Ein­stein, in his own words

For the first time, the com­plete di­aries of the sci­en­tist dur­ing his trip across the US, Europe, Is­rael and Asia are avail­able

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • GLENN ALTSCHULER The writer is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can Stud­ies at Cor­nell Univer­sity.

Fol­low­ing a re­cep­tion in Tel Aviv in Fe­bru­ary 1923, at which then-mayor Meir Dizen­goff and mem­bers of the City Coun­cil named him an hon­orary cit­i­zen, Al­bert Ein­stein noted in his di­ary that the ac­com­plish­ments of Jews in Pales­tine in a few short years “ex­cite the high­est ad­mi­ra­tion... What an in­cred­i­bly lively peo­ple our Jews are.”

That same month, while in Jerusalem, Ein­stein ac­knowl­edged that he was “wanted at all costs” to head the He­brew Univer­sity and “am be­ing as­sailed on all fronts in this re­gard.” Con­vinced that a Jewish Univer­sity would serve “as a ral­ly­ing point” for schol­ar­ship and an au­thor­i­ta­tive cen­ter for Jewish thought,” whose in­flu­ence would “en­liven and in­spirit the di­verse com­mu­ni­ties of scat­tered Is­rael,” Ein­stein told him­self “My heart says yes but my mind says no.”

Soon af­ter he re­turned to Ber­lin, Ein­stein wrote to Arthur Rup­pin, the direc­tor of the Zion­ist Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s of­fice in Jaffa: “Pales­tine will not solve the Jewish prob­lem, but the re­vival of Pales­tine will mean the lib­er­a­tion and the re­vival of the soul of the Jewish peo­ple. I count it among my trea­sured ex­pe­ri­ences that I should have been able to see the coun­try dur­ing this pe­riod of re­birth and re-in­spi­ra­tion.”

With the ver­i­fi­ca­tion of his gen­eral the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity in 1919, Ein­stein had be­come an in­ter­na­tional celebrity. In 1921, he vis­ited the United States, ac­com­pa­nied by Chaim Weiz­mann, to raise funds for the He­brew Univer­sity. He also gave lec­tures in Lon­don, Paris, Zurich, Oslo, Copen­hagen, Ley­den, Prague and Vi­enna. Ein­stein’s jour­ney to Pales­tine was part of a six-month-long jour­ney that took him as well to Hong Kong, Sin­ga­pore, China, Ja­pan and Spain. Shortly be­fore his ar­rival in Ja­pan, Ein­stein learned that he had been awarded the No­bel Prize for Physics.

Edited by Ze’ev Rosenkranz, the au­thor of Ein­stein Be­fore Is­rael and a se­nior ed­i­tor of the Ein­stein Pa­pers Project at the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, The Travel Di­aries of Al­bert Ein­stein: The Far East, Pales­tine & Spain 1922-1923 pro­vides for the first time the com­plete texts of Ein­stein’s jour­nals for his visit to the Far East and Near East.

Ein­stein’s de­ci­sion to make the trip, Rosenkranz re­veals, was in­formed by the rise of an­tisemitism in Ger­many. The as­sas­si­na­tion of Wal­ter Ra­thenau, Ger­many’s (Jewish) for­eign min­is­ter, by rightwing ex­trem­ists, Rosenkranz writes, “was a wa­ter­shed mo­ment” for the Weimar Repub­lic. A prom­i­nent Jewish left-wing pub­lic in­tel­lec­tual, Ein­stein feared for his safety. He con­tem­plated re­sign­ing as direc­tor of the pres­ti­gious Kaiser Wil­helm In­sti­tute for Physics and leav­ing the coun­try, but de­cided in­stead “to get away for a while from the tense at­mos­phere” in Ger­many.

In his in­tro­duc­tion, Rosenkranz pays “spe­cial at­ten­tion” to Ein­stein’s views of na­tional and eth­nic groups. Although Ein­stein was not a na­tion­al­ist and firmly be­lieved in em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence, Rosenkranz points out that like most of his Euro­pean and Amer­i­can con­tem­po­raries, he tended to stereo­type Ori­en­tal “Oth­ers” and en­dow them with im­mutable traits of na­tional char­ac­ter.

More in­ter­est­ingly, as he doc­u­ments “the more trou­bling side of this cul­tural icon,” Rosenkranz points out that although he was look­ing through the lens of white male im­pe­ri­al­ist eyes, Ein­stein was also gaz­ing at him­self while “the na­tives,” at times, were gaz­ing at and ob­jec­ti­fy­ing him as a Jew.

Rosenkranz is less at­ten­tive to in­trigu­ing but enig­matic di­ary en­tries on other top­ics. He does not pro­vide a con­text, for ex­am­ple, for Ein­stein’s com­ment that Ernst Kretschmer’s book Physique and Char­ac­ter did not ap­ply to him, “a hope­less hy­brid.” Rosenkranz does not ex­plain why, on fur­ther read­ing, Ein­stein “felt as if grabbed by a vice. Hyper­sen­si­tiv­ity trans­formed into in­dif­fer­ence. Dur­ing ado­les­cence, in­wardly in­hib­ited and un­worldly. Glass pane be­tween sub­ject and other peo­ple. Un­mo­ti­vated mis­trust. Sub­sti­tute paper world. Ascetic im­pulses.”

Nor does Rosenkranz ad­dress Ein­stein’s re­ac­tion to Henri Berg­son’s book on the the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity. Although he con­cluded that Berg­son had “more lin­guis­tic skill than psy­cho­log­i­cal depth,” Ein­stein thought it strange that time but not space was prob­lem­atic to him. Philoso­phers, Ein­stein opined, “con­stantly dance around the di­chotomy be­tween the psy­cho­log­i­cally real and the phys­i­cally real.”

Ein­stein’s travel di­aries, it’s worth not­ing, pro­vide a snap­shot of the per­spec­tive of a rel­a­tively young man. In 1933, Ein­stein em­i­grated to the United States to es­cape the Nazis. As a pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute for Ad­vanced Stud­ies in Prince­ton, he con­tin­ued to work on his uni­fied field the­ory. He helped per­suade pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt to es­tab­lish the Man­hat­tan Project to de­velop an atomic bomb, warned of the ne­ces­sity for nu­clear arms con­trol af­ter World War II, and be­came a leader of the World Gov­ern­ment Move­ment.

Over time, Ein­stein’s hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism, his dis­dain for in­tel­lec­tual, ed­u­ca­tional and gov­ern­ment reg­i­men­ta­tion and author­i­tar­i­an­ism dis­placed, or at least tem­pered, his views on race, eth­nic­ity and na­tional char­ac­ter. Con­temp­tu­ous of na­tion­al­ism, Ein­stein op­posed a Jewish state. He con­tin­ued to af­firm, how­ever, that his re­la­tion­ship to the Jewish peo­ple “is my strong­est hu­man bond.”

(Wiki­me­dia Commons)

AL­BERT EIN­STEIN in Ja­pan in 1922.

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