Obituary: Aron Vecht

The first Professor of Optoelectronics in the country, he remained inventive as an octogenarian


Aron Vecht passed away on April 6, Seder night, the night on which, each year, he and his late mother Else, who shares his yahrzreit, would gratefully recall their family's miraculous wartime escape.

Born in 1930, Aron was the youngest of four children of Jack and Else (Wetzlar) Vecht. Jack died when Aron was not yet three, and Aron was raised by Else, who honoured Jack’s last wish - to ensure their son’s Jewish education.

In May 1940, Jewish life in Antwerp came to an abrupt end with the German invasion of Belgium. Else, with no clear plan and just one suitcase, led her children on a five-day walk. A series of near miraculous occurrences meant that they all boarded a British destroyer from Boulogne and arrived safely in Dover.

At first the family of five lodged with relatives in Hampstead. Aron attended the Beckford School where he developed a facility for cockney rhyming slang. His mother, despite being unfamiliar with English, was not convinced that it was the best fit for her only son.

With the help of his guardian, Oscar Philipp, a move to University College School followed. It was there that Aron cultivated a love of chess and science and made lifelong friendships. Aron met Ruth Bier in 1956 and they married in Copenhagen the following year and spent sixty-five happy years together.

In the early years, the family moved from north-west London to Harlow, then to Leicester before returning to the same road in London as Else. They created a warm and welcoming home to a diverse and varied stream of guests.

Vecht would customarily emerge from his shabbat afternoon nap to a lounge teaming with people – several of whom he might not know – and say: “I am Aron Vecht, I live here.”

Vecht loved nothing more than to debate and argue, but as his six individualistic children would attest, he was open to there being different points of view.

He had a varied teaching career, spanning over 70 years. From teaching at Hampstead cheder as a teenager to lecturing to international scientists, he thrived with an audience and left an impression on all who came within his orbit.

In 2005, Ruth and Aron realised a lifelong dream and bought a home in Jerusalem, allowing them to split their time between their children and grandchildren in London and Israel. He loved Israel, where he gave shiurim in his newly adopted community of the HaTzvi Yisrael synagogue in Hovevei Zion Street, always conscious that his grandfather and namesake Aron Vecht (1854-1908) was himself one of the Hovevei Zion.

Indeed, Aron was never happier than when sitting on the balcony of his apartment during the chagim, watching the streams of people and reflecting on the tides of history.

Aron was always on a quest for truth. He spent his life integrating the worlds of science and Torah, believing each to be inseparable and mutually enhancing. A member of the Golders Green Beth HaMedrash (“Munk’s”) he was a close disciple of Rav Munk with whom he collaborated on his book ‘Seven Days of the Beginning For decades, Aron was an inventor and scientist. He specialised in inorganic materials that emit light, mostly phosphors.

His most significant invention was in the field of direct current electroluminescence, and he patented the world’s smallest light source. He worked at the University of Greenwich from 1968 until 2010.

The first Professor of Optoelectronics in the country, he remained inventive as an octogenarian. In the words of his friend and colleague Professor Cyril Hilsum, Vecht “has been for many years the world expert on phosphors, and …. he is still inventive”.

Vecht received an honorary doctorate at the age of 90 from Greenwich in recognition of his “trailblazing achievements and innovative patents and inventions in electrochemistry and physics”.

Aron was an avid traveller, especially in the United States – his grandchildren would often joke about the well-worn suitcases that were coated in airline stickers. His travels provided a ready stream of anecdotes that he would happily share.

He took a keen interest in the lives of his many grandchildren seeing them as individuals and speaking to them as equals. For many years, together with Ruth, he would take each on a special Bar- or Bat-Mitzvah trip. Aron was a man with a sharp wit and an inquiring mind. He never lost his sense of wonder and purpose.

As the years passed and the family grew, he marvelled at his many blessings.

He is survived by Ruth, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends and family who draw comfort and inspiration from his remarkable legacy.

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