• Israfan
  • Posts
  • Conflict Interrupts Groundbreaking Crop Research, Fallen IDF Soldier Receives Posthumous Ph.D.

Conflict Interrupts Groundbreaking Crop Research, Fallen IDF Soldier Receives Posthumous Ph.D.

In the face of conflict, an Israeli scientist's groundbreaking research on crop improvement continues to inspire.

In a quiet corner of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for Cereal Crop Improvement, a modest memorial honors the legacy of Reserve Sergeant Major Dr. Zechariah Haber. A photo of Haber, smiling, sits beside a plaque that reads, “Researcher of Wild Israeli Wheat, Reserve Sergeant Major, Dr. Zechariah Haber.” This plaque, along with the title "Dr.," is new, awarded posthumously to honor his profound contributions to science.

Posthumous Ph.D.s are rare, typically reserved for work completed before a candidate’s death. Haber, 32, was tragically killed on January 16 while fighting in northern Gaza. Despite this, Dr. Nir Sade, a senior lecturer at TAU’s School of Plant Sciences and Food Security and Haber’s research supervisor, pushed to award the Ph.D. in Haber’s memory.

“I thought, we’ll do whatever we can in his memory. I didn’t know if I would be able to complete it, and the fact that it ultimately led to the Ph.D is an incredible relief for me. He deserved it,” Sade told The Press Service of Israel.

Over four years, Sade and Haber formed a close relationship. Haber’s thesis, “Systems Biology Approach for Stress Resistance and Yield Traits in Crops,” focused on understanding how global changes impact wheat growth and optimizing food production accordingly. With support from his colleagues, Sade organized and submitted Haber’s data to secure the posthumous degree and continue his groundbreaking research.

On Thursday, Haber’s family will receive his diploma, a testament to his dedication and impact.

‘It’s Going to be Groundbreaking’

Dr. Davinder Sharma, an academic from India and close collaborator of Haber, played a significant role in completing the research. Sharma valued Haber’s meticulous approach and the bond they shared.

“When I saw his picture on the news, without even reading the text I knew something terrible happened,” Sharma recalled with tears. “On that day, I cried for the first time in five years I’ve been in Israel. He was not just a colleague; he was a friend.”

Despite the war, Sharma chose to stay in Israel to continue the essential work. Haber’s research holds the potential to revolutionize global food production, especially in developing countries like India, where wheat is a staple food.

“Wheat is the main food in cereals in the world. For India, a developing country, it is number one,” Sharma emphasized. “With this yield research, in the future we can alter wheat production. So, it’s going to be groundbreaking.”

‘Someone Has to Go to Combat’

Zechariah’s family always believed he would excel in any field he chose. His research aimed to solve global food security issues, inspired by his awareness of agriculture's importance and the movie "Interstellar," which portrays a world suffering from famine.

As a teenager, Zechariah had the intellect to join the Israeli army’s elite Unit 8200. However, he opted for a combat unit, saying, “All the smart ones go to intelligence. Someone has to go to combat,” his father, Aharon Haber, shared.

“He was the tank loader. He loved the physical, mechanical work of the tanks,” Aharon recalled. “And the camaraderie. You get very close to your team, sitting together in a tank.”

Balancing his family life, research duties, and army missions, Zechariah is survived by his wife, Talia, and their three children, ages 1-5. His legacy extends beyond his family to his significant contributions to food security, which will impact future research and practical applications.

“The significance of this research, due to its holistic approach, is that it has potential applications in many additional research directions, and we are only beginning to touch on this,” Sade stressed. “The Ph.D is just the beginning; many more articles and related studies will follow based on this research.”

Zechariah Haber’s life and work serve as a powerful reminder of the enduring impact one individual can have on the world, even amid the most challenging circumstances. Discover more about these inspiring stories by subscribing to our newsletter and sharing this article with friends and family.