The distinguished scientist, Ben Zinn, was a football star in Israel before coming to America at the dawn of the space age – and playing for his country in a friendly match against the US soccer team at Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, where Marilyn gave the opening kick on May 12, 1957 – as Bob Bahr writes for the Atlanta Jewish Times. You can read more about the event here (and incidentally, Bahr wrote a cover story about Marilyn’s Jewish conversion for the magazine back in 2019 – see here.)
“Today, at the age of 85, Ben Zinn is retired from Georgia Institute of Technology where he was the David Lewis chair of his department and a Regents’ professor of aerospace engineering. He’s won every important award in his field.
But as a poor boy from what was in the 1950s a poor country, Israel, the future academic superstar first became something of a soccer superstar. He was among the youngest players on the Israeli Army national team when they toured America. One of his fondest memories is of a game in 1957 in Brooklyn where he found himself standing next to Marilyn Monroe and her husband, the famed playwright Arthur Miller.
Even though he hardly knew a word of English, his athletic ability won him a scholarship at New York University. It helped launch him on a career that dwarfed his accomplishments as an athlete.
‘If I had stayed in Israel and went to school there, there’s a good chance that I would have been a soccer coach,’ Zinn recalls. ‘Because many of the people who played there, this is where their career ended.’
He soon found that the real excitement he craved was not on an athletic field but in a laboratory. He went on to do graduate work at Stanford University and Princeton University, where he did research for NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which had just recently been established.
When he received his PhD in aeronautical engineering in 1965, the United States was locked in a desperate space race with Soviet Union. That same year, Zinn came to Georgia Tech to start the graduate program in aeronautical engineering. Three years later, America put a man on the moon. Opportunities were everywhere.
Without giving much thought to a carefully structured career plan, Zinn had landed in the middle of a critical moment in the history of technology. The space race propelled human beings into orbit and started scientists like Zinn on meteoric careers.”