Einstein's Not-So-Well-Known Journey to His Jewishness
Lesser-known documents reveal that Albert Einstein was a deeply proud Jew and advocate for Zionism.
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Did you know that Albert Einstein was offered to be the President of State of Israel?
Not to be confused with prime minister, the President of the State of Israel is largely a ceremonial position elected by the Knesset (the Israeli legislature).
Upon the death of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, in 1952, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion offered Einstein the position at the urging of Ezriel Carlebach, the first editor-in-chief of Israel’s two largest newspapers.1
The offer was presented by Abba Eban, Israel’s ambassador in Washington, D.C., who explained that it “embodies the deepest respect which the Jewish people can repose in any of its sons.”2
“Israel is a small State in its physical dimensions, but can rise to the level of greatness in the measure that it exemplifies the most elevated spiritual and intellectual traditions which the Jewish people has established through its best minds and hearts both in antiquity and in modern times,” Eban wrote.
The letter assured Einstein that he would retain the freedom to engage in scientific research while president. It also stipulated that to accept the position, Einstein, who lived in New Jersey, would be obligated to move to Israel and take its citizenship.
Why Einstein was made this offer isn’t totally clear. Some claim that, after World War II, he was among the most famous Jews, making him a perfect head of state. It’s what the youngsters might call today “influencer marketing.”
Others postulated that Einstein was known for his humanitarian work. And perhaps the very young State of Israel thought that an A-list figure would solidify its international standing.
But the truth is, neither Einstein nor Ben-Gurion expressed much enthusiasm about the prospect of him assuming the presidency. Einstein found the offer awkward, and Ben-Gurion joked to an assistant, “I’ve had to offer the post to him because it’s impossible not to. But if he accepts, we are in trouble.”3
Unsurprisingly, Einstein swiftly declined and refused an official meeting with representatives of the Israeli embassy. He opted for writing this letter instead: