Dinner with a genius

Malibu resident remembers intimate dinner with 20th century physics master.

By Lindsay Kuhn/Special to The Malibu Times

Over lunch in the Roll n’ Rye deli in Santa Monica, Joe Seinfeld of Malibu sat in a cushioned booth and ate scrambled eggs and fried onions, ordered extra burnt to make sure they caramelized. As the eggs disappeared from his plate, the highlights of his life, including a stint as a Hollywood producer, service in the Navy and an intimate dinner with Albert Einstein (yes, the Einstein), piled up on the table.

Seinfeld has a way about him. He eats his eggs like they are a dense piece of chocolate cake.

“It’s delicious,” he said more than once, interrupting a story about a Passover Seder he went to in 1945.

That particular Seder happened to be an extraordinary one for Seinfeld. It took place in the home of Einstein, who, of course, led the way in physics and fashionably tousled hair.

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Einstein had invited Seinfeld and only four others to this particular meal.

“It was intimate,” Seinfeld recalled.

The six sat around the table and got to know each other.

“He mostly [asked] about us. Where we were from, what we were studying, what we enjoyed doing,” Seinfeld said.

And, Seinfeld said, “He talked about how happy he was to be in America.”

Einstein had renounced his German citizenship in 1896 apparently because of his antiauthoritarianism and to avoid compulsory military service. He later applied and was granted Swiss citizenship in 1901, after being stateless for several years.

The five lucky dinner guests were all students at Princeton at the time, where Einstein accepted a post in 1932. Originally, Einstein was to have spent seven months of the year in Berlin and five at Princeton, but a month after he accepted the Princeton position the Nazis came to power and Einstein never returned to his homeland.

Gail Stern, the director of the Historical Society of Princeton, commented on Einstein’s accessibility to students and noted he had a good relationship with them, especially with the Jewish community.

“He wasn’t religious, but strongly supported the Jewish life on campus and often spoke at the Student Hebrew Association,” Stern said. (From the age of six to thirteen, Einstein was raised in a religious environment and was taught Judaism.)

Seinfeld said the 1945 meal was traditional but not religious.

“There was very little Jewishness at the table,” Seinfeld said, referring to the conversation.

Seinfeld spoke tenderly of Einstein, “He was like my grandpa.”

He remembered Einstein as soft spoken and unpretentious. So when he spoke about Einstein’s big head, it was literal, not metaphorical.

“He had the biggest head ever,” Seinfeld said.

It wasn’t until later that Seinfeld realized the impact of Einstein’s big head.

“At that time, some of our teachers had told us about Einstein on campus so we knew he was important, but I don’t think any of us knew he was one of the geniuses of the 20th century,” Seinfeld said. “I learned a lot about him afterward.”

Seinfeld and the four other students at the table were the only Jews at Princeton in V-12, a Navy college training program initiated in 1943, during World War II. Seinfeld joined V-12 because it offered a free ride in college and he remained in service for more 17 years.

After graduating from the program, Seinfeld produced and assisted in the production of various television series including “My Sister Eileen,” starring Elaine Stritch, “Texas Rangers” and “Malibu Run,” to name a few.

His stint with Hollywood ended in the 1960s, and for the past 44 years he has been working for the creative advertising firm, Jack Nadel.

However, Seinfeld still continues to dream of working in the entertainment business as a writer. The past three years he’s been writing for television “passionately.”

He hasn’t sold anything yet, but has hope.

There’s a picture of Einstein in his office that says, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” He’s had that photo on his desk since 1956, a year after Einstein died.

“He keeps me honest,” Seinfeld said. “He was always true to himself and his ideas even though they were contrary to what everyone else thought.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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