You come to Rehovot, primarily, to pay homage to Israel’s very first president Chaim Weizmann. First stop should be the Weizmann Institute, Israel’s foremost scientific establishment and think tank, named in honor of the great man (himself a world-renowned chemist). Dedicated in 1949, the Institute conducts both fundamental and applied research and has a graduate school where about 700 students work for their master’s degrees and doctorates. You enter through a gateway on Rehovot’s main street, and find yourself in a beautiful compound of futuristic buildings, green lawns, lily ponds, and colorful gardens—all for the spiritual satisfaction of scientists from all over the world at work here.
The visitor center offers a 17-minute film about the institute and provides visitors with a self-guided walking tours to help them understand the mission and on-going work of this dynamic, world-famous institution. For a small additional fee and with advance reservation, you can also tour Weizmann House, the home of Dr. and Mrs. Weizmann, on the grounds of the institute.
The Weizmann House (www.chaimweizmann.org.il) was built by Dr. and Mrs. Weizmann as their residence in the 1930s. It’s a wonderful example of International Style architecture with a dazzling, streamlined interpretation of a Roman/Mediterranean atrium house, the masterpiece of the German refugee architect Erich Mendelssohn, who also designed the original Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. The interior of the house is marked by an airy, sinuous staircase set in a tower lit with narrow vertical windows; private living and reception wings with French doors lead to a central pool patio. Another 1930s element, round porthole windows, brings light into the house from exterior walls. The furnishings were carefully designed by Mendelssohn, who involved Dr. and Mrs. Weizmann personally in the project. The house itself (like Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello) reveals much about the personality of Dr. Weizmann, the world in which he lived, and the international visitors he entertained. A film about Dr. Weizmann’s amazing life is shown in the house. The Weizmann House is open Sunday through Thursday from 10am to 3pm but only as part of a prearranged guided tour. To inquire about a house tour, call the visitor center at the Weizmann Institute (tel. 08/934-4500 or 934-3230) before your planned visit. Be sure to specify your English-language requirement. Near the residence is a simple tomb marking the Weizmanns’ resting place and a Memorial Plaza dominated by a Holocaust memorial depicting the Torah being snatched from flames.
The Clore Science Gardens (http://davidson.weizmann.ac.il/science-garden), also on the campus of the institute, is an awe-inspiring, interactive park and science exhibit that examines natural phenomena with the spirit of verve, humor, and inventiveness that marked Dr. Weizmann’s approach to scientific inquiry. The additional entrance fee to the science gardens is a worthwhile investment, especially for students and children.
Admission fee for the visitor center is NIS 16 for adults, NIS 12 for children. Combined admission to the visitor center and Clore Science Gardens is NIS 40 for adults and NIS 30 for children. The campus is open Sunday to Thursday from 10am to 4:45pm and Friday to 2pm.
Rehovot (22km/14 miles southeast of Tel Aviv; pop. 90,000) is easily reached by train or bus from Tel Aviv. Both train and bus fares are NIS 15, and the trip takes 30 minutes. The town is a rather ordinary small city, but its star attraction, the Weizmann Institute of Science (tel. 08/934-4500 for the visitor center; www.weizmann.ac.il) makes an excursion very worthwhile.
Chaim Weizmann: Statesman & Scientist
Chaim Weizmann (1874–1952), biochemist, statesman, and first president of Israel, was born in a small village near Pinsk, Russia. A brilliant student, Weizmann gave lessons to earn his tuition at Berlin’s Institute of Technology in Charlottenburg and at Fribourg University in Switzerland; in 1901, he began teaching at Geneva University.
In 1903, in response to pogroms in Russia, the British foreign secretary proposed a Jewish homeland in a 12,950 sq. km (5,000-sq.-mile) area of British East Africa (Uganda). The young Weizmann sided with those who would not accept Zionism without Zion. In 1906, Weizmann met with Prime Minister Balfour, who wanted to interview an anti-Ugandist. Weizmann’s charm and energy impressed Balfour and won him access to the highest circles of British society. He was lionized in 1916 after developing a production process for synthesizing acetone that was crucial to the British war effort. (In his professional career, Dr. Weizmann received patents for more than 100 processes and inventions.) Moving to London, he continued to build support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. At the end of 1917, the Balfour Declaration was issued.
Deeply convinced that the future of the Jewish people depended on the creation of a safe homeland for them, as leader of the Zionist movement in the 1920s and [‘]30s, Weizmann worked to build the infrastructure of a modern society in Palestine “house by house and dunam by dunam.” Without romantic illusion and with a passion for fairness, Weizmann cautioned the Zionist movement to understand “the truth that 600,000 Arabs live there [in Palestine] who, before the sense of justice of the world have exactly the same right to their homes in Palestine as we have to our National Home.” In 1937, addressing a Royal Commission on the Partition of Palestine, he prophetically explained the plight of European Jewry: “There are six million people . . . for whom the world is divided into places where they cannot live, and places which they cannot enter.”
Weizmann’s eloquence could not alleviate the vast tragedy that World War II brought to his people. In 1942, his own son was killed in action with the Royal Air Force over the English Channel. Struggling through the breakdown of his health and a hostile postwar British government, Weizmann’s final achievement was winning American support for the incipient Jewish state in 1948. In February 1949, he was elected president of Israel, a position he held until his death. The title of his wife, Vera Weizmann’s memoirs, “The Impossible Takes Longer,” summarizes the philosophy behind her husband’s heavily burdened but determined optimism.
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