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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The story behind the name:

Albert Einstein and Brandeis University

Published: December 7, 2007
Section: Features

Many prominent figures throughout Boston, New York and other parts of the country lent their time and energy towards organizing, publicizing, and eventually creating the Brandeis we know today. It remains an amazing example of successful organization and working with a diverse group of people. One of the more famous among them was Albert Einstein, a strong supporter of Jewish charities and a strong believer in a university that would serve all, regardless of religious or ethnic background.

Einstein lent his name to the project at various times between 1946 and 1947, and while it was at one point suggested that the University be named after him, many agreed that it would be more fitting to name the university after Louis Brandeis. In Brandeis University: A Host at Last, founding president Abe Sachar recalled how “it was argued that an American university should bear the name of a native American who symbolized the best traditions of American life.” Sachar follows by writing that “the discussion was academic” and that “Dr. Einstein himself neither sought the identification nor encouraged it.”

Many believed that Louis Brandeis’ successful career as “the people’s lawyer,” along with his strong support of social causes, Zionism, and service as the first Jewish Supreme Court justice made his the most appropriate name to be associated with the new university. Sachar wrote, “it seemed to combine most felicitously the prophetic ideal of moral principle and the American tradition of political and economic liberalism.”

Just as intriguing are the dramatic interactions between Einstein and Dr. Israel Goldstein, a New York rabbi who was the main organizer behind the university project.

While Goldstein successfully obtained Einstein’s permission to use his name for fundraising purposes, Einstein felt he would have more influence on the academic aspects of the new university. He first resigned from the project in September 1946 upon hearing rumors that Abram Sachar’s name was being put forth for the university’s presidency (which turned out to be false at the time) and that the New York clergyman Cardinal Spellman would be participating in a fundraising dinner; Spellman had recently traveled to Spain and expressed support for Generalissimo Franco.

Goldstein worried that without Einstein’s name the project would not succeed, and he thus resigned his position, leading Einstein to reverse his own resignation. Leadership passed from the New York group headed by Goldstein to a New England-based group headed by the Boston lawyer George Alpert, who had been involved in the legal negotiations securing the Middlesex University campus.

Einstein soon disagreed once more with the grand public relations work conducted by Alpert regarding fundraising. Einstein again resigned in September 1947, and while Abram Sachar later made several attempts at reconciliation with Einstein, none were successful, even when Brandeis offered him an honorary degree in 1953.

Despite personal conflicts, however, Albert Einstein’s key role in the beginnings of what would become Brandeis University cannot be denied. It was his name that gained large public support when it was needed in the early days of the project, and he strongly believed that a Jewish university could make many valuable contributions to society.

When the name of the university was agreed upon, Einstein made a particularly insightful remark, writing, “Brandeis is a name that cannot merely be adopted. It is one that must be achieved.” Statements of this nature only serve to further remind us all of the unique opportunities and responsibilities we all share as students at a university associated with Justice Brandeis.

Author’s Note: For further reading on Albert Einstein’s role in the founding of Brandeis University, see Arthur Reis’ feature in the 50th Anniversary issue of “The Brandeis Review” at as well as the Second Chapter in Abram Sachar’s book “Brandeis University: A Host at Last”