The man whose name is synonymous with genius, but whose real interest was in the unknowable.
As a secular and scientifically inclined young man, Einstein renounced his Jewish identity. Later, while living in a Germany that was increasingly receptive to Nazi ideas, Einstein was motivated to take a stand against anti-Semitism and became a cultural Zionist. He had mixed feelings about the State of Israel but supported the idea of an institution dedicated to Jewish continuity and called himself a "strong devotee of the Zionist idea."
In 1952, after the death of Einstein's friend, then-president Chaim Weizmann, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz printed an editorial nominating Einstein as his successor. Eventually, Abba Eban contacted Einstein on behalf of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. Addressing Einstein, Eban offered "complete facility and freedom to pursue your great scientific work would be afforded by a government and people who are fully conscious of the supreme significance of your labors," though cautioning that "acceptance would entail moving to Israel and taking its citizenship."
One Israeli government statistician was quoted in Time, saying, "He might even be able to work out the mathematics of our economy and make sense out of it."Ultimately, Einstein declined, saying, "I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it."
Before his death, Einstein bequeathed his literary estate and all personal papers to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Despite his discomfort with the idea of a single "chosen people," and his onetime renouncement of Jewish identity, Einstein believed that his work would find a stable, secure, and permanent home in Israel--the same hope that, perhaps, he had for his people.
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