Einstein's telescope finally sees stars

Gathering dust in a Hebrew University basement for decades, the famous physicist's gift is finally put to use by young Israeli astronomers.

October 29, 2008 14:05
4 minute read.
einstein 88

einstein 88. (photo credit: )


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Over half a century after being presented by Albert Einstein to the Elsa and Albert Einstein Youth Village at Ben Shemen, a quarter-ton telescope has finally seen the light of day - and stars at night. Recently discovered in a state of disrepair, the telescope was refurbished and used for the first time by Israeli youth during the recent International Day for Young Astronomers in Jerusalem. If it hadn't been for a number of coincidences, the telescope would still be languishing in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem basement. The events leading to its rescue began when the family of the telescope's creator, Zvi Gezari, asked an Israeli acquaintance to find out what happened to the telescope Gezari had crafted and given to Einstein as a gift, which the physicist then donated to the Ben Shemen Youth Village. Gezari was born in Poland and later arrived in Mandate Palestine and joined the Hagana. In the mid-1930s the British recruited him for the Notrim, a police force made up of Jews and Arabs under British commanders. He was deployed with the Settlement Police and for a number of months served in and around Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek in the Jezreel Valley, where he met an American Jewish artist named Temima who was spending some time working and painting at the kibbutz. Mishmar Ha'emek member Moshe Furmansky had been sent to the US in the 1930s as the first emissary of Hashomer Hatzair in America. In New York, he met the young Temima. She had traveled the Middle East and had lived in Jerusalem for a time, painting people and places, before returning to America. The persuasive Furmansky (who later died in the War of Independence) convinced Temima to return to Israel in 1936 and spend time in his kibbutz community. She agreed only on condition that the kibbutz send her an invitation! The letter arrived and the lady once again left New York for the Middle East. At the kibbutz, Temima met Gezari, who was stationed there. A romance developed but was put on hold when Temima returned once more to the States. Gezari in the meantime finished his police duties and began working at the Haifa Port while studying at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. In 1938, the couple met again in Palestine after Temima was offered a job by the architect El Hanani, who had gone to New York to present his plans for the Palestine Pavilion for the 1939 World Fair. In August 1939, Temima married Gezari in Tel Aviv. The couple later moved to New York. Eventually, Gezari built the family's Long Island abode with his sons Dan and Walter. The house was constructed from building debris scavenged in New York and Temima Gezari, now 103, still lives there. A member of a circle of more than serious amateur astronomers, Gezari built an observatory on his Long Island roof. The Gezari interest in astronomy, incidentally, passed on to his children and grandchildren - his son Dan is an astrophysicist at NASA and one of his granddaughters is an astrophysicist with the Hubble Space Telescope. Gezari built the telescope he presented to Einstein in the early 1950s, and it includes special characteristics such as its slow-motion drives and fine adjustment sights, which Gezari constructed from panoramic gun sights from German field artillery that was transported to America after World War II. When he presented the eight-inch Newtonian F-8 telescope to Einstein, Gezari said it had "always been an ambition to turn swords into plowshares," referring to the German war booty. A May 1954 report in The New York Times states Einstein nodded approvingly at Gezari's comment. Over the years, the Gezaris reconnected with other members of Mishmar Ha'emek who, like Furmansky, were sent to the US as emissaries. These included Mordecai Bentov, one of the founders of the kibbutz and later a signatory to Israel's Declaration of Independence, and Yona Golan, who spent 18 months alone in New York leaving her husband Milik and son Ran, then 11, behind in Israel. In the early 1980s, it was Ran Golan's turn to serve as an emissary of Hashomer Hatzair in the States. While there, he met and became friendly with Dan Gezari, who had been a member of Hashomer Hatzair in the US and active with the parents committee of Hashomer Hatzair's Liberty Camp. "Dan was a staunch supporter of Hashomer Hatzair and also encouraged his children to become members," explains Golan, who became involved in the search for the Gezari telescope around 10 years ago after spending time with Dan and Walter Gezari during a trip to America with his wife, Hagar. "Dan showed me two articles, one from The New York Times and the other from the New York Herald Tribune, dealing with the presentation of the Gezari telescope to Einstein in '54. When we returned to Israel, Hagar and I went to Ben Shemen to see if we could discover what happened to the telescope and nobody knew anything about it," Golan said. At some point, all the astronomy equipment at Ben Shemen had been transferred to Jerusalem and the Golans' attempts to trace it came to no avail. But much to their surprise, a few months ago Hagar Golan spotted a small item in a local newspaper about how a telescope presented to Einstein had been retrieved from a storage shed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and undergone a $10,000 refurbishment. "We immediately got in touch with Dan Gezari and also the university - both sides were delighted, of course," said Golan. University officials invited the Golans to attend the recent dedication ceremony in Jerusalem for the telescope, which would finally see stars.

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