“Without these people – I would never have got here,” says Dr. Nabieh Ayoub, “a new face” in the Faculty of Biology, who attributes his success to others. Dr. Ayoub is careful to name each of the people who helped him reach the important turning point of his life: first and foremost, his father, Nagiv, from whom he learned resourcefulness, curiosity, and determination. Following his father – the elementary school in Fassuta and its principal, the late Jeroush Houri, the nun Henriette who taught his religion classes, the English teacher, Ayoub Shahala, and the biology teacher in high school, Assad Andreous. Each of these people recognized Nabieh’s talents and helped him make his way into the ivory tower of academia. Further down the road there was the late Prof. Yaacov Verman, a founder of the Genetics Department at Hebrew University, who nurtured scientific thinking among his students and bequeathed as a spiritual legacy to Nabieh his love of science. And last but not least, Prof. Amikam Cohen of the Hadassah Ein Keren Faculty of Medicine who supervised Nabieh during his doctoral studies.
These people, with the strength of ambitious consequential thinking, mental ability and gigantic love for science, joined forces and led Dr. Ayoub to the place he holds today. But as simply and modestly as the youth who led his flock, he sometimes yearns for “those beautiful days of long ago,” as he calls them – the days when he was a shepherd and watched his father’s sheep; and he adds: “I had a wonderful childhood.”
Nevertheless, not everything was idyllic in the small village on Israel’s northern border. The village with a little over 2500 residents was the target of many katyushas during the Second Lebanon War but Nabieh remembers the good days with the goats. His favorite music was that of the bell that meant the end of the school day. “I would immediately run to the goats,” he laughs. “In Grade 6, I still hadn’t learned how to read or write.”
His first ever teacher was his father, a man of the earth, a wonderful farmer who grew tobacco among other crops, and had a mobile flour mill, a tractor and a combine harvester (he was one of the first in the village who plowed his neighbors’ fields as well), as well as a number of goats. “Growing tobacco was hard,” remembers Nabieh. “The land of Fassuta is hilly. He had to plant each plant individually. Each day we worked in the field after school ended. The entire family.”
Dr. Ayoub recalls with emotion that his father used to tell him: “I may still yet succeed in making a living from agriculture. You won’t. You have to learn.”
This message he passed on to his sons. “Come with me,” says Nabieh. “Don’t work. Just look and see how difficult it is to make a living.”
Nabieh smiles when he tells this story. “Yes,” he says. “I got a lot of wisdom from my father.” A thin film covers his eyes. “Seven years ago my father had a work accident,” he relates. “Since then he has been confined to a wheelchair, and he suffers from severe memory loss. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to take pleasure in my success. My mother, happily, is able to enjoy the success of all her children. My oldest brother finished studies in x-rays and education at Bar Ilan University. My next oldest brother graduated as a air conditioner and refrigerator technician and makes a very nice living (when he heard how much I make as an academic, he laughed and told me to leave it all and come help him repair refrigerators and air conditioners). My younger brother is an optometrist and my sister finished her undergraduate degree in biology and is working in Nahariya hospital.”
Up to Grade 6, Nabieh was a “child of the mountains” in Fassuta.He recalls with a smile that the 1st of September, the first day of classes in public school, still sends a chill through him since he didn’t like school except for religion classes, in which he got 100 after he told the nun that he wanted to become a priest. He continued to fail all other subjects.
The English teacher, Ayoub Shahala, tightened his belt and set about helping Nabieh to learn, so that eventually Nabieh got 100 in English too. In agriculture class Nabieh excelled because he loves the fields and agriculture, and in biology too he started getting good grades. Studying the world of plants, how they grow and photosynthesis captivated him in childhood but without getting support from the principal, the late Jeroush Houri, Nabieh is convinced he would never have finished elementary school. When he continued to the comprehensive junior and senior high school in Ma’a lot-Tarshiha, he was already the top student in his class. At this point he began thinking about learning genetics, thanks to the inspiration and direction of the respected teacher Assad Andreous. And indeed, this subject stayed with him up and through his doctoral studies and is the area in which he works today. In his doctoral research he, with his supervisor, Prof. Amikam Cohen, discovered a new gene that is involved in the structure of chromatin (a protein complex that covers DNA). After this he continued directly to a post-doctoral position at Cambridge, England in the Medical Research Council. When he finished he received the position of senior researcher. Nabieh notes lovingly his wife Samahar, her support and inspiration, which have always imbued him with the strength to go on.
Samahar, an educational advisor, and Nabieh had three children while in England. During their stay there, they began to hear about the academic boycott of Israel, to which Nabieh objects. “I never encountered discrimination or prejudice in any of my academic paths in Israel,” he says. “Just the opposite, and I am not the only one. The calls in England for a boycott are complete nonsense. We must strengthen academia in Israel, which is the sanest body in the country. And I do not want to talk about politics,” he stresses. “I am just talking about a body that has embraced me all the way along.”
Last October Dr. Ayoub joined the Faculty of Biology at the Technion and he is very satisfied. He has been given an advanced lab and he can devote himself to his research on “Changes in the chromatin structure and their impact on carcinogenic transformation and other diseases of the human body.”
“Yes,” he smiles bashfully, at the long title. “This is really a little far from the fields of Fassuta and the goats of the Ayoub family.” Even with the academic chair and his great success, he has not forgotten the landscape of his birthplace and it is evident that he still has yearnings for the simple life. As then, now also he is modest and retiring and encompasses a love a nature, a love of science and a love of man.