Since its first official overseas program in 1955, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has attracted hundreds of young Jewish adults from both North America and Europe. Hebrew University is the oldest institute of higher learning in Israel and predates the State by several decades.
The Hebrew University was conceptualized by early Zionist leaders when a Jewish state in the ancient homeland was still a distant dream. At the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, Professor Hermann Zvi Shapira, a Russian born professor of Mathematics at Heidelberg University in Germany, proposed the creation of both a Hebrew University and a special fund to purchase land in the British Mandate of Palestine.
Twenty years later, the fund dreamed of by Professor Shapira, the Jewish National Fund, purchased a magnificent property on which Sir John Gray-Hill had intended to build a house for himself and his artist wife, until building excavations uncovered the Tomb of Nicanor. On July 24, 1918, the 12 cornerstones of the Hebrew University were laid for the Mount Scopus campus. Describing the location to his wife, the future first president of the State of Israel, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, noted that “one could see almost the whole of Palestine. There was the Dead Sea and the mountains of Judah, Ephraim and Moab looking as if they were amazed at what was taking place.”
Seven years later, in 1925, the building was complete and the Hebrew University was inaugurated at a ceremony attended by such prestigious supporters of the University as Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Martin Buber and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. By 1948, when the State of Israel was declared, the Hebrew University was a well-respected educational institution. During the War of Independence (1948), Mount Scopus remained in Jewish hands, but it was cut off from the rest of Israeli-held Jerusalem. A new campus in Givat Ram in Jerusalem became the university’s primary location, until Jerusalem was reunited in the Six Day War in 1967.
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