“Albert Einstein” was back at the Hebrew University (HU) on Tuesday to attend the final event of the Board of Governor meeting, 100 years after he first came to Jerusalem – this time for the cornerstone ceremony establishing Einstein House whose benefactors are Jose and Marie Mugrabi.
No, it wasn’t really Einstein, but a British-born actor – Bobby Lax – complete with fuzzy white hair, bushy mustache, old-fashioned gray suit, wooden (but empty) pipe and an adopted Austrian accent who retold his experiences here and explained his Theory of Relativity.
A few hours after a bout of heavy rain, the entrance to the campus was dry and warm enough for the guests, including 140 Board of Governors members who came from a dozen countries and the Mugrabis’ close friends, to mingle and munch.
The black limousine of President Isaac Herzog and his wife rolled up. They visited the site to the left where the 2,900-square-meter, two-story Einstein House will be completed in early 2025. They were accompanied by HU President Prof. Asher Cohen, who was instrumental in facilitating the project, and Daniel Libeskind – the American architect who created the master plan for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site in Manhattan and the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
Former HU president Prof. Hanoch Guttfreund, a world-renowned Einstein expert, who is head of HU’s Einstein Archives will supervise the moving of its 80,000 scientific, philosophical, ethical and personal documents that will be housed in the museum. The Jewish genius willed his personal archives and the rights to all of his intellectual property to the university.
Also present was Jerusalem resident Mira Einstein, the great-granddaughter of the man Herzog described as “one of the greatest minds in the history of humanity.”
“I consider this the greatest day of my life... 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. This is a great age, the age of liberation of the Jewish soul, and it has been accomplished through the Zionist movement, so that no one in the world will be able to destroy it.”Albert Einstein on his visit to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Inaugurating the Albert Einstein Museum at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Donning yellow hard hats for the photographers, the donors and the dignitaries (including Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion) placed scrolls in a hole opposite the campus entrance and covered them with cement, to the applause of the crowd.
Herzog, the 11th President of Israel, showed a facsimile of a letter signed at the Israel Embassy in Washington in which his late uncle, distinguished diplomat Abba Eban, invited Einstein to be the second President of Israel. The letter was sent in 1954, just a few months before Einstein’s death.
“THE NEW facility will be accessible not only to academics and students, but to students and visitors from here and around the world,” the president said, adding that in 1923, Einstein had delivered a scientific lecture on the Mt. Scopus campus, starting in Hebrew and proceeding in French.
The high point of Einstein’s one and only 10-day visit to the Holy Land was at the university’s inaugural ceremony, where he said: “I consider this the greatest day of my life... 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. This is a great age, the age of liberation of the Jewish soul, and it has been accomplished through the Zionist movement, so that no one in the world will be able to destroy it.”
Einstein was a major supporter of the Hebrew University. He actively participated in raising funds for its establishment and was a member of the Board of Governors and chairman of the Academic Committee. He was also involved in its academic side.
In addition to the Mugrabis’ donation of $18 million, the Israeli government has committed itself to allocating NIS 8 million for the design and content and NIS 14.5 million for the building.
Mugrabi, an octogenarian who was born in Jerusalem, moved to Colombia where he made his fortune in textiles. He then settled in New York, where he became a multimillion-dollar art collector with a particular fondness for Andy Warhol, one of whose works depicted Einstein.
His wife, Marie was born in Aleppo, Syria but was taken by her parents to Milan and then to Brazil where they met. Happily married since 1969, the couple have two grown sons and homes in both Tel Aviv and New York. They hope to come to Jerusalem to attend the opening of the new building.
Mugrabi cited Ido Aharoni, a longtime Foreign Ministry official who suggested the idea of Einstein House to him, after becoming obsessed with the idea of an Einstein museum to promote Israel as a “brand” to attract interest and support in 2007.
Mugrabi said he believed that even people who were not interested in, or did not like Israel and the Jews would be attracted to Jerusalem because of Einstein, who continues to be admired the world over. “I hope the Hebrew University will produce many more Einsteins,” he added. “My wife and I feel that we are the luckiest people in the world” for making such a facility possible. ❖
HU’s Einstein Archives can be found online at www.albert-einstein.org/