Rabi (rah-bee) and his parents emigrated to America from Rymanow in Poland, where he was born, while he was still young. He subsequently grew up in a Yiddish-speaking community in New York, where his father ran a grocery store. He was educated at Cornell, graduating in 1919, and Columbia, where he obtained his PhD in 1927. After two years in Europe he returned to Columbia where he spent his whole career until his retirement in 1967, being appointed professor of physics in 1937 and the first University Professor (a position with no departmental duties) there in 1964.