The Wertheimers Renovate Lab for Prosthetics

The late Naomi Wertheimer would remember playing hopscotch and jump rope in the schoolyard as a young girl, standard rites of passage in the 1950s. But she would also remember that a friend could only watch from the sidelines because she had a wooden leg. That memory is at the heart of a gift to the Technion to advance prosthetics — a gift that also captures the Wertheimer family’s commitment to involve multiple generations in their philanthropy.

Naomi’s husband Bruce, a second-generation Technion supporter, and the couple’s four children are establishing the Naomi Wertheimer Assistive Lab in honor of Naomi, who passed away in 2016. Bruce explains that Naomi never forgot her friend. In addition, her heart went out to the soldiers who lost limbs defending their country during the Israeli wars. Then while touring the Technion in 1996, Naomi met a team of researchers developing prosthetics and she was hooked. “This became her passion,” he said.
Bruce and a dozen family members, including his four children and two grandchildren, visited the Technion on April 7, 2022, to dedicate the new lab. “It was a beautiful ceremony,” said Bruce. “We were all very excited and thrilled that the lab is already functioning.”

Several professors spoke of projects being developed in the lab, which could be in use in just three to five years from now.

“Naomi would have been thrilled that her family had helped her provide a way for people using prosthetic devices to improve their daily lives.”

The gift will help refurbish the Biomechanics Center of Excellence in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. The lab will focus on improving prosthetic fit and design and developing brain-computer interface technology. BCI, as the technology is called, is a computer-based system that acquires brain signals and translates them into commands that are relayed to an output device to carry out a desired action, such as moving a prosthetic.

Bruce inherited his love for the Technion from his parents, Joseph and Theresa, who helped establish American Technion Society (ATS) chapters in Chicago, Sarasota, and the Los Angeles area in the 1950s. “I grew up hearing about the Technion,” he said. Bruce is now passing on that legacy to the next generation. “Each of my children contributed a sizable amount to this project, and that makes me feel great.” Barbara Grauer, a family friend and Bruce’s partner, also contributed to the operation of the lab.

While Bruce’s involvement stems from his parents, he and his father both were engineers, so they were naturally attracted to the Technion. Living with Naomi in Sarasota since the 1970s, “we were known as the Technion couple,” said Bruce. They hosted ATS fundraising dinners, spearheaded initiatives to construct buildings and refurbish labs, and gave generously to support campus dormitories, faculty recruitment, the Rappaport Technion Integrated Cancer Center, and other projects. Bruce was on the ATS Sarasota board and Naomi once served as its president.

Bruce’s sister Elaine fondly remembers their father saying: “If the Jews are going to make it in Israel, it’s going to be with their brains.” Elaine was active on the Bay Area Silicon Valley Board of Directors and passed her seat to her daughter Leslie in 2018.

“Supporting the Technion connects me to my grandparents and my mom, and allows me to give to Israel,” says Leslie. “For our family, Judaism has always been about respect for education. So supporting the Technion always made sense to us, and still does.”

She and her husband, Jerry Behar, hope to extend the Wertheimer legacy to four generations. “We try to share our love of Israel and the Technion with our children.”

Irwin Wertheimer, Bruce and Elaine’s brother, is also a dedicated supporter of the Technion. He will soon be celebrating his centennial birthday, just as the Technion gets ready to commemorate 100 years since opening its doors. The Wertheimer family is certainly connected to the Technion for life.