Letter from Einstein to ten year old Gilah

My Letter to Einstein

Gilah Yelin Hirsch
Calm Pond

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I was ten years old in my birth city of Montreal and perplexed by the big questions of life. My father, a brilliant scholar who spoke, read and wrote 13 languages, was an invalid as his motor limbs were degenerating due to a car accident two years prior. He also lost his ability to speak. My mother, renowned poet and author, was unpredictably violent and terribly abusive toward my father and myself. Her mental illness would be diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder today.

I was upset with the world. At 6 I had read about the Korean war in the Montreal Star every morning and could not understand what makes people go to war. I read about poverty, hunger, homelessness, genocide. Many of my relatives were very ill. We were economically strapped as my father couldn’t work and my mother’s schoolteacher salary was low.

I was plagued with the questions of love, food and shelter.

At 8 years old I was expelled from Torah class because I asked my teacher why we only referred to God as He/Him, while the names and pronouns of God in Hebrew were both male and female.

On February 11th, 1955, a wintry afternoon when I was home from school to take care of my father, I wrote a letter to the man I believed to be the smartest man in the world, Albert Einstein. I had read that the great scientist was Jewish and believed in the God of the Old Testament. I wrote asking how he could reconcile being a scientist and believing in God. I first wrote a rough draft, then copied it into a letter. I had read that he lived in Princeton, MA and found the address. I walked to the mailbox and posted the letter.

When my mother returned from her teaching day, I told her that I had written and sent a letter to Albert Einstein. She was startled and shocked but she retrieved the rough draft from the waste paper basket. She told me not to expect a reply, that Einstein was a very busy man, etc.

Much to my great pleasure and astonishment I received the reply only 13 days after I had posted my letter. My mother was truly amazed. She eventually framed both letters and added the Montreal Star quote from Einstein, “God does not play dice with the universe.”

As a child I had hoped for a more directive answer, but as I grew older I knew that the great man had written me the wisest of all answers. “Try to form your

opinions always according to your own judgement. You have shown in your letter that you are able to do so.”

The letter has been the guide of my life and the force of my teaching.

Einstein died April 18, 1955.

In 1991, twenty-six years after receiving the letter, I was invited to present my theory on origin of alphabet, Cosmography: The Writing of the Universe at Princeton. I was taken to Einstein’s home and the desk upon which he had written the seminal letter long ago. I had come full circle on so many levels. Although fundamental problems of love, food and shelter remain in the world, my gratitude has continued to bloom for his wisdom with the passing years.

Gilah Yelin Hirsch

Feb 7, 2022

Venice, CA

Transcription of ten-year-old Gilah Yelin’s first draft letter to Albert Einstein:

Written in pencil
Mon, Feb, 11, 1955

Dear Dr. Einstein,

I am a little Jewish girl of ten, and I have been troubled these past few days by some thoughts. I hear you are a very busy scientist and that you are religious, so I thought that you could answer my questions.

I have been thinking about God and the Bible. Since you are the greatest living scientist in your field you could prove that parts of the Bible are wrong. If so, how can you believe in all those stories about God. And with all these thoughts I don’t know whether to believe in God or not.

In school we are always told that God made the world, and that we should pray to God, but why should we if we don’t even know he is there, (wherever there is).

My mother, father and I were discussing this last night in great detail but at the end of the discussion I was right back where I started from. I wondered whether you might be able to help me. I would appreciate it, if you could make me understand these things more clearly.

Your Friend,
Gilah Yelin

Reply from Albert Einstein, February 24, 1955

Miss Gilah Yelin
2280 Goger Rd.
Montreal, Canada

Dear Gilah,

Thank you for your letter. Try to form your opinions always according to your own judgement. You have shown in your letter that you able to do so.

With kind regards,

Sincerely,
Albert Einstein (signed)
Albert Einstein

Envelope:

Postmarked, Feb 26, 1955, 2 PM, Princeton, N.J.

From: 112 Mercer Str.
Princeton, N.J.

To: Miss Gilah Yelin
2280 Goger Rd.
Montreal, Canada

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Gilah Yelin Hirsch
Calm Pond

Gilah Yelin Hirsch is a painter, writer, filmmaker, and professor emerita of art at California State University, Dominguez Hill, Los Angeles: www.gilah.com