Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

thescroll_header

The Jewish Fight Over Einstein

‘Atlantic': His first U.S. trip caused a rift between Zionist leaders

Print Email
Einstein at Princeton University on his 75th birthday, in 1954.(AFP/Getty Images)

Walter Isaacson takes a trip down memory lane (not his own, however) in the December issue of The Atlantic with a look at Albert Einstein’s maiden voyage to the United States in the spring of 1921. With the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, Einstein was persuaded to accompany Chaim Weizmann, the president of the World Zionist Organization, on a fundraising trip to help establish both a Jewish homeland and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, even though Einstein had until then largely avoided sectarian affiliations, according to Isaacson, who published a biography of the physicist in 2007. A newly published volume of Einstein’s papers from 1921 shows the scientist’s increasing affinity for Jewish causes as well his entanglement in a rift between Jewish leaders that pitted Weizmann against Louis Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter. The latter two were “the more polished and cautious potentates of American Jewry,” Isaacson writes, and Brandeis, who was at the time the head of the Zionist Organization of America, “wanted the Zionist organizations to focus on sending money to Jewish settlers in Palestine and not on agitating politically.”

Isaacson calls the rivalry “an old-fashioned power struggle” and “a clash of personalities” that wound up pitting prosperous, assimilated American Jews against less refined, working-class European ones. Though glad that Einstein was in the States making the rounds, the American contingent tried to persuade him to downplay talk of money—both raising it for Israel and asking for it in terms of delivering lectures—and instead urged him to make believe he was here to talk relativity. And though the likes of Arthur Hays Sulzberger refused invitations to meet the future Nobel laureate, he was greeted, according to Isaacson, by immigrant throngs on the Lower East Side and in Brooklyn, causing him to later write to a friend, “I had to let myself be shown around like a prize ox.… It’s a miracle that I endured it. But now it’s finished and what remains is the fine feeling of having done something truly good and of having worked for the Jewish cause despite all the protests by Jews and non-Jews—most of our fellow tribesmen are smarter than they are courageous.”

How Einstein Divided America’s Jews [Atlantic Online]

Print Email

COMMENTING CHARGES
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at letters@tabletmag.com. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

The Jewish Fight Over Einstein

‘Atlantic': His first U.S. trip caused a rift between Zionist leaders

More on Tablet:

From the Mekong to Maryland

By Hillel Kuttler — After the fall of Saigon, a Baltimore synagogue helped 15 Vietnamese become Americans