The Right Coast

August 07, 2004
Equation Update -- and Presidency of Israel
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Thanks to all of you who e-mailed to explain E = mc2. It helped, although this is still through-a-glass-very-darkly where I am concerned. True story: Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader and future first President of Israel, was on an Atlantic ocean crossing with Einstein in 1921. "Einstein explained his theory to me every day", said Weizmann, "and soon I was fully convinced that he understood it."

Abba Eban tells another story, in his memoir "Personal Witness: Israel Through My Eyes". In 1952, Chaim Weizmann died, having been President of Israel since the Jewish state's founding in 1948. (The Israeli President is the ceremonial head of state; the Prime Minisiter is the head of the government.)

"One day after Weizmann's death I received a coded message from Prime Minister David Ben Gurion", writes Eban, "instructing me to talk to Professor Albert Einstein in Princeton, and to find out what his reaction would be if he were offered the presidency of Israel."

Einstein wrote to Eban:
    I am deeply moved by the offer from our state of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed because I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters. Hence, I lack both a natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions. For these reasons alone, I should be unsuited to fulfil the duties of that high office, even if advancing age was not making increasing inroads on my strength. I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.
"I have always cherished this letter", says Eban, "and have thought that it was worthwhile for me to elicit it from him. For Zionists, the most impressive word is 'our state of Israel' and 'our precarious situation': the greatest Jew of this century speaking of Israel and of the Jewish people in such intimate identification."