PROG - ALBERT EINSTEIN

Albert Einstein

Rabbi Malcolm Cohen of Temple Sinai in Las Vegas on why Albert Einstein is his ultimate Jewish icon… 

Albert Einstein is a heroic figure because of his impact on the world stage and lasting effect on the Jewish people.

People often forget that Einstein reached some of his greatest heights very early in his incredible career.

In 1904 he wrote four scientific papers including his theory of relativity. His brilliance may partly have stemmed from his Jewish ability to challenge authority, enabling him to think beyond boundaries. He became prominent in the Jewish world speaking out against the Nazis.

He was instinctively open to different cultures, peoples and ideas; Nazi ideology was against everything he stood for. His anti-authoritarian streak served him better in the United States.

He was courted to be the first president of Israel, an honour he declined. He attained celebrity status; in New York his lectures were well attended even though the audience understood little of the science.

One enduring image is of him and Charlie Chaplin on the steps of a cinema at a film premiere. But it was his scientific brain which was for the ages. His goal of attaining a unified theory of the workings of the universe was a beautiful and lofty one.

At the same time, as he grew older, the scientific world gave him discomfort. His science probably helped win the race to construct an atomic bomb but this haunted him. Not only that but other scientists came up with new theories departing from his ideas. For all his openness, he found it hard to make allowances for their new ways of thinking.

Last, his playful personality, at odds with his high-level thinking, was something for which he was cherished. One of my congregants loves to tell me of the time at Princeton University when he saw Einstein, disheveled, emerging from the doughnut shop, happy to pose for an informal photograph.