Israel's First University
Updated: May 6
Israel, as small of a country it may be, is home to nine recognized universities, and over 20 private and public academic colleges. While Tel Aviv University may be the largest in Israel, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was the first established university in the holy land.
The idea of building a university in Israel came up already in the late 19th century and was actually discussed in the First Zionist Congress in Basel, in 1897. It must have been a long discussion, because it took around 21 years for the university's cornerstone to be laid in front of 6,000 guests, on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem on July 24th, 1918.
In 1923, the recent Nobel Physics Prize laureate Albert Einstein came on a visit to Israel, and he gave a speech on the Theory of Relativity at Mount Scopus. This speech was later recognized as the first scientific lecture in the university's history.
On April 1st, 1925, the official opening ceremony took place at the Mount Scopus Amphitheater. Amongst the speakers at the ceremony were Lord Balfour, Haim Nahman Bialik, Haim Weizmann, and many more important figures of the time.
In 1927 there was a major earthquake in Israel, and many of the institutions' buildings were damaged. But already back then, just like today, Israelis were quick adapters to change, and sudden surprises didn't scare them so the studies kept on, and the university continued to grow.
In fact, the university continued to grow even during World War 2. The ties and connections with the European higher education institutions were lost, and the university had to assist all of the students that lost all connection with their families abroad. During the war, Hebrew University provided tremendous contributions to the fight, and its scientific studies helped the British Mandate with its war efforts. The labs produced different vaccines against contagious diseases, such as Typhus and Dysentery.
After the War of Independence, the university was forced to leave Mount Scopus, so it branched out to different places in the country, including Giv'at Ram and Ein Karem in Jerusalem, and it moved its agricultural facilities to the city of Rehovot.
As of 2020, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has five branches across the country:
Mount Scopus, Giv'at Ram, Ein Karem (all in Jerusalem); Rehovot; and the Volcani Agricultural Research Center in Rishon Le'Tzion.
Amongst the hundreds of thousands (probably even millions) of students and faculty members of Hebrew University over the years, you can find seven Nobel Prize laureates and one Fields Medal recipient.
Albert Einstein bequeathed all of his manuscripts and the Copyright to all of his work into the hands of Hebrew University.
The Mathematical Institution on Giv'at Ram carries Einstein's name, and there is a statue of him on the same campus.