This is my toast at the Gelfand’s Centennial Conference:
I moved to the US twenty years ago, right after I got my Ph.D in mathematics under the supervision of Israel Gelfand. My first conversation with an American mathematician went like this:
The guy asks me, “What do you do?”
I say, “Mathematics.”
“No, I mean what is your field?”
I can’t understand what he wants, and repeat “Mathematics.”
He says, “No, no, I mean, I do differential geometry. What do you do?”
I do not know how to answer him. My teacher, Israel Gelfand, never mentioned that mathematicians divide mathematics into pieces. So I had to repeat, “My field is mathematics.”
I got asked this question many times and I couldn’t figure out how to give a satisfactory answer, so I quit academia. Well, I quit it not because of the question, but for many other reasons… But answering the question became so much easier when I worked for industry.
A guy asks me, “What do you do?”
I say, “Battle management.”
He says, “What?”
I say, “Battle management. I manage battles, in case there is a war.” And this is it, he doesn’t ask any more questions … ever.
I always knew that industry was not the right place for me. Five years ago, when my children grew up, I realized that it was time to take some risks. So I resigned from my job, and came back to mathematics. But now I know how to answer the question. When someone asks me, What is your field in mathematics? I say, … brag, “I am a student of Israel Gelfand, I just do mathematics.”
I would like to drink to the Unity of Mathematics.