JERUSALEM (Sep. 29)
Meyer W. Weisgal, chancellor, former president and principal architect of the Weizmann Institute of Science, leader of the American Committee that created it and devoted disciple of Dr. Chaim Weizmann died today at the age of 83, after a long illness, at Rehovot.
His death ended a notable career that spanned three continents, bridged the worlds of journalism, drama, literature and science, and was studded with contributions to the creation of the State of Israel and its development.
Born in Poland, Weisgal come to the United States in his youth, studied journalism at Columbia University, and served in the U.S. Army in World War I. His long association with the Zionist Organization of America began in 1915 and continued until 1930. During this period he edited a number of leading Zionist publications, including “The Maccabean,” subsequently converted into “The New Palestine,” which, under his editorship, became the outstanding Jewish publication in the United States.
From 1921 to 1930, he served as national secretary of the ZOA, and in the great schism of 1921 that split the American Zionist movement, he fought on the side of Louis Lipsky and Chaim Weizmann, with whom he established relationships that endured throughout their lifetimes.
In 1933 he conceived and directed first “The Romance of a People” at the Chicago World’s Fair and in New York, and then in 1937 produced “The Eternal Road,” a Biblical spectacle. In 1939 he built and directed the Palestine Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair.
In 1940, Weisgal returned actively to Zionist affairs by becoming Weizmann’s personal political representative in the U.S. and shortly thereafter helped establish the American Section of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. In 1943 he was appointed organizing secretary of the American Jewish Conference which helped to bring about agreement on the part of all American Jewish organizations, Zionist and non-Zionist, to seek broad support for the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine at the end of World War II.
Through his increasingly intimate relationship with Weizmann, Weisgal became interested in the Daniel Sieff Research Institute which Weizmann had founded in 1934 in Rehovot. In 1944, he spearheaded the formation of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 1951, Weisgal took a year’s leave of absence from the Weizmann Institute to serve as vice-president of the State of Israel Bond Organization in the U.S. and organized the successful American visit of Premier David Ben Gurion which launched the Bond Organization’s first drive for $500 million.
Weisgal’s close connection with the arts led him to become chairman of the Board of Directors of Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theater and the initiator of the Itzik Manger Prize for Yiddish Literature. He also served as editor of “Chaim Weizmann-Statesman, Scientist, Builder of the Jewish Commonwealth” published in 1944 and “Chaim Weizmann, A Biography by Several Hands” published in 1963.
In 1972 his own memoirs, entitled “Meyer Weisgal…So Far,” were published in the U.S. by Random House, in Great Britain and Israel by Weidenfeld and Nicholson and in Germany by Verlag Ullstein. They were translated into several other languages and enjoyed wide critical and popular acclaim.
Among the honors conferred upon Weisgal were the Weizmann Institute’s first Ph.D Honoris Causa (1964); an Honorary Doctorate of Brandeis University (1969); an Honorary Doctorate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1969); the Rothschild Prize for Merit (1969) awarded to him at ceremonies held in the Knesset; the Remembrance Award of the World Federation of Bergen Belsen Associations (1974); and the King Solomon Award of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation (1976).
In 1949 Welsgal was elected chairman of the Weizmann Institute’s executive council. In 1966 he was elected president of the Institute and served until 1970 when he was appointed Chancellor.