The distinction that for much of his life has set Avi Ben-Abraham apart is found in the 1987 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records:
"The youngest to receive a Doctor of Medicine degree is Avi Ben-Abraham (b. Nov 18, 1957, Kfar-Saba, Israel) who graduated with the MD summa cum laude on Mar 4, 1976 from the Univ of Perugia, Italy, at the age of 18 years 3 months."
Ben-Abraham has used that signal distinction, dressed up with a photograph of the 18-year-old doctor in a white lab coat, to gain entree into exalted circles of wealth and power and to persuade dignitaries, investors and the media that he is one of a kind.
Never mind that Ben-Abraham's celebrated entry in the Guinness Book of World Records vanished after three years in print. "It was never actually accepted as a record," says a Guinness spokesman, Neil Hayes. "We never really received enough documentation to back it up."
Of this there is no doubt: Avi Ben-Abraham does have a degree in medicine and surgery from the University of Perugia. But more than 100 interviews and hundreds of pages of documents obtained by the Tribune paint a picture of a young Israeli boy who, despite his record as an indifferent student and his apparent failure to even graduate from high school, managed to convince a powerful Italian professor that he was a genius_and then to fool Italian authorities into believing hat he had fulfilled the academic requirements for becoming a doctor at the age of 18.
Naftali Manheim, who taught Ben-Abraham chemistry at the First High School of Herzelyia, remembers nothing out of the ordinary about the young man, "not at all." But someone at his high school selected Ben-Abraham to attend a once-a-week, three-hour class at Tel Aviv University for youngsters with an aptitude for math.
Over the years, the program has spawned several world-class mathematicians. But Avi Ben-Abraham didn't prove an outstanding pupil. "Nobody remembers him," says Dan Emir, the retired mathematics department chairman. "The really good ones you do remember."
Although the program involved no examinations and carried no academic credit, it offered the opportunity to enroll in real math courses at the university the following year. But when Ben-Abraham tried to register, he was told that he first needed to graduate from high school.
Records show the 15-year-old Ben-Abraham took some of the required high school graduation exams, known collectively as the Bagrut, but not all_and that his performance on the exams he did take for was far from impressive. On a scale of 1 to 10, he was …