Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Had they known me in Israel, they would not have offered me this important position" -Albert Einstein

"All of our science when measured against reality is primitive and childish and yet it is the most valuable thing we have." - Albert Einstein

In November 1952, Dr Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel, passed away. The nation promptly prepared itself: The Israel Embassy in Washington issued directives for the mourning period, and Israeli citizens and Jews abroad began submitting names of important people whom they felt would be suitable to inherit the honoured position.

The Foreign Ministry was asked to assist in finding candidates, and so Ambassador Abba Eban approached Albert Einstein to ask if he would accept the offer to serve as President of Israel.

In his letter to the professor, Eban wrote that he was acting at the instructions of Premier Ben Gurion, reflecting the true sentiments of the Jewish people. He added that acceptance would require relocation to Israel and acceptance of Israeli nationality, but in appreciation of the importance and scope of his work he would be offered all that was necessary with the freedom of action to ensure the continuation of his scientific activity. Israel, Eban said, was geographically a small country but was destined for greatness in continuing its spiritual and intellectual tradition both past and present.
David Ben Gurion and Albert Einstein (National Photo Collection)
Upon receiving the invitation, Einstein replied in handwriting in English and German.

"I feel deeply moved by the offer of our state Israel, though also sad and abashed that it is impossible for me to accept this offer. Since all my life I have been dealing with the world of physics, I have neither the natural ability nor the experience necessary to deal with human beings and to carry out official functions. For these reasons, I do not feel able to fulfill the requirements of this great task, even were my advanced age not limiting my strength to an increasing extent. This situation is indeedextremely sad for me because my relation to the Jewish people has become my strongest human attachment ever since I reached compleate awerness of our precarious position among the nations."

He concluded with expressions of sympathy upon the death of Dr. Weizmann who had made great efforts to reach independence, and hoped that a suitable person would be found who could bear the great responsibility demanded by the position.

Einstein gave his letters in person to Minister David Goitein of the Washington Embassy who then sent a special report to Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett. Describing his meeting with the professor he quoted Einstein: (In Hebrew)

"Honestly I am very moved that the government and people of Israel want to appoint me their President but throughout my life I never did anything for the Jewish people and so do not merit this honor."

Their interesting discussion ranged over many topics such as Russian – American relations, Judaism, and education in the USA. In this connection Einstein said that if he had a son he would want him educated in Israel rather than in America, and so would benefit from its freedom of thought, education and independence.

Three years after he turned down the Presidency, he was given another opportunity to represent Israel at its Seventh Independence Day celebrations, but died before he could deliver what was his last speech.

At a meeting in Jerusalem to mark the centenary of Einstein's birth, Isaiah Berlin said in reference to his support for Zionism and Israel: "The fact that Einstein who allowed no departure from human decency, believed in this movement and this state unconditionally until his last breath, this fact is one of the most compelling moral testimonies that any state in this century could proudly exhibit, this is deeply meaningful."

The Knesset decided that March 14--Einstein's birthday--would be National Science Day. The Ministry of Science and Technology last year introduced a new initiative, "Popular Science," designed to bring lectures in popular science to the general public. This year there will be extensive activities around this date, by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space.
Einstein on his first visit to the USA, 1921
Albert Einstein and his wife as part of a Zionist mission to the USA. Chaim Weizmann is second on left.

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