Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Honoring Albert Einstein on his Yahrzeit

Albert Einstein: A Jewish-American Hero


Albert Einstein is, of course, remembered as one of the greatest physicists of all time. But this Jewish scientist also had a prolific love of music, politics, and writing, and a profoundly deep love for Israel.

Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in the German city of Ulm. As a young child he moved to Munich with his family—Jewish parents Hermann and Pauline Einstein. Hermann was a salesman and engineer, moving the family to found a company that manufactured electric equipment utilizing direct current, the unidirectional flow of electric charge.

Clearly, an appreciation for the sciences ran in the family. Young Albert attended advanced classes in primary and secondary school, building models and mechanical apparatuses for fun in his spare time.
At the age of 10, Einstein met Max Talmud, a Jewish medical student who introduced the future Nobel laureate to a variety of science, math and philosophy texts.

He kept kosher at age 12
Young Einstein went through an observant phase at 12, even though his parents were secular Ashkenazi German Jews. He didn’t stay interested in Judaism long enough to have a bar mitzvah though. A Jewish medical student and family friend — named, ironically enough, Max Talmud — introduced the creative boy to popular science books, which Einstein saw as contradicting religious teachings. At age twelve he discovered geometry (the study of points, lines, and surfaces) and was taken by its clear and certain proofs.Einstein developed an appreciation of music at an early age. His mother played the piano reasonably well and wanted her son to learn the violin, not only to instill in him a love of music but also to help him assimilate into German culture. According to conductor Leon Botstein, Einstein is said to have begun playing when he was 5, although he did not enjoy it at that age.[106]

When he turned 13 he discovered the violin sonatas of Mozart, whereupon "Einstein fell in love" with Mozart's music and studied music more willingly. He taught himself to play without "ever practicing systematically", he said, deciding that "love is a better teacher than a sense of duty."[106] At age 17, he was heard by a school examiner in Aarau as he played Beethoven's violin sonatas, the examiner stating afterward that his playing was "remarkable and revealing of 'great insight'." What struck the examiner, writes Botstein, was that Einstein "displayed a deep love of the music, a quality that was and remains in short supply. Music possessed an unusual meaning for this student."[106]

Music took on a pivotal and permanent role in Einstein's life from that period on. Although the idea of becoming a professional himself was not on his mind at any time, among those with whom Einstein played chamber music were a few professionals, and he performed for private audiences and friends. Chamber music had also become a regular part of his social life while living in Bern, Zürich, and Berlin, where he played with Max Planck and his son, among others. He is sometimes erroneously credited as the editor of the 1937 edition of the Köchel catalogue of Mozart's work; that edition was actually prepared by Alfred Einstein,[citation needed] who may have been a distant relation.[107][108]

In 1931, while engaged in research at the California Institute of Technology, he visited the Zoellner family conservatory in Los Angeles, where he played some of Beethoven and Mozart's works with members of the Zoellner Quartet.[109][110] Near the end of his life, when the young Juilliard Quartet visited him in Princeton, he played his violin with them, and the quartet was "impressed by Einstein's level of coordination and intonation."[106]

As a teenager, Einstein moved with his family once more, first to Milan, then Pavia in northern Italy. Once the family settled in Pavia, Einstein returned to Munich to finish his secondary studies.

At 16, Einstein was accepted to the Aargau Cantonal School in Aarau, Switzerland, then a year later began studies at ETH Zurich to earn a four-year degree in mathematics and physics teaching.

During this period Einstein met his future wife, Mileva Maric. Maric was also studying under the math and physics teaching program. The couple had a child, daughter Lieserl, in 1902, who was either adopted or died of scarlet fever.

In 1903, Einstein married Mileva. Over the next few years the pair had two sons, but the couple divorced in 1919. During that time, Einstein worked on his theory of general relativity, prompting his summation that light from various stars would bend with the sun’s gravity.

In 1921, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the photoelectric effect.


Over the next few years, Einstein traveled extensively, making a much-heralded first trip to New York City in 1921. He traveled through Asia and then-Palestine, the only trip he would make to Israel.

He said at the time, “I consider this the greatest day of my life. Before, I have always found something to regret in the Jewish soul, and that is the forgetfulness of its own people. Today, I have been made happy by the sight of the Jewish people learning to recognize themselves and to make themselves recognized as a force in the world.”

Einstein remarried shortly after his divorce from Mileva, to Elsa Lowenthal. The Einsteins stayed in the US following a trip in 1933, choosing not to return to a Germany becoming swept up in Hitler-furor.

The physicist wrote to a friend at the time: “For me the most beautiful thing is to be in contact with a few fine Jews—a few millennia of a civilized past do mean something after all.” In a separate letter he wrote, “In my whole life I have never felt so Jewish as now.”

Einstein became associated with the Manhattan Project in 1939, an elite group of scientists organized to develop an atomic weapon. It would become a source or regret for Einstein in later years, though he still felt vindicated in making a move to urge President Roosevelt to take action.

“I made one great mistake in my life — when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification — the danger that the Germans would make them,” he reportedly told a friend later in life.

In 1940, Einstein officially became an American citizen. He also joined the NAACP at Princeton and campaigned for equal rights for the nation’s African American community.

Einstein passed away on April 18, 1955, at the age of 76, after suffering a rupture of an aortic aneurysm.

In the last days of his life, the iconic scientist was working on an address commemorating Israel’s seventh anniversary, meant for broadcast to the American people. Einstein carried the draft pages of the speech with him to the hospital to undergo surgery for the rupture, but died before he was able to publicly give his address.

In the draft pages, Einstein wrote, “International policies for the Middle East should be dominated by efforts to secure peace for Israel…this would conform with the universal ideals of peace and brotherhood which have been the most significant contribution of the people of Israel in its long history.”

Famous quotes from Einstein:

“We must enhance the light, not fight the darkness.”

“Tragedy is the difference between what is and what could have been.”

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

“A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.”