CJN Article: "Einstein Lives On At Hebrew U"

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CJN Article - Einstein Lives On At Hebrew U

Albert EinsteinJERUSALEM - When one hears the name Albert Einstein, right, most often the image of a brilliant physicist with white, wild hair wearing a white lab coat comes to mind. Fewer think of Einstein as a dedicated Zionist, a pacifist, the co-founder of an Israeli university and a compassionate promoter of human rights.

In June, during a six-day trip to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, sponsored by the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University – a non-profit organization that promotes and raises funds for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with chapters from coast to coast – six Canadian journalists visited the Albert Einstein Archives located at the Edmond Safra campus.

Since 1982, when the executors of Einstein’s estate transferred all literary rights to Einstein’s works to Hebrew U – as stipulated in his will that he drafted in 1950, five years before his death – the archives staff have promised to keep Einstein accessible.

“As we say, we own Einstein, but we share him with the entire world,” said Hanoch Gutfreund, the president emeritus of Hebrew U and the co-ordinator of Einstein-related events that involve the university.

Roni Grosz, curator of the archives, said that since the early ’80s, the archives has almost doubled, with more than 75,000 items to date – including books, letters and photographs.
He said that while they have the biggest collection of original Einstein material, much of the material is not original because in some cases, letters he wrote are held by heirs of a recipient, or by collectors, in which case, the archives may have acquired a carbon copy of the letter.
“We have manuscripts, we have drafts, we have material that is in his original hand, but we don’t have very many outgoing letters. Sometimes we get them back, sometimes we buy them back, sometimes we get donations,” Grosz said.

“Nowadays, a lot of this goes to auction and the simplest Einstein letter, a two-liner with no content, that says, ‘Thank you very much for your birthday wishes for my 60th birthday,’ [would fetch] $3,000,” he said, adding that letters with much more substance can sell for more than $15,000.

He said the goal is to collect every communication that was written by him.

Of course, the collection will never be complete because when Einstein died in 1955, his secretary of about 27 years who was also a close friend and a co-trustee of his estate, destroyed some of his writings that she considered too private or would put him in an unfavourable light. Sitting in a room surrounded by Einstein’s personal library, Gutfreund and Grosz shared some of his letters, photographs and other archival items to help paint a picture of the kind of man Einstein was beyond his scientific achievements.

Gutfreund said that Einstein wrote in his own words that there was nothing that evoked his “Jewish sentiments” until 1914, when he was 35 years old.

“This was the first time he encountered anti-Semitism in Germany, which really gained momentum and became very significant immediately after World War I when the Jews became the scapegoat of everything that happened to the Germans,” Gutfreund said.

“It is then that Einstein – being that he was a very compassionate human being – used every public arena to speak out against anti-Semitism. He wrote a lot about anti-Semitism and he spoke about anti-Semitism not emotionally, but as a physicist – that this is a phenomenon of nature that we have to understand.”

Gutfreund explained that in 1919, Einstein joined the Zionist movement, but his interpretation was different from mainstream Zionism. 
“For many years he did not accept the goal of Zionism as a country with borders and with an army. He was thinking more in terms of a cultural and spiritual home for the Jews wherever they lived. Very gradually he shifted and supported the State of Israel when it was already independent,” he said.

“He considered Zionism as a set of values, cultural values, not necessarily religious rituals… He very emotionally and intellectually adopted what he perceived as the nature of Judaism – the pursuit of knowledge and learning for its own sake, human dignity, human rights, the values of the Jewish prophets – and for that he thanked the stars that he belonged to this group, to this tribe, to this race.”

Gutfreund said that Einstein’s most prominent association with the Zionist movement was his commitment to Hebrew U, which he co-founded 23 years before the State of Israel was established in 1925.

In 1923, he travelled to what was then Palestine, for his first and only visit to the country, to deliver a lecture on Mount Scopus, which is now part of the Hebrew U campus.

“The lecture is a story in itself. The lecture was delivered two years before the official opening of the university. He started with a few words in Hebrew, which he memorized, and he apologized for not being able to speak in the language of his forefathers. Then he spoke for 1-1/2 hours in French about the general theory of relativity,” Gutfreund said.

Although Einstein would eventually decline an invitation to become Israel’s second president in 1952, he worked to promote dialogue with Arab leaders who were unhappy about the acquisition of land by Zionists in the Middle East.

“Einstein wrote letters to Palestinian newspaper editors in hopes of convincing them that the Zionist ideology would benefit the entire region,” Gutfreund said.

“He suggested to form a secret council where Jews and Arabs would each send four representatives who would be completely independent of any political body… These eight people would meet once a week.

“This is anecdotal, but it was very serious. This is how the man thought, this is how he operated. He did have impact.”

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