Shulamith Levey Oppenheim


new work
Shulamith Levey Oppenheim Rescuing Einstein's Compass

Rescuing Einstein's Compass
2003, Interlink Books

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My husband was a young boy when he first met Albert Einstein. His father did introduce Professor Einstein to him as "the most famous man alive." And Einstein had been given a compass by his father when he was five years old and sick in bed. The rest of this story is fiction.

Einstein was the best man at our wedding. During the ceremony, the ring dropped through a hole in Einstein's pocket. He stared straight ahead without a blink, not moving a muscle, while it was fished out! It was from this incident that the story of rescuing Einstein's compass came about.

It's an iconic story","Dennis Overbye noted in Einstein in Love, "the young boy trembling to the invisible order behind chaotic reality."It has been told in the movie IQ in which Einstein, played by Walter Matthau, wears the compass around his neck, and it is the focus of a children's book, Rescuing Einstein's Compass by Shulamith Oppenheim, whose father-in-law heard the tale from Einstein in 1911.
-- Einstein, by Walter Isaacson, 2007


Einstein was often called a man beyond time and space, yet at the same time he was very down-to-earth. He played the violin. He rode his bicycle to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, which was founded for him. He loved jokes. Sometimes he laughed so hard while telling a joke we never heard the punch line! He had a small dog who, Einstein assured everyone, was the source of all knowledge.

Einstein's backyard was a haven for birds. He would sit in the garden for hours while his stepdaughter, Margot, talked to them.

Some background:

My father and mother-in-law first met Einstein at the home of my mother-in-law in 1911 at a Scientific Conference in Brussels. At that time her father was Rector of the Universitaire Libre de Bruxelles. After talking with Einstein, my father-in-law went to his future father-in-law and, pointing to Einstein, said (so the story goes in the family), "Give that gentleman an extra sandwich. He will surely be the most famous man alive." They became fast friends. When my parents-in-law came to the United States in 1939, first to New York, then to Princeton, they and Einstein would walk around Carnegie Lake every Sunday morning till Einstein died in April 1954.

Einstein as our best man

There are many Einstein stories in our family. Here are two which illustrate the complex and charming personality of the man:

When our first child Daniel was six months old, we took him to "meet" the Herr Professor, as my father-in-law always called him. Who knows why but, as Einstein looked down on the baby, Daniel emitted a howl which became extended sobbing. "Little boy," Einstein smiled, "you are the first person who has told me what you really think of me in many years."

Einstein met many other intellectual giants at my parents-in-law's home. One of the most "memorable" encounters was with Bertrand Russell, who had asked for the meeting. What happened? Both sat stark still. Not a word was spoken by either. After twenty minutes, Einstein rose and asked to be taken home. He was truly above time and space (and no doubt had taken an instant dislike to Russell!).

"Rescuing Einstein's Compass is a lovely old-fashioned story about a young boy's encounter with celebrity, an encounter that enriches rather than disappoints...The book, itself, has the old fashioned, dreamy quality of the text, with impressionistic watercolor and ink artwork in soft pastel colours. It could be a lovely read-aloud to complement a science curriculum or a bedtime story with its simple plot infused with gentle introductions to physics. Recommended."
-- The Manitoba Library Association, Canada

"Written in picture-book form, with lovely watercolors that convey the personalities of the characters, this charming story is based on two real-life captures some of the qualities we associate with Einstein in a way that children aged 7-10 will find satisfying."
-- Jewish Book World

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