In Israel and the Middle East

Guests at the inauguration of Yad Chaim Weizmann, 1953.

Linus and Ava Helen Pauling had a few encounters with the Middle East, traveling to Israel on three separate occasions, and to Iran and Uzbekistan once each.

In the Fall of 1953, Pauling made his first trip to Israel for the purpose of dedicating the new Weizmann Institute, a large research institution centered in Rehovoth. It was the first anniversary of the death of Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who was the first President of the state of Israel as well as a chemist and the institute’s founder. At the event, Pauling was one of five scientists to receive honorary fellowships of the Weizmann Institute.

Pauling arrived on October 27 in Rehovoth, a city near Tel Aviv, where he would stay through November 3. He was traveling alone this time, which was fairly unusual as Ava Helen typically accompanied him on most of his trips, especially those abroad. The centerpiece of his visit was a large ceremony held for the dedication of Yad Chaim Weizmann, a memorial to Weizmann. Pauling and the four other honorary fellows – Niels Bohr, Ernst Chain, Herman Mark and Peyton Rous – sat in the front row, and signed a scroll that was placed in a cornerstone. Then the ceremony moved to Weizmann’s grave where traditional songs were sung.

Pauling spent the following days visiting the Institute’s laboratories and observing the research going on, and also taking part in the dedication of new biology and physics facilities. Later in the week, Niels Bohr lectured on his philosophy of physics and officiated the dedication of a physics laboratory.

While in Israel, Pauling was particularly impressed to learn more of the crystal structure work conducted by Dr. Gerhard Schmidt. He said of Schmidt, “he has not yet published enough to cause him to obtain a big reputation, but I feel that he will soon be well known throughout the world.”

Pauling also delivered an informal lecture on ferromagnetism that was well received. He wanted to give a speech at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but this intent greatly upset members of the Weizmann Institute. Apparently, the two academic centers did not get along. In his correspondence, Pauling chastised both groups for being “very emotional.”

David Ben-Gurion, Niels Bohr and Linus Pauling at the King David Hotel, Jerusalem, Israel. November 5, 1953.

Once the ceremonies were concluded, Pauling took off from Rehovoth to experience more of Israel’s rich cultural life, embarking on a two day guided tour, which he described in a letter to Ava Helen.

We first went to Haifa, and stayed overnight in a hotel. Then to Acre, a coastal fortress held by the Turks against Napoleon –  the only place where he was repulsed; then to the Jordan diversion project- with armed Syrian soldiers just across the river (we had to get a special pass for this), to a Kibbutz (communal settlement), to Safad, the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth – where we visited Joseph’s home, under a church, and had supper in an Arab restaurant – and to Tiberias, overnight. Between Safad and Tiberias we went by the Mount of Olives and the scene on the Sea of Galilee of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Then on Sunday we drove by Mt. Tabor (Mount of the Ascension) and then spent some hours in another Kibbutz, and then home by 4:30 for a reception, and then dinner at the Katchalsky’s (you remember him in Stockholm).

Pauling greatly enjoy the historical sights on offer and was fascinated by the people and their traditions. He attended numerous parties and enjoyed Israeli cuisine – recording, in particular, a fondness for couscous, shashlik and the region’s coffee. After Rehovoth, Pauling ventured to Jerusalem for a few days. There, he was afforded the opportunity to have dinner with David Ben Gurion, the prime minister of Israel at the time. On the 5th, Pauling departed Israel and took off for London. He wrote to Ava Helen of having been told that his safety was now being slightly imperiled as a result of his having an Israeli stamp on his passport.

It is clear that Pauling enjoyed Israel and he hoped to return soon again, for another visit as part of a world tour. However, these plans fell through when difficulty was encountered with the U.S. Passport Bureau.  When Pauling caught wind that he had won the Nobel Prize in late 1954, he excitedly made travel arrangements for Stockholm. He then realized that this was the perfect opportunity to resume his plans for a world tour, which would include Israel. His journey across the globe would land him and Ava Helen in Israel in mid-December of 1954. [More on this second visit to Israel is available here, in our second post on the Paulings’ world tour.]


The Paulings and Dr. Hakimelahi at the Persepolis, Iran, 1975.

The year 1975 brought the Paulings back to the Middle East for visits to Iran and Uzbekistan. Visiting Iran in late March and early April, Linus and Ava Helen were introduced to the cities of Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan. While in Shiraz, Pauling delivered a lecture titled “Molecules in Relation to Health and Disease” at the Third International Congress of the Iranian Chemical Society, held at Pahlavi University. This Congress was the principle reason for the Paulings visit, though they did take the opportunity to see the countryside some.  Most notably, Dr. Nahid Hakimelahi of Pahlavi University took them on a tour of Persepolis, the capital of an ancient empire not far from Shiraz, where the couple explored the area’s ruins and took lots of photographs.

On that same trip, Linus and Ava Helen also ended up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where they were guests of honor at a banquet. At the time the country was part of the Soviet bloc and known as the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. The couple most likely stopped in Tashkent on their way to or from Russia in early March.

Enjoying grapes in Tashkent, 1975.

Pauling again returned to Israel in June 1987, alone this time, as Ava Helen had passed away some five years before. He spoke at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, named for the late prime minister whom Pauling had met decades earlier. The reason for his visit was to lecture to the chemistry department and to help dedicate the school’s new Vickar-Hoffer Chair in Orthomolecular Psychiatry. By this stage in his life, much of Pauling’s energy was focused on promoting the use of vitamin C, and the new chair was an outgrowth of the nutrition research that Pauling, along with researchers Abram Hoffer and Humphry Osmond, had pioneered in the 1950s and 1960s.

As a world-renowned peace activist Pauling, was also interviewed by Jerusalem Post magazine, a forum in which he took the opportunity to comment on the current political state of the Middle East, at the time engaged in an arms race. Pauling’s perspective on the matter was as follows.

I’m not saying that Israel’s leaders are to blame. The problem is tremendously difficult and complex. On the other hand, I don’t feel that Israel has been a force for peace and for a resolution of the problem. The people in Israel are very smart, but the politicians just don’t…[they are]  too short sighted. They work on immediate problems, and don’t have the courage to adopt a long-term program and stick to it.

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