Nostalgia Sunday – Einstein archive goes live

Tomorrow, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will launch the all-new, expanded and digitized Albert Einstein Archives. The launch is timed to coincide — give or take 5 days — with Einstein’s March 14th birthday, also known as Pi Day (3.14 — get it?).

Over 80,000 records of documents held in original and as copies in the Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University (AEA) and at the Einstein Papers Project at Caltech (EPP) can now be accessed with a user-friendly interface via the internet.

The Archives include scientific writings and correspondence, non-scientific writings and correspondence, family letter and travel diaries. The website also presents images Einstein’s handwritten manuscripts, correspondence, typewritten manuscripts, photos, audio material, etc.

The University’s public affairs office states that, in addition to being an essential resource for the history of modern physics, “the archives also shed light on the social, political and intellectual history of the modern world.” Some of the newly digitzed documents inlcude: Einstein’s letter to Azmi El-Nashashibi, the editor of the newspaper Falastin, suggesting a solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict, a letter to the Jewish community in Berlin describing the distinction between Jewish religion and Jewish nationalism, a speech to a Zionist meeting containing a report on a fundraising campaign in the United States for the Hebrew University, a postcard to his sick mother and a letter from his young mistress Betty Neumann.

The online image gallery was created by Ardon Bar-Hama who has photograped an impressive list of some the world’s most treasured objects in libraries, museums, archives, private collections and institutions.

The system offers easy navigation, displaying the search results and additional information such as filters, related topics and similar items. Some of the digitized documents are accompanied by annotated transcriptions and translations, as edited by the EPP and published in the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein by Princeton University Press (PUP). These documents are searchable as full text.

It’s a far cry from Einstein’s original filing system which was “unsystematic” according to the Archive’s History, before his Theory of Relativity came to public attention. “As a result of his dramatic rise to fame in November 1919, his correspondence increased vastly and he employed his step-daughter, Ilse, as his first secretarial assistant. She achieved the first semblance of well-ordered files.

“In April 1928, [secretary] Helen Dukas came to work for Einstein and began to preserve his papers more systematically. However, not even then were copies of all outgoing correspondence kept. Shortly after the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933, Einstein’s papers were rescued from Berlin by Einstein’s son-in-law, Rudolf Kayser, with the help of the French Embassy. The material was brought to Einstein’s new home in Princeton and kept there until well after his death. With a few exceptions, the material left at Einstein’s summer house in Caputh outside Berlin was destroyed in order to prevent it falling into the hands of the Nazi authorities.

“Einstein’s Will of 1950 appointed his secretary, Helen Dukas, and his close associate, Dr. Otto Nathan, as trustees of his estate. Following Einstein’s death in 1955, Dukas and Nathan devoted themselves tirelessly for a quarter of a century to organizing the papers and acquiring additional material. As a result of their efforts, the Archives grew threefold.

“In the 1960s, Helen Dukas and Prof. Gerald Holton of Harvard University reorganized the material, thereby rendering it accessible to scholars and preparing it for eventual publication in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, a joint project of The Hebrew University and Princeton University Press. To facilitate editorial work, the papers were transferred from Einstein’s home to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

“In 1982, the Einstein Estate transferred Einstein’s personal papers to the Jewish National & University Library in Jerusalem. President Avraham Harman of The Hebrew University and Prof. Milton Handler of the American Friends of The Hebrew University played a crucial role in securing the transfer of the material to Jerusalem. In subsequent years, additional material was dispatched from Einstein’s Princeton residence, namely his personal collections of reprints, photographs, medals, and diplomas as well as his private library.

“In 1988, the Bern Dibner Curatorship for the running of the Albert Einstein Archives was established by the Dibner Fund of Connecticut, USA… In January 2008, the Archives became part of the Hebrew University’s Library Authority, Library Authority and, in July 2008, moved to new premises in the Levi building on the Hebrew University’s Edmond J. Safra campus, allowing for enhanced services to the public.

The website was launched in 2003 by the Albert Einstein Archives jointly with the Einstein Papers Project and Princeton University Press. The digitization of 900 papers displayed on the original site was made possible by a generous contribution from the David and Fela Shapell Family.

A grant from the Polonsky Foundation of London enabled the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to digitize the archives. The archival database and the collection of new materials was made possible by the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and by the Arcadia Fund UK.

The launch will be marked simultaneously at Princeton University, Caltech, the Hebrew University’s Friends organizations and Israeli embassies around the world.


A chicken tries to cross the Jerusalem Marathon road

A rainy Jerusalem Marathon on Emek Refaim Street

I was out doing my Friday morning errands when I ran smack dab into the center of the Jerusalem Marathon. Or should I say, they ran into me.

I had gone down to Emek Refaim Street to buy the newspaper, challah and dessert. The street was blocked off for the marathon. What fun, I thought. I’ll get to see the runners as they huff their way past kilometer 29.

One problem: Marzipan bakery, which makes the best half-cooked chocolate rugelach in the city, was on the other side of road which was being guarded by a full contingent of yellow-jacketed police and hired security personnel.

From inside the Steimatsky’s book store at the cashier, only a few runners passed – the leaders of the pack – thin and tiny. By the time I exited, though, a throng of thousands were pulsing my way.

I had to think fast. Would I be a timid American immigrant and wait for all the runners to pass before crossing at the traffic light? Or would I summon up the chutzpah of a Sabra and sprint perpendicularly through the human traffic?

Fortunately, the decision was made for me from above. No, I didn’t gaze skyward and ask for a sign. Rather the heavens opened up all by themselves, unleashing a torrent of not only rain but hail, effectively driving home the imperative for this chicken to head quickly for the rugelach, rules or not.

Pastries in hand, I relaxed and joined the spectators cheering on the runners, feeling sorry they had to slodge through such weather, even though they evinced no dissatisfaction.

12,000 professional and amateur athletes joined this year’s Jerusalem Marathon – 3,000 more than last year, making it Israel’s largest race and one of the world’s most picturesque. Next year, I’ll head out earlier and maybe stand by the road handing out rugelach to the weary at kilometer 29.

Neither dew, nor rain… except in the winter

By Geoff Winston, Keshet

I had the pleasure last week of taking advantage of the beautiful spring-like weather and the Purim holiday vacation to visit Mount Gilboa. I have always enjoyed the Gilboa – it’s incredible, 360-degree views and the biblical stories that unfold in front of one’s eyes from the top of the mountain.

It was here where Israel’s first king, Saul, was to lead his troops into battle. For the first time in his army career, Saul was scared about the next day’s battle, as God would not answer his queries. He dressed in disguise, snuck across the Jezreel Valley and went to see a fortune-teller in order to find out what would happen to him. He did not like the answer: The battle would be the scene of his sons’ and his own death.

Sure enough, during the next day, King Saul saw the death of three of his own sons before being fatally wounded himself. He had requested from his sword-bearer to kill him, lest the enemy take pleasure in doing so, but the lad refused to kill the king, so Saul had to take care of it himself. Saul’s successor, David, heard the terrible news about the death of his best friend Jonathan, Saul’s son. He cursed the land: “O mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain… ” (2 Samuel 1:21).

When one sees the mountain during the summer, one sees this curse – a clear stoppage of the forest on a certain section of the mountain. However, last week, I was able to see the beauty of what the rain had caused: Not only was the mountain green, not only was there a multitude of flowers of all types, but the granddaddy of all flowers of Israel made its grand appearance: the Gilboa Iris, endemic to the top of this mountain.

If you have time between now and the middle of April to travel to the Gilboa for a glimpse, you will not be disappointed!

Israelis turn into recycling fools

The conservation culture in Israel has always been way behind that of the US. In fact, visitors used to comment at how, on the one hand, how beautiful the country was, and on the other hand, how roadsides were littered with mounds of trash thrown from car windows.

While there’s plenty of roadside garbage still out there, recent years have seen great strides being made to encourage the recycling of bottles and paper. Recycling bins are now commonplace in almost all residential neighborhoods and have become a welcome part of the everyday landscape.

So much so that the company that has the bottle recycling service, ELA, announced this week that the rate that Israelis are turning in their used plastic bottles is now exceeding that of the US and Europe.

According to the stats, Israelis recycled 50 percent of the country’s plastic bottles in 2011, overtaking Europe at 48% and the United States at 29%. The actual amount was 20,000 tons of plastic, up from 16,000 in 2010.

In 2011, 140 municipalities and regional councils across the country – including 20 new participants – installed about 4,400 new recycling bins, bringing the country’s total number of bins to about 15,000, the ELA report said.

I and my family certainly do our part, bringing our plastic bottles and old newspapers to the neighborhood bins on a weekly basis.

However, as afar as glass bottle requiring a deposit, I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Israelis collected about 77% of all beverage containers – plastic and glass – requiring deposit in 2011, exceeding the government’s target of 73% and amounting to about 600 million beverage containers.

I’m still am wary about using those bottle refund machines in the supermarkets, ever since I inserted a wine bottle and it came shooting back out like a rocket, landing on the floor in front of me and smashing into a million pieces while provoking the stares and ‘tsks’ of my fellow shoppers.

So for now, I leave that task to my wife, and concentrate on the plastic and the paper, as we join our fellow Israelis in our conservation future.


Stranded in the Judean Hills

Admiring the view...before the sun went down

I got the SMS around 3:00 PM on Friday. “Abba, I’m OK. But we’re kind of stuck on top of a mountain.”

It was our 14-year-old son Aviv who was out with five students from his school, plus one of his teachers, on a “preparation hike.” The idea was to scout the route before the entire school set out on their tiyul shnati – the annual hiking and camping trip that is de rigueur for Israeli students.

Participating in a tiyul shnati starts from a young age: grade schoolers spend the day outdoors; by junior high, there’s an overnight day or two. And in high school, the annual hike can last up to an entire week. Depending on the school, you may camp outdoors and cook your own food (barbequed tuna is a favorite), or you may stay in a local youth hostel (not sure the food there is any better).

Aviv and his comrades had set out to map Nahal Tze’elim, a challenging but beautiful hike in the Dead Sea area. They started at 5:30 AM and should have been back home by mid-afternoon.

But to paraphrase the opening lines of the new J.J. Abrams’ TV series Alcatraz, “That’s not what happened. Not at all” (watch the show and you’ll appreciate this somewhat obscure pop culture reference).

The problem was that, halfway through the hike, the kids’ teacher became ill during the trip. Nothing life threatening, but his hiking speed was significantly reduced as he coughed his way up and down the rugged Judean Hills.

And that was how the intrepid hikers found themselves at the top of a mountain as the sun went down. Not expecting to still be in the desert at that hour, no one had thought to bring a flashlight. They were also all out of food. There was a full moon, but it wasn’t due out until later in the evening.

They had no choice to hike down, on the edge of a cliff, in the pitch black. What should have taken 20-30 minutes took over two hours.

In the meantime, the ill teacher’s daughter had driven down to meet the students at the end of the hike.

When the hikers hadn’t returned an hour into the pitch black, the daughter thought about calling the emergency services. Would they have to send a helicopter to rescue the presumably stranded hikers? No one knew: There was no cell phone reception in that part of the wilderness.

Fortunately, it wasn’t much longer until the weary crew emerged from the nahal and returned to the cars. It was 8:00 PM – five long hours after Aviv’s first call, and well into Shabbat.

Aviv was back in Jerusalem at 10:00 PM to tell the tale while devouring his mother’s world-famous chicken soup. No, he never felt in any danger. Yes, he was scared. Mostly he was tired. We were relieved, but mostly kept it to ourselves.

Two days after his unexpected adventure, there was a second “preparatory hike.” Aviv decided to pass. We didn’t complain.