Three remarkable Moroccan-Jewish women scientists

Jewish women of Moroccan origin were pioneers in  medicine and biological sciences. Omer Keinan profiles three prominent scientists on his Facebook page (with thanks: Judith):

From left to right: Bendahan, Benoliel, Besaude

It is important to remember that to-date the only Nobel Prize Venezuela has received was awarded to  a Jew of Moroccan origin, Baruch Ben Asraf. Dr. Sarah (Rosa) Bendahan was the first woman in Venezuela to graduate in medical studies. Bendahan was born in 1906 to a couple of immigrants from Morocco. At that time, remember, women couldn’t even vote in the vast majority of countries of the world. Academic studies for women looked like a distant fantasy. 

Bendahan started studying in 1924  at the Central University of Venezuela. Due to health and family issues, she had to stop her studies after the third year. Bendahan, determined to continue, did not give up and returned to the school bench to complete medical studies. 

In 1939, she graduated, receiving a PhD degree in medicine, thereby becoming the first woman in the country to be a doctor. Moreover, Dr. Ben Dahan’s schoolmates appointed her to be the spokesperson for the graduation ceremony. There she gave a great speech to the  adoring crowd. Dr. Bendahan broke the glass ceiling, and paved the way for thousands more doctors women in Venezuela. See Wikipedia link. 

Another Venezuelan Jew of Moroccan origin, Prof. Baruch Ben Asraf, won the Nobel Prize in medicine for 1980. His brother is the philosopher Prof. Paul Ben Asraf And as far as I know, the rest of the family continues until today to make an impact  in the academy, medicine, science and more. 

 Dr. Sarah Benoliel  was  the first paediatrician in Portugal. Benoliel was born in Brazil in 1898. At the time of her birth her family migrated to Portugal. At the age of 7 she contracted polio, from which she never recovered. Her illness was apparently her motive to be a paediatrician. In 1925 Benoliel graduated in medical studies at the University of Lisbon and received a PhD degree in medicine. Later, she took courses in Germany, Austria and France.

Not only was Dr. Benoliel  the first paediatrician in Portugal, but she was also among the specialists in the field in her time. Her most important studies in the field contributed much to the development of paediatric medicine when infant mortality was rather high in Portugal. See Wikipedia link  

Prof. Mathilde Bensaude  was the world’s leading researcher in her time in the field of plant diseases. Ben Saouda was born in 1890 in Lisbon, Portugal. She was the daughter of Dr. Alfredo Bensaude, and granddaughter of Prof. Juza Bensaude (Note: a whole book can be written on him). 

Bensaude graduated with a  PhD from the  Sorbonne, Paris in 1916, and then studied at Lausanne University in Switzerland. In 1918, her work  began to be published in herbal medicine. And with the passing of the years she became a world pioneer in the field. 

One cannot begin to appreciate the contribution of Professor Bensaude. Prof. Bensaude is now defined as ′ one of the founders of biological  sciences in Portugal’ and she won the above degree with great diligence. Wikipedia link

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