICA:

Okay. It sounds like a lot of these activities are, again, with either the Communications Society or within your Region, that you really don’t have much going in terms of the IEEE itself.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Actually, there’s some echo of my activity. Some echo was in Japan in Region 10. They have a very developed history activity, and actually they have proposed to hold HISTELCON 2017 in Japan.

BUTRICA:

Yes. The Life Members Committee has used history a lot to achieve different ends. They organized, for example, this new way of getting people to donate more money by offering premiums: the pins and the coasters. The coasters are based on these IEEE history milestones. Do you know who, within the Life Members Committee, was behind the idea of using history in this way, with coasters and pins, to bring in more donations?

BAAL-SCHEM:

I began with an activity to provide the Life Members who would donate $50, I believe, or $25—I don’t remember—to get Life Member pin first of all, because for many years nobody was providing the Life Members pins. And later on, this came to the idea of the Life Members Committee to get these other donations.

BUTRICA:

You came up with the idea of the pins.

BAAL-SCHEM:

I came up with the idea. The pins were existing at the time, but it was somehow not used very much.

LMC Tours

BUTRICA:

Right. Yes, it was the coffee mugs or whatever. It was something else you could buy. I think once you became a Fellow within the IEEE, you could buy a Fellow pin and wear that. That’s what it was, pretty much. Did you have any role to play in setting up the tours?

BAAL-SCHEM:

No. I was a bit involved with the next two, actually, which will be in Europe, but most of the activity was done by Charles Turner, who organized the contacts.

BUTRICA:

Okay. I’m trying to remember what year it was, but let’s say in the 1980s—and I know that this is a little bit before your time.

BAAL-SCHEM:

No, actually, it was not before my time. In 1977 I was chair of the Section.

LMC Funding

BUTRICA:

Oh, OK. I meant within the Life Members Committee. There was a proposal for a new way to finance the IEEE History Center by creating what they called a quasi-endowment. That ended up being solely within the Foundation, so that they could just move money around. That looks like it was perhaps the first of several changes that took place in which the Life Members Committee moved closer to the Foundation and took on the procedures and operations of the Foundation. Do you want to address any of that?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes. I was all the time trying to initiate a contact between the Life Members Committee and the History Committee to get them to work together in order to get the Life Members to provide historical knowledge.

BUTRICA:

Historical knowledge, as opposed to getting financing for projects from the Life Member Fund.

BAAL-SCHEM:

There is, for many years, contact between the two committees. The Life Members Committee always funded some history activities.

BUTRICA:

Yes, that’s quite true. At the very beginning of the IEEE History Committee, the History Committee really had no money of its own, and the Life Members Fund provided that, but by the 1970s that was changing. So in the 1980s, when I’m mentioning this quasi-endowment, it was becoming less and less an issue for the History Committee. I see very little mention of it, in terms of activities or projects being proposed from the 1980s into the 1990s, in terms of projects being proposed to the Life Members Committee.

BAAL-SCHEM:

I was not involved at that time.

BUTRICA:

So when you say you wanted to create more interactions between the Life Members and the History Committee, this suggests to me that what you saw was a lack of that kind of activity.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, because I believe that the Life Members Committee should be more involved in pushing activities of the Life Member Affinity Groups worldwide, and the main activity of Life Members would be towards telling the history and spreading the history of the development of electrical engineering, because they were the people who actually invented all we have today.

Local Groups

BUTRICA:

Right. Now, the Life Members Committee was active in both creating these local Life Member groups and in giving them some financing, but how would you get these local groups to become more involved in history?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Just by initiating the ideas, asking them to either participate in the history conferences and bringing their personal history or to write their own memories in the Journal or in GHN (Global History Network).

BUTRICA:

Yes. How would you communicate with these Life Members?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Well, I am, for example, at this moment the Life Members Activities Coordinator of the Region, and I communicate with them by email twice or three times a year to inform them of activities and to initiate them to be active.

BUTRICA:

That then is just within your Region.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, but at the Life Member meetings, I usually tell the Life Member coordinators of other regions how we act, and they tell us how they do it. There are different ways of activities of Life Members. Many groups are active in schools and in laboratories. Other ones are, like I do, active in getting meetings and lectures.

IEEE History Milestone Program

BUTRICA:

Have you been active in the IEEE History Milestone Program?

BAAL-SCHEM:

In the Milestone, yes. I have initiated two Milestones for Israel, one on the Lempel-Ziv equation, and one on the WEIZAC (Weizmann Automatic Computer). We have two Milestones here in Israel.

BUTRICA:

What is the equation?

BAAL-SCHEM:

The Lempel-Ziv algorithm. It’s an algorithm which is the basic algorithm for the internet.

BUTRICA:

Okay. What was the other Milestone?

BAAL-SCHEM:

The WEIZAC. At the Weizmann Institute, we have a copy of the first Princeton [Institute for Advanced Studies] computer. We were permitted by [Albert] Einstein to build a copy at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot.

BUTRICA:

Yes. It sounds like the History Committee is more your institutional home—it's more where you identify yourself—as opposed to the Life Members Committee.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, but I always say that the History Committee is like a headquarters with no soldiers, where the Life Members Committee is an army without headquarters, so we have to move them together, because the Life Members are really the soldiers of the History.

BUTRICA:

Interesting. That is a very interesting way to put it.

BAAL-SCHEM:

I am a former military person.

Problems

BUTRICA:

Oh, okay. So it sounds like the problem, then, would be to communicate with all these soldiers, to get them marching towards some goal. You can do this as a coordinator within your Region, but then the other coordinators have to see your example, and think this is a good thing, and then duplicate it.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes.

BUTRICA:

This seems to be one of the problems with being both global and being divided into the various Regions which have some autonomy.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Well, therefore I believe that’s the activity of the history conferences. The problem is that the history conferences don’t get much attendees, because they are not technical conferences, and companies would not provide payment for the engineers to go to a history conference.

BUTRICA:

Right. That sounds like what you and Mischa Schwartz did within the History of Communications Society, that that’s the way to go. You have a conference, people are paid to attend, and then you have history sessions within that conference.

BAAL-SCHEM:

That’s exactly it. Actually, we had more than these: the session at the global conference, at the conference of the Communications Society, at the history session, then at the HISTELCON conferences.

BUTRICA:

Yes. It seems that the last HISTELCON had a problem with getting financing. It sounds like it’s difficult getting financing for HISTELCON.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, exactly. Tomorrow we have a meeting on the next HISTELCON, and we have found out that in order to get more attendees we should work together with other groups, and for the next HISTELCON we are joining forces with ICOHTEC, the International Committee On History of Technology, which is a mainly European organization, and we are doing the work together to get this activity done.

BUTRICA:

Yes. ICOHTEC is associated with UNESCO, but there’s another one: ICHSTM, the International Committee for History of Technology, Science, and Medicine. They meet with ICOHTEC every three or four years. Do you think it would be useful for ICOHTEC to meet with this other group?

BAAL-SCHEM:

I am about to bring up at the next History Committee meeting, which will be in March. I have already prepared the motion to get HISTELCON as a worldwide conference, not a regional conference but a worldwide conference, to get it from one place to another, together with other groups in the world.

BUTRICA:

Well, this ICHSTM would be a very good organization for that, because they are truly international. ICOHTEC is mostly European, as you know, but this is global. They met with ICOHTEC, so I got to meet some of the people who are in ICHSTM. They’re from Korea, from Brazil, from many different continents. And so it seemed to be that maybe they are the ones that you should approach.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Can you send me some more information on email on this organization?

BUTRICA:

Yes. I can probably get you the names of the officers.

BAAL-SCHEM:

That would be very interesting, thank you.

Division of Activities

BUTRICA:

Yes. Going back to my notes here. Maybe this will jog your memory. This happened just a few years ago. Instead of having their own process for vetting grant proposals, the Life Members Committee adopted the Foundation's process. Anyone who has a grant proposal for either the Life Members Committee or the Foundation goes to a single website, which is managed by the Foundation, and then it goes to these committees that then decide, say, the Foundation will fund this one, and the Life Members Committee will fund that one.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, that’s actually the division of activities.

BUTRICA:

Do you know who was involved in bringing that about?

BAAL-SCHEM:

I knew a person—he is not alive anymore—[Rolf A.] Remshardt [Is this correct?]. He was very much involved in this project with the Foundation.

Recent Key Individuals

BUTRICA:

Okay. I will look for that name. Are there other people on the Life Members Committee that stand out in your mind as key individuals in the recent history of the Life Members Committee?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Well, I believe the person who was very active in this History and Life Members was Richard [Gowen]. I don’t remember his family name, but he was the chairman of the History Committee. He was also in the Life Members Committee. He was very, very active in these activities. He was chairman. He was a President of IEEE, as well.

BUTRICA:

His name was Richard?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, Dick. I’ll have to look back at the list of committee presidents and see if I can find it. Wait a second. I have the names here. The person I remember was Richard Gowen. Dick was Richard Gowen. He was IEEE President in 1984.

BUTRICA:

Why is he so memorable?

BAAL-SCHEM:

He was very active in getting the activities of the History Committee in contact with the Life Members. He conducted a very, very important seminar of discussion on the future of the History Committee activities.

BUTRICA:

And he brought Life Members in on that discussion?

BAAL-SCHEM:

I believe so.

BUTRICA:

Do you remember what year that was?

BAAL-SCHEM:

That should be in the late 1980s or at the beginning of the 1990s.

Evolution of History Committee

BUTRICA:

Okay. What would you say are the major changes that have taken place within the History Committee from the 1980s to the present?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Well, first of all, the main change was the fact that the GHN, the Global History Network, was developed.

BUTRICA:

Before that, it was the IEEE Virtual Museum.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes, but I believe the GHN is much more successful than the Virtual Museum. And by that, we got some more contact with the world. That’s an ongoing problem of the transnational activities of IEEE globally. The moment we have more and more of the Sections worldwide, there is more contact, more historical contact, and more Life Members contact, with countries outside the United States.

BUTRICA:

That seems to be an ongoing theme in the whole history of the IEEE since 1963.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes. I began discussing that very early, when I was in the IEEE Technical Conferences Committee. Before it was all inclined toward conferences inside the United States. As IEEE quickly became more transnational—we have now about 50% membership outside the United States—it goes more into worldwide activities.

BUTRICA:

Yes. I think the Life Members Committee met outside of North America for the first time in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

BAAL-SCHEM:

I was not there, but yes, I believe that there was one meeting also in Panama.

BUTRICA:

Okay. Then you met recently in Amsterdam.

BAAL-SCHEM:

We met in Amsterdam because the Sections Congress was there.

BUTRICA:

The Sections Congress was meeting there. Interesting.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes.

BUTRICA:

Focusing on the Sections Congresses seems to be one aspect of the Life Members Committee moving closer to Section activity.

BAAL-SCHEM:

I would say so.

BUTRICA:

Okay. The same was true with the meeting in Daytona, Florida?

BAAL-SCHEM:

I was not there. I don’t remember that meeting.

BUTRICA:

Okay. That was another time when they met with the Sections.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Yes.

BUTRICA:

They gave them money for a radio telescope.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Oh, yes, I believe I was there.

BUTRICA:

Okay. The radio telescope would be memorable. It would definitely be memorable.

Closing Remarks

BUTRICA:

Is there anything you would like to add?

BAAL-SCHEM:

Well, I would like to add that my firm belief is that there should be a very close activity between the Life Members and the History Committees. Maybe one of the activities should be to have a joint conference, a conference on history, and most of the participants and the people who would give papers would be actually Life Members, because Life Members are actually the people who made the history of electrical engineering in the last century, and these are actually two activities which are very connected together.

BUTRICA:

I agree. One thought has to do with the war stories of Life Members. They publish them from time to time in the Life Members newsletter.

BAAL-SCHEM:

This brought me to the idea that actually these war stories, if well organized, they should be part of the history. The newsletter is a newsletter which comes and people put it away, while we should have this information in papers, in presentations, which would last for eternity, for the future.

BUTRICA:

Right. It would be quite easy to do as a matter of just compiling them and organizing them, but there’s also the possibility of, through you and the other Life Member coordinators, getting Life Members around the world in the different Regions to write their war stories, and then contribute them to a published volume, so that one would have a more global view.

BAAL-SCHEM:

That’s what we have tried to do, both at the HISTELCON conferences and with Mischa Schwartz [in the IEEE Communications Society]. We have done it in the Communications Society by getting the senior people and convincing them to write papers. Mischa Schwartz has organized a very long series of papers on the history of telecommunications in the IEEE Communications Magazine.

BUTRICA:

Yes. This was a good interview, and I thank you very much.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Thank you.

BUTRICA:

I will send you the access agreement by e-mail. Please sign, scan, and e-mail it back to me.

BAAL-SCHEM:

I’ll be at the next meeting of the History Committee. If you will be there, we can meet and then talk.

BUTRICA:

Yes. I will try to be in the area, but I have to be invited to attend.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Okay.

BUTRICA:

All right, you take care now. Good talking to you.

BAAL-SCHEM:

Thank you very much. Bye-bye.