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Published: Friday, 4/22/2005

Detroit doctor helps Einstein find a home at Princeton

PRINCETON, N.J. - It was perhaps the most important meal of his life, and he barely said a word. Stanley Levy was a bright and somewhat lonely Jewish teenager from Pittsburgh, enrolled in a pre-med officers training program at Princeton University at the height of World War II.

Then, in the spring of 1944, a Jewish welfare organization invited the few Jewish students around to a Passover meal, and Stan sat next to a man who, like himself, didn't quite fit in. His name was Albert Einstein.

"That meal was almost a religious experience," Dr. Levy said last week, remembering, as he stood on the edge of the campus. A year later, walking across campus with a friend after a day of staggeringly difficult exams, he bumped into Einstein again. This time, the world's greatest scientist quizzed the boys kindly and earnestly about the material on which they had been tested.

Stanley Levy would never see Albert Einstein again. The boy from Pittsburgh went on to become one of the most successful internists in Detroit, primarily at what is now Sinai-Grace Hospital. But he never forgot the great man, not for a day. He collected Einstein books and paintings and memorabilia.

Princeton, on the other hand, never did anything to commemorate the individual Time Magazine selected as the greatest man of the 20th century, and whom many believe was the greatest scientist of all time, even though Einstein had lived there from the time he fled the Nazis in 1933 until his death in 1955.

Last Monday that all changed, thanks to Stan Levy.

On a beautiful spring day he watched as Robert Berks, the nation's foremost portrait sculptor, unveiled a magnificent, 300-pound bronze bust of Einstein on a little triangular space newly renamed EMC Square.

Dr. Levy had helped make it possible by a hefty donation to establish a matching fund. The task was made much easier when Mr. Berks, now 83, offered to sculpt a new bust of Einstein - for free.

Fifty-two years before it was unveiled, on that very day, April 18, the young sculptor had driven up to 112 Mercer St. where Einstein sat for him in his modest home. A year later, the sculptor brought the finished product to show the great scientist. "I admire the bust highly as a portrait and not less as a work of art and as a characterization of mental personality," Einstein wrote.

Two years to the day after he sat for the sculptor, Einstein died, his last words, muttered in German, lost forever on a nurse who didn't understand the language. He was then gone, but never forgotten.

"His presence lingers, and will continue, but it is as if he existed in name only," a retired professor, Dr. Melvin Bernarde, complained to the newspapers.

Why Princeton never did anything before is a mystery. Some think it was because the town and the university were mildly anti-Semitic. Princeton, like most Ivy League schools, had strict quotas on Jews before World War II. "I'm sure I never would have gotten in if it wasn't for the Navy," Dr. Levy said.

A dozen years ago, Dr. Bernarde took up the cause, aided by his daughter, Dana Lichtstrahl, who has a flair for marketing and public relations.

A local clothing merchant, Robert Landau, established an Einstein mini-museum in his store, which caters to the campus crowd. A couple years ago, visiting Princeton for a class reunion, Dr. Levy stopped in at Landau's, got to talking, and before he knew it, established a matching fund.

Last weekend, the Levys took 50 close friends (this writer tagged along. too) to Princeton for the ceremony.

Later, standing with the monument he made possible, the elderly physician reflected that at 78, he is two years older than Einstein was when he died. And he remembered what Einstein told a couple of awed students, just a month before the atom bomb which he had made possible would first be tested in the New Mexico desert.

"There are two kinds of proof. Negative proof and positive proof," he said, noting how in some cases, science can only measure the absence of something.

For too long, there was far too little positive proof that Albert Einstein lived here. Not any more. "The bronze should last about 8,000 years," sculptor Berks said. The six-foot granite pillar it sits on 100 million years.

Finally, thanks to a doctor from Detroit, Albert Einstein has a permanent presence in Princeton. Relatively speaking, of course.



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