18 Kislev 5635, November 27, 1874: Born in a small village called Motol, in Belarus, far from city life. Half of the village’s residents were Jewish, about 250 families. You can gain a sense of the size of the village from a saying that was popular among the village residents: “When a horse comes into town, its head is at one end of the town while its tail cleans the other end.”
Starts attending a Russian high school in the city of Pinsk and first becomes involved in Zionism by collecting money. At the age of eleven, he wrote a letter in Hebrew to his beloved teacher in Motol: “How esteemed, how exalted is the idea expressed by our brothers, the Children of Israel, of establishing a Hovevei Zion society, because by means of this we will be able to save our brethren who are abandoned and oppressed, who have been dispersed to the ends of the earth. The final word is that we are moving to Zion—let us go to Zion!”
Moves to Western Europe where he continues his academic studies. Receives a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.
Participates in the Second Zionist Congress in Basel.
Participates in the Conference of Young Zionists and is one of the founders of the Democratic Party, a party whose goal was to promote the cause of taking practical action in Israel, and to conduct cultural activities.
Establishes an office for a Jewish Institution of Higher Learning, which was designed to provide a solution for Jewish students who had been rejected from universities in Eastern Europe.
At the Sixth Zionist Congress in Basel, he votes against the proposal to settle Jews in Uganda.
In his speech, he states, “If the British Government and the British People are what I think they are, in the end they will make us a better proposal than this one.”
Moves to England and works as a researcher in the Chemistry Department at the University of Manchester.
Marries Vera Chatzman, whom he had met in Switzerland, where she was studying medicine. “Vera and I found our way to each other but slowly, partly because of the seven-year difference in our ages and in our positions, as I was a lecturer and she was a student, but primarily because of differences in our background and approach to life.”
That same year, Dr. Weizmann meets Arthur James Balfour, The former prime minister of UK, and explains to him the Zionist idea. “He asked me, ‘Why are the Jews opposed to the Uganda Plan?’”
I answered him, “Lord Balfour, suppose that I would offer to you Paris instead of London, would you accept?”
“But,” he responded, “Dr. Weizmann, London is ours.”
“That’s true,” I responded, “but Jerusalem was ours when London was still a swamp.”
The birth of his eldest son, Benjamin (Benjy). Becomes famous as a representative of Synthetic Zionism at the Eighth Zionist Congress at The Hague.
Visits the Palestine for the first time. “I traveled by boat from Beirut to Jaffa. My feet stepped on the land that had been, since the days of my childhood, an inseparable part of my thoughts. Finally, I was face-to-face with reality. I came to the firm decision that I should return to Europe and continue to increase the pressure—with double the energies–for urgent, practical work in the Palestine.”
Receives British citizenship.
Works, with the outbreak of World War I, to promote the idea of a Jewish national homeland in the Palestine that is under British patronage.
Invents a new method for producing acetone, a solution that was essential for the production of explosive materials.
Moves to London and is appointed as an advisor to the British Admiralty and Ministry of Munitions for the supply of acetone.
The birth of his second son, Michael. Manages the British Admiralty’s laboratories in London. Begins a campaign, with the help of friends, to spread the idea of creating a Jewish national homeland in the Palestine under British patronage.
Meets with Prime Minister Lloyd George and Foreign Secretary Balfour.
Becomes President of the British Zionist Federation, an organization that was established after Britain conquers the Palestine from Ottoman rule. Conducts negotiations with the British Government which end on November 2nd with the granting of the Balfour Declaration.
And this is the wording of the declaration: “His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
Heads the Zionist Commission for Palestine, a delegation that traveled to the Palestine at the initiative of the British Government with the aim of making recommendations regarding the settlement and development of the country. In a letter to his wife, Vera, he described what he was seeing: “The difference between what you can see today in the settlements, and what it was possible to see when I was first here eleven years ago, is astounding. Today, these settlements are filled with life. Real Jews are living here. They are no longer a legend; they are real!”
Meets with Emir Faisal, leader of the Arab Revolt.
“It was a beautiful, moonlit night—with the moonlight of the Palestine. I looked out, from Moav, onto the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea and the mountains of Judea, and as I’m standing there I’m suddenly filled with this sense that 3,000 years have vanished. Here I am standing on the same land, with the same mission, just as our forefathers did at the dawn of the history of my people.”
The Emir states that he longs to see Jews and Arabs working together with a common vision. In his opinion, the destiny of both nations is connected to the Middle East; and, against their will, it is dependent on the good will of the great powers. The two sign the Weizmann-Faisal Agreement, which is never implemented.
Lays the cornerstone for Hebrew University at Mt. Scopus, in Jerusalem. In his speech, he says, “What is the significance of the Hebrew University? What will be its role? From where will it draw its students, and what languages will they speak here? At first glance, it might seem like a paradox that a land that has such a small population, a land that still needs everything done in it, a land lacking basic needs such as plows, roads and ports–that in such a land we are establishing a center for spiritual and intellectual development. But the paradox does not exist, as such, if one who knows the soul of the Jew.”
Head of the Zionist delegation at the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles, which tried to obtain international approval for the Balfour Declaration.
Elected to serve as the President of the World Zionist Organization in the London conference.
Tours the U.S. with Albert Einstein, with the goal of fundraising on behalf of the Zionist enterprise.
Participates in a ceremony marking the opening of the Hebrew University, with the participation of Lord Balfour.
Elected President of the expanded Jewish Agency for Palestine, established in order to involve Western Jews in the Zionist enterprise. “Our ideal was the vision of a new nation, free of the restrictive confines of the ghetto and from the eternal fear of misunderstandings and disturbances, living its life on its land—a nation of upright people, with an awareness of the great historic heritage connected to the Nation of Israel and the earth of the Palestine” (on the day of the establishment of the expanded Jewish Agency, November 8, 1929).
In response to the 1929 Palestine riots, the British Government imposed order and, to calm the Arabs, published a White Paper by Lord Passfield that backtracked from some of the promises that had been made in the Balfour Declaration.
In a letter to Lord Passfield dated October 20, 1930, Weizmann writes, “For the last twelve years, I have stood at the head of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. Throughout this entire period, I have tried to work in close harmony with His Majesty’s Government and to base my actions on close cooperation with them. Thus, there is no one who wants to respond to the call to continue cooperation as much as I do, if any basis for this exists.” Weizmann receives the MacDonald Letter, in which the British Government reiterates its commitment to establishing a national homeland for the Jewish people in the Palestine. However, this was not sufficient to restore Weizmann’s position in the Jewish world, which had become critical of his policy of appeasement.
Weizmann is removed from his position as the head of the Zionist movement. He devotes his time to scientific research, as well as fundraising for Zionist projects and working to save Jewish refugees, primarily from Germany.
Appointed chairman of the central office of the agency for settling the Jews of Germany in the Palestine.
Establishes the Daniel Sieff Research Institute in Rehovot.
Re-appointed to the position of President of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency at the Nineteenth Zionist Congress in Lucerne, together with the appointment of Ben-Gurion as Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency.
Builds his home in Rehovot next to the Sieff Institute. The house is planned by the well-known Jewish architect Erich Mendelsohn. In the wake of the Arab riots, the British Government sends a commission of inquiry headed by Lord Peel. Weizmann testifies before the royal commission on December 25, 1936, stating, “When speaking about the Jewish nation, one is speaking about a nation that is a minority everywhere but is not a majority anywhere…It has the spirit of a nation without a body, and it therefore arouses suspicion, and suspicion gives birth to hatred. There must be a place for it in the world—in God’s wide world—in which we can live and express ourselves according to our nature.”
The conclusions of the commission: The division of the Palestine into an Arab state on most of the territory of the Palestine; a Jewish state in the Galilee and the coastal plain; and a British Mandate area that included Jerusalem, with a corridor connecting it to the sea.
At the Twentieth Zionist Congress in Zurich on August 4, 1937, in the wake of the conclusions of the Peel Commission, Weizmann supports the proposal for the partition of the Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. In his speech, he stated, “At this historic moment, allow me to turn to the Arab nation…The Arab nation has a grand tradition. To this nation, we have extended our hands [in peace]. And our hands are still extended to them, even now, but with one condition: Just as we hope that they will overcome this difficult time, returning to the grand traditions of the exalted Arab nation, which is a cultured nation; they must know that we have the right to establish our home in the Palestine, without causing hurt to anyone, but for the sake of assisting ourselves and others. If they will recognize this—our right—we will find the path toward mutual understanding.”
The St. James Conference, known as the Round Table Conference, takes place in London. MacDonald discusses the moral right of Arabs to self-determination. In May, a White Paper is published that, in effect, can destroy the Zionist dream.
Weizmann harshly condemns the policy that has been adopted by Britain. But with the outbreak of World War II, he promises to provide Britain with all possible assistance through the Jewish population in Israel and around the world.
Works on establishing a Jewish brigade within the British Army.
His son, Michael, a pilot in Britain’s Royal Air Force, is declared missing, his plane shot down over the sea.
Participates in the Biltmore Conference in New York, which passes a proposal that Palestine be established as a Jewish Commonwealth. Clashes with Ben-Gurion on this topic.
Visits the Palestine in honor of his 70th birthday and is received, on the streets of the Jewish settlement, with appreciation and adoration.
Appears in Jerusalem before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry.
In the Twenty-Second Zionist Congress in Basel, he is removed from his position as the leader of the Zionist movement due to a general feeling that he would not be suited to leading a conflict against Britain. In his speech at the Congress, he warns against the use of violence: “I warn you again against taking a ‘shortcut,’ against false prophecies and generalizations that do not match historical facts, but that relate to them as if they are fictional. This is my temperament, and I do not believe in acts of violence…I think that terror is our greatest disaster—from an ethical perspective, from a political perspective, and in terms of establishing our country. I fear that terror will begin to rule the Jewish streets and the Agency will not be able to control it; but, rather, it will overtake the Agency. It is a cancer in the body of the settlement. ‘And you shall destroy the evil in your midst!’ I warn you, do not allow this growth to spread. It is likely to swallow the movement and the settlement, and destroy everything that we have built.”
The British Government hands over the entire discussion about the future of the Palestine to the United Nations in the U.S., which establishes the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP). Weizmann testifies in Jerusalem before the UNSCOP committee, stating, “Independence is not the right only of the Arabs. We Jews have an equal right to it. This gathering is not entitled to decide that the Arabs’ right to an eighth state necessarily nullifies the right of the Jews to have a single, unique, independent, national life.”
Works to promote the acceptance of the Partition Plan in the General Assembly of the U.N., and tries to influence U.S. President Harry Truman, asking him to support the plan and to include the Negev within the Jewish State’s territory. On November 29, 1947, the partition of the Palestine receives approval.
Meets with President Truman to ensure his support of the establishment of the Jewish State.
Elected President of the Provisional State Council of Israel. A telegram that he receives from the Council states, “At this moment of the establishment of the Jewish State, we send our blessings to you, the individual who has done more than any other man living among us, for the sake of its creation. Your steadfastness and assistance has strengthened all of us. We look forward to the day when we see you serving as the head of a State established in peace.”
Elected President of the State of Israel. In his opening speech at the Knesset, he states, “We must build a new bridge, connecting science with the human spirit. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ All my life I have endeavored to make science and research the basis of our national undertaking. But I also know that beyond science, there are lofty values that hold the solution to the ills of mankind, the values of justice and honesty, peace and fraternity.”
On November 2nd, he dedicates the Weizmann Institute of Science, saying, “We live in a pioneering land. We are pioneers in settling desolate areas, in agriculture and in industry. Here, in Rehovot, we are involved in a pioneering act of a special kind: Pioneering in science.”
21 Heshvan 5713, November 9, 1952: Passes away at home, and is buried in the garden on his estate in Rehovot.
Weizmann began his scientific career as an organic chemist. He completed his doctoral thesis with the highest honors at Fribourg University in Switzerland. This rare distinction enabled him to obtain a research post at Geneva University. In 1904, he moved to Manchester University, where he became a popular lecturer and an original researcher. Weizmann was one of the fathers of biotechnology. He was the first scientist to develop a fermentation process from a laboratory process and succeeded in converting it to an industrial process. This was the first biotechnological process that made use of starch and bacteria. Dr. Weizmann was asked to run the Admiralty Laboratories in London.
His areas of research were many and various: making the acetone that the British needed in World War I as a propellant for shells and bullets; vegetarian alternatives to meat; biological fuel, and many more. Over two hundred and twenty patents are registered in his name.
In 1934, Dr. Weizmann set up the research institution named after Daniel Sieff in Rechovot. In 1949, its name was changed to the Weizmann Institute of Science. Chaim Weizmann was its first President. The Scientific Manager was the chemist Ernest David Bergman.
Chaim Weizmann was a scientist and a diplomat, the leader of the Zionist Movement for a whole generation, and the first President of the State of Israel. Weizmann was born in 1874 in Motol in White Russia (Belarus). He studied Chemistry in Germany, and in 1904 was given a post in Manchester University. In 1906, Weizmann married Vera Chatzman and the couple had two sons: Benjamin (1907) and Michael (1916).
Weizmann was considered a master of negotiations, and as the person who persuaded the British Empire to issue the Balfour Declaration shortly before the British conquered the Land of Israel in November 1917. This document, which states that "His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people", marks a turning point in Jewish history, and immediately made Weizmann the person most identified with the Zionist movement. Weizmann achieved a significant breakthrough in organic chemistry, and some connect his scientific achievements with his political ones.
He established leading institutions in the field of higher education and research in Israel (The Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Sieff Institute in Rechovot, now called the Weizmann Institute of Science), based on his perception of Zionism as the fulfillment of political and intellectual independence. Weizmann saw scientific activity as noble in itself, but also as having economic potential in the building of a modern economy.
He sought to establish friendly relations between the Zionists and the Arab nationalists, and for this purpose met Emir Feisal in 1918.
During World War II he recruited the Jewish hinterland in the Land of Israel on behalf of the British war effort against Germany, and fought to set up the Jewish Brigade. He was active in founding the institutions of a democratic regime in the Zionist Movement and making the State of Israel an integral part of the international community.
When the independent State of Israel was declared, Weizmann was appointed the President of the Provisional State Council. In February 1949, when the first Knesset was convened, Weizmann was elected the first President of the State of Israel. He served in this position, to which he was elected a second time in 1951, until his death in November 1952.
- "Difficult things take a long time; the impossible takes a little longer..."
- We must give up all our hopes in the science of Israel. It is a small country and its treasures are scarce, we can only make something real out of it if we base it on the foundations of science and the pillars of technique, such as Switzerland.
From “Weizmann Small Talks”, 1963
- All I care about now is the problem of youth education in the country! I am very worried about this! The future of Hebrew youth does not allow me to sleep at night. I'm not sure they have mentors and guides. In what tradition do they live? According to what life patterns they live? When I was young I walked between two pillars of fire: on the one hand Rabbi Reines, and on the other Dr. Pinsker. Two giants, two burning giants! And I, who walked among them, was almost burned.
From “Weizmann Small Talks”, 1963
- On this solemn day I would say this to all my brethren: on there things depands the future of Israel – on brotherly love, on hard work and on peace near and far.
Independence Day Message, 1952
- Perhaps I have borne too heavy a burden ans am now paying the unavoidable penalty. Perhaps it is being borne upon me that I have neglected my own small family for the sake of the larger one which I have been trying to serve so faitfully.
Chaim to Vera, Novemebr 8, 1937
- "A state cannot be created by decree but by the forces of a people and in the course of generations. Even if all the governments of the world gave us a country it would only be a gift of words. But if the Jewish people will go and build Palestine, the Jewish State will become a reality – a fact."
Jerusalem, January 30, 1921
- The walls of Jericho fell to the sound of shouts and of protesting. I never heard of any walls being raised by such means.
Address to the 17th Zionist Congress, July 1, 1931
- If there is any other way of building a house save brick by brick, I do not know it.
Address to the 17th Zionist Congress, July 1, 1931
- Almost six million Jews… are doomed to be pent up in places where they are not wanted, and for whom the world is divided into places where they cannot live, and places into which they cannot enter.
Testimony before Royal Commission, November 25, 1936
- "Miracles do happen, but you have to work hard for them"
Boston, July 11, 1941
- All my life I have labored to make science and research the basis of national endeavor, but I have alays known full well that there are values higher than science. The only values that offer healing for the ills of humanity are the supreme values of justice and righteousness, peace and love.
Opening ceremony of the first Knesst, February 14, 1949
- This man, who called me demagogue, should know that every farm-house and every stable in Nahalal and every building down to the tiniest workshop in Tel Aviv or Haifa contains a drop of my life’s blood.
22nd Zionist Congress, Basel, December 16, 1946
- I believe that science may be the surest harbinger of peace.
The cornerstone laying ceremony for the Weizmann Institute of Science, June 3, 1946
- When the day comes for the building and consruction of Palestine to begin, one of our most important tasks will be to set our account right with the Arabs and the Armenians. It cannot be otherwise… there is enough air and land and water in Palestine for everybody to live.
Speech at public meeting, Manchester, December 9, 1917
- Today’s event – the dedication of the institute – represent the fulfillment of a vision, the translation of a dream into reality, it embodies the boundless devotion, and the unremitting toil, labour and application of a good and loyal workers to one single purpose.
Address of President Weizmann at the opening ceremony of the Weizmann Institute, 02.11.1949
- To me Zionism was something organic, which had to grow like a plant, had to be watched, watered and nursed, if it was to reach maturity. I did not believe that things could be done in a hurry. The Russian Zionists had as their slogan a saying of the Jewish sages: “That which the intelligence cannot do, time will do”.
Chaim Weizmann, “Trial and Error”
- Side by side with scientific research, the humanities will occupy a distinguished place. Ancient Jewish learning, the accumulated half-hidden treasures of our ancient philosophical, religious and juridical literature, are to be brought to light again, and freed from the dust of ages. They will be incorporated in the new life now about to develop in this country, and so our past will be linked up with the present.
Weizmann's speech at the laying of the cornerstone for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, July 24, 1918
- We have a mighty weapon which we must utilise with ingenuity and skill, with every means available to us. Science is that weapon, our vessel of strength and our source of defense.
Opening ceremony of Weizmann Institute of Science, November 2, 1949
- We live in a pioneering country. We are pioneering in the wilderness, in agriculture, and in industry. But here in Rehovoth we are also engaged in a peculiar kind of pioneer work- we are pioneering in science.
Opening ceremony of Weizmann Institute of Science, November 2, 1949
- The state is merely a vessel into which the content still have to be poured… the first element in such contents, and in my opinion the very lifeblood of a stable society, is justice.
Chaim Weizmann, “Trial and Error”