In Israel, genius abounds

Dr. Frank Luger, the head of Mensa Israel: “If you’re gifted, you have a moral obligation to help those less fortunate.”So far there are 262 of them in Israel – immigrants and natives – their jobs ranging from professor to …

Dr. Frank Luger, the head of Mensa Israel: “If you’re gifted, you have a moral obligation to help those less fortunate.”So far there are 262 of them in Israel – immigrants and natives – their jobs ranging from professor to taxi driver. One third are students, forty-four per cent are female.

They all scored 148 or above on Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests, which places them in the top 2% of the population (the average IQ is 100) and grants them membership in Mensa Israel.

Mensa is a non-profit, non-political and non-partisan organization with tens of thousands of members across the world. And yet, despite six attempts over the past 30 years, it wasn’t until after Dr. Frank Luger from Mensa Canada immigrated to Jerusalem in 2002 that a chapter was founded in Israel.

It is Luger’s private theory that in Israel, the People of the Book are disproportionately intellectually gifted. While he concedes that he still lacks sufficient data, he says that if the results obtained during the past year remain consistent – less than ten per cent of those who presented themselves for the Mensa IQ test have scored lower than 148 – he will have proof that Israelis are of above-average intelligence.

Born in Budapest, imprisoned for his political views at age 14, a bona fide Radzivillian prince (who disagrees with the historical background of aristocracy), a self-proclaimed eternal student, convert to Reform Judaism, medical doctor, psychologist, mathematician and physicist – Luger’s IQ (reluctantly divulged) is 196 entitling him to membership in the super-elite Prometheus society, for those in the top 0.1% of the population.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a man with enough academic degrees to paper the walls of a medium-sized office was the one to finally succeed in establishing Mensa branches in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheba as well as at the following universities: Haifa, Tel Aviv, the Technion and Ben-Gurion. And there will soon be clubs at the Weizman Institute and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Luger promises.

Asked how he accomplished this feat in such a short space of time, he answers, “one breath at a time.” A major factor appears to be Luger’s personal involvement in every chapter. He is constantly on the move among them, nurturing the various clubs and encouraging and supporting the current 262 members. And unlike other branches of Mensa around the world, at Lugers’s insistence, Mensa Israel is committed to making a real contribution to the society in which it resides.

Most Mensa chapters are basically social clubs and Israel’s version has the same basic format. Periodic meetings are organized for members at local, national and international levels; a virtual e-mail discussion group is managed; a monthly journal is published and sent to all members; a website is maintained; special interest groups are organized around specific topics and a boutique of Mensa-brand merchandise is operated.

However, Luger says that all his life he has “believed that if you’re gifted, you have a moral obligation to help those less fortunate” and to put this philosophy into action Mensa Israel has pledged to contribute to local society in a number of ways. Members identify and provide direction for gifted children in underprivileged areas. Working with professionals within the Ministry of Education they organize testing, provide scholarships and refer these children to counseling and to the appropriate institutions.

Mensa members with expertise in the field provide stress management counseling to other members (according to Luger, people with high IQs tend to be more ‘highly strung’ than the general population). They have contacts with lawyers who represent legal aid level clients and juvenile delinquents, as “psychopaths and sociopaths often have high IQs and need help to learn how to function within society,” Luger explains.

Mensa members encourage them to be tested and if they test high they work with them, encourage them to continue their education and refer them to counseling when necessary. Mensa Israel also provides lectures and presentations on scholarly topics, free of charge, through universities and other venues.

Luger credits his love of Israel as a major part of the force that drives him. “I want to make a contribution but modestly, in an uncomplicated way. I try to base my actions on intellectual honesty and moral duty,” he said.

In addition to his Mensa activities, Luger has initiated a neo-Zionist think tank and has plans for a task force to translate the ideas generated there into pragmatic action.

He first heard of Mensa in the ’70s, when he was constructing and validating psychometric tests, and Luger says that at the time, he wasn’t impressed.

“It sounded like some elitist club for snobs and I didn’t give it a second thought. The next time it came to my attention was on an episode of the then-popular Colombo TV series, when an arrogant Mensa member tried unsuccessfully to outwit the deceptively bumbling detective,” he recalled

Then in early 1995, when browsing in a bookstore in downtown Montreal, Luger discovered books of puzzles and brain teasers published by Mensa, USA. This time his curiosity was piqued and he wrote to the address at the back of the book for more information. Directed to Mensa Canada, he took the tests and was soon a card-carrying member.

Luger has been quoted as saying that he feels as though he lives “on the dark side of the moon.” He explains that many people who live in the rarified altitudes of the top IQs are certainly misfits and some are certifiably insane. In his experience, they often encounter hypocrisy, jealousy and resentment, while to fulfill their basic human emotional needs they are constantly forced to compromise and fraternize with ‘inferior’ intellects. He adds ruefully that his personal life has often been in a shambles. He has been married three times – once divorced and twice widowed.

It was a number of months after his third wife passed away that a close friend gave Luger a ticket to a Hanukah dance at a Reconstructionist synagogue in Montreal. It was there that he met a woman who was to open his eyes “to the richness of Jewish communal life” and start him off on a course of study which led to his conversion to Reform Judaism in 1989. He cites his reasons for converting to Judaism as beginning with pity and compassion for the Jewish people motivated by the appalling historical atrocity of the Holocaust; his subsequent study of a number of major religions; and love. He later “became a dedicated Zionist on historical grounds.”

He recounts that in the cell in the Hungarian juvenile detention center where he was incarcerated for nearly two years there were some unfamiliar symbols scratched into the wall that he later discovered spelled the name ‘Hanna Senesh’ in Hebrew.

After three hours of wide-ranging conversation, Luger’s tone changes to one of quiet intensity. “Listening is one thing, but you have to feel things to really understand them,” he said and then withdraws from his briefcase what at first glance appears to be a brass vase decorated with a floral design.

The ‘vase’ was originally a German 88-millimeter field artillery shell, given to Luger’s grandfather, a doctor and colonel in the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Army, by a Hungarian soldier whose life he saved on the Eastern Front in 1918. A smithy in civilian life, after being treated the soldier purportedly grabbed the shell from the ground and worked it into an engraved vase as a gift for his savior.

“This is what Israel must do, provided the country wants to do it. Turn war into peace,” said Luger passionately.

“And this,” he continues, producing a heavy black and gold swastika pin, “is a copy of the highest political decoration awarded by the Third Reich. In 1980 I found dozens of these in an army surplus store in Virginia. And when I indignantly asked the proprietor how he could sell such things, he responded that he sold them because there was a demand for them, and that furthermore, they were made by a Jewish company in Brooklyn. I didn’t believe him, but I did some checking and discovered that he was telling the truth. This moral corruption must be overcome.”

Reaching into his briefcase one last time Luger extracts a brass goblet, reminiscent of a kiddush cup, whose stem flows into a dove supporting the bowl, that is decorated with a symbol based on the scientific representation of infinity. Luger discovered the cup in an antique shop and added his original symbol.

“This is my design of a universal symbol that represents god. The people of Israel must take heart and courage and stand up for who they always believed they were. They must prove it in a benign way and earn the respect of the Gentiles. They must take their rightful place in history.”

Although he sometimes feels that trying to work with the intellectually gifted in Israel is like, “attempting to work miracles in a strait jacket while boiling in the witch’s cauldron,” it’s clear that Luger isn’t about to give up.