Professor Herman Branover’s early life was spent in a secular atmosphere. As a youth in Riga, it was his scientific curiosity that prompted him to seek answers on the existence of the universe and the relationship between mind and matter. His disillusionment with the official Russian “philosophy” sent him searching for more complete answers to his increasingly more profound questions. This search eventually led him to the “underground” network of the Rebbe’s chassidim in Russia, who learned Torah in complete secrecy.

Professor Branover recounts that “we studied together secretly, in small groups, in private homes. The more I learned about Judaism, the more imperative I felt it would be to reach Israel and live life as a free Jew.”

After completing his university studies and obtaining a Ph.D. in electro-hydrodynamics, he taught at the Latvian Academy of Sciences and gained an international reputation in his field. In 1971 he applied for an exit visa for himself, his wife and son. The university immediately fired him. His wife was dismissed from her position as a lecturer at a medical school.

With nothing more to lose, he wrote letters and sent telegrams to public figures in the United States and Israel. He led hunger strikes and demonstrations and was arrested and imprisoned several times.

In 1972, he was suddenly informed that he and his family could leave Russia for a payment of about $35,000. Obviously, he had no money; he had been borrowing from friends just to survive. Nevertheless, the money was somehow put together; “a miracle,” he said.

With his highly specialized knowledge and skill in hydrodynamics he knew he could play an important role in the development of the barren desert areas of the Israeli Negev (arid south). When an offer arrived from the Ben-Gurion University of Be’er-Sheva, he gladly accepted it.

His arrival in Israel was the culmination of a fifteen-year struggle. During that time he was in constant touch with the Rebbe, who uplifted him when he was depressed, guided him both spiritually and materially, and gave him the answers to his most pressing questions and problems.

In Israel, in addition to his scientific activities, Professor Branover does the Rebbe’s work for Judaism with keenness, alacrity and devotion. His flowing beard and beret have become a familiar sight around many a university campus.

This was the man who delivered the Rebbe’s message to the Jews of Boro Park this Shavuos.

He explained to them, amongst other things, that hydrology was the science of water and water energy. Science needs to have practicable applications; otherwise it is of no use to anyone. Water is compared to Torah. The Rebbe always emphasizes that learning Torah without practicable application is also of no use to anyone.

Actions and deeds are what matter. Learning and study are vital and imperative, but the main objective is the fulfillment of the mitzvos.

The Rebbe proclaimed this year as “Shnas HaChinuch” (Year of Education), especially the education of the young. One needs to learn and understand some Torah before one can properly perform mitzvos.

A friend of mine from Manchester reported to me that it was worth walking the ten miles, and suffering blisters and sore feet for a few days, just to see and hear a stocky professor – with a beard and brown beret – addressing over 1,000 people in the Rebbe’s name.