How I Snuck Onto Ferry To Interview Albert Einstein as He Arrived in America
A bit taller than average height. A thin figure. Not too skinny. Not rail thin. A gentle one. A thoughtful face wrinkled from thinking and an artistic sensibility. A pair of deep blue eyes. A silvery moustache and wavy black-and-white silk hair covering a large expansive forehead — that’s what Professor Einstein looks like. He arrived Saturday with the Zionist Organization of America.
He wasn’t dressed according to the cutting edge of fashion but more in the manner of an intellectual who earns a living charming the bourgeoisie in their homes. He wears a round hat. He looks at you unlike someone with whom the entire world is currently obsessed and unlike a professor who typically is deep in thought with his head in the clouds. He looks at you like an intimate sibling. He frequently tells you a biting, multifaceted joke.
He resembles the famous Polish pianist Jan Paderewski in his youth, but with deeply thoughtful eyes and more humility.
At first glance, it appears you are not in the presence of a scientist at all but of a famous artist, a virtuoso. And he is actually a famous musician — a violinist and a pianist. When you start talking to him, it seems that you’re dealing with a humorist. His eyes and his smile truly resemble the famous American humorist Mark Twain as well as our own Sholom Aleichem. But when he sits on a stool to pack his pipe and begins speaking in his gentle German about the stars in the sky, about his new theories that have caused excitement in the world, one senses one must gather one’s strength in order to keep up with him as he travels in his lofty worlds between the planets where he feels at home. When you bid farewell to him, that’s when you feel you’ve spoken with a great artist, with a warm smart sibling.
That’s the general impression Professor Einstein makes as a person.
What type of impression he makes as a scientist is not in my capacity to determine. It’s very hard for a professor to bring visitors along on his journey to his theories.
Einstein, Einstein — the world is obsessed with him. He’s shaken up the world with his revolutionary ideas. And now I look at him. I observe his hand and it seems to me that very soon he’ll flap his wings and fly on up high. And I won’t be able to catch him. The word genius isn’t enough to express Professor Einstein. So it seems to me that he has wings hidden somewhere and any time now he’ll fly off to his sky and planets.
Imagine that at a gathering of the greatest rabbis and orthodox folks a young rabbi shows up and declares that he has proof that Moyshe Rabeynu [Moses, our teacher] didn’t lead the Jews out of Egypt, that Moyshe didn’t break the tablets and didn’t hit the rock and that the rock didn’t flow with water.
The rabbis wouldn’t want to hear it. They wouldn’t even let him discuss his proofs because they contradict the fundamental basis of Jewish religion. And imagine the greatest, most orthodox and learned rabbi listens to this newest orthodox rabbi and decrees the proofs are correct, that the world has been living in mistaken ideology until now.
That is what happened with the young Jewish Professor Albert Einstein (he’s 42 years old).
That Jew threw around his theories of the earth and the stars, about time and space and the universe.
He came to the highest scientific academy in London, The Royal Society, and declared that everything its members studied and believed was false. He proved it. The professors didn’t want to hear nor see it. That would undermine university education the world over. At the Royal Academy there was a member, Sir Isaac Newton, the famous astronomer whose scientific discovery was widely understood to be correct, and here the science of Sir Isaac Newton was being thrown out by Professor Einstein.
The head of the Royal Astronomical Society, Professor [Arthur] Eddington, heard Einstein, researched his work and declared that Einstein was right. And that was just after the war. Professor Einstein is a German Jew and the English scientists validated him. They praised him for upsetting the world’s science literature. He gave science a new Torah and wrote them a new pair of tablets.
And here I am next to this remarkable person. I am sitting with him on a sofa of the police boat. He’s smoking his pipe, smiling and talking about the stars and the solar system, and telling joke. His jokes are not for retelling because they’re incredibly interwoven with the discussion.
And he appears so humble, like a true lamed vovnik [righteous soul hidden to the average eye]. And it seems to me he’ll soon give a flutter of his angelic wings and fly off to his skies.
He came here with an idealistic mission for a university to be built in Jerusalem. That’s characteristic of Professor Einstein, that for his great mind there’s also a big warm heart.
This acticle first appeared in the Forverts. It was translated from the Yiddish by Chana Pollack.