President Albert Einstein?!
In October 2022, the Israeli government approved the establishment of a museum in honor of Albert Einstein, to be located on The Hebrew University’s Safra Campus in Givat Ram, Jerusalem. In addition to the new museum, Albert Einstein’s name is prevalent in Israel, as it adorns street signs in Lod, Petach Tikva, and Haifa. These cities have honored Einstein because, in addition to being arguably the most brilliant scientific mind in the twentieth century, and a Jew, he was also a devoted supporter of the State of Israel.
Albert Einstein bravely spoke out against antisemitism after witnessing a series of attacks against Jewish refugees at the end of World War I. Despite being a pacifist, he was drawn to Zionism as he understood that the Jews needed a safe haven to flee from persecution. In addition, he believed that a homeland would provide an environment for Jews to repair their collective self-confidence, which had been beaten down from centuries of oppression.
Although Einstein was associated with many Israeli institutions and organizations, The Hebrew University was closest to his heart, as it encompassed many principles that he characterized as Jewish values. In 1934, Einstein penned an essay describing aspects of Jewish identity that resonated with him: “The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice and the desire for personal independence — these are the features of the Jewish tradition which make me thank my stars that I belong to it.” For Einstein, the academic setting, with its focus on learning and research, was the most natural milieu to fulfill his vision of Judaism.
Einstein’s relationship with The Hebrew University began in 1921 when he accompanied Chaim Weizmann, who would later become Israel’s first president, on a US fundraising tour on behalf of the future institution. This relationship grew over the next thirty years. Einstein was a founder and then a member of its Board of Governors, and even delivered the first lecture at the university. It was only fitting that, in his will, Einstein bequeathed literary rights to his writings to The Hebrew University. Many photos and original documents housed in the university’s Albert Einstein Archives will be displayed in the Einstein museum.
Throughout his lifetime, Einstein remained a passionate defender of Israel and also a seeker of peace, as he strongly believed that the two causes were mutually reinforcing. When President Chaim Weizmann died in 1952, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion asked Einstein to be Israel's second president. Einstein declined, but he wrote a heartfelt letter that underscored his love of the Jewish nation: “I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. . . I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.”
In 1955, Einstein was scheduled to deliver a speech in support of Israel on its seventh Independence Day, to be broadcasted on all of the US’s major networks. Days before delivering the speech, Einstein met with Israeli consul to review the script and then experienced internal bleeding that landed him in the hospital, and he died a few days later.
Einstein’s passing reminded me of Rabbi Tarfon’s famous words in Pirkei Avot (2:16): “It is not up to you to finish the task, but you are not free to avoid it.” The last speech that Albert Einstein wrote was never delivered. The fact that Einstein’s last written words were on behalf of the State of Israel highlights his lifelong sense of responsibility – and his many contributions – to the Jewish nation.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.