Dirac in Israel

Paul Dirac last visited Israel in March 1979, when he gave the talk in Jerusalem on the early years of relativity. Thirty-seven years later, Graham visited the Weizmann Institute in Rehevot to talk about the life and work of Dirac, including his final stay in the country.

Dirac in Israel
Dirac during his visit to Jerusalem in March 1979, to give a talk as part of the Einstein centenary celebrations.

Dirac visited Israel three times, encouraged by his friend Esther Salaman, and associate of Einstein in the 1920s. Salaman and her husband were close to Dirac and did much to encourage his interest in reading Tolstoy, who became one of his favourite writers. Dirac’s wife was suspicious of the closeness of her husband to Esther and for many years was convinced that they were having an affair.

Although Dirac was not in good health in 1979, he was determined to go to Jerusalem – and to as many Einstein events as possible that year – to celebrate the physicist he regarded as the greatest theoretician of the 20th century. Dirac’s Jerusalem talk on ‘The Early Years of Relativity’, given on 20 March, gives us a vivid sense of the impact that Einstein’s work on general relativity made on him from late 1919, when he was a student of engineering. This work encouraged Dirac to be interested in using mathematics and physical reasoning to understand the fundamental laws of nature. In 1955, when Einstein died, Dirac wept, the only time his wife ever saw him cry.

Graham was invited to the Weizmann Institute by Kfir Blum, a theoretical physicist Graham met last summer at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Graham and Kfir
Graham and Kfir Blum

Graham said ‘I’m extremely grateful to Kfir for making this such an enjoyable visit. For decades I’ve heard from friends who have been based at the Institute, especially Michael Berry, Uzy Smilansky and Nati Seiberg, what a special place it is. What a pleasure it’s been to see how right they are.’