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Monday, March 15, 2010

Meet Abraham Flexner

Yesterday afternoon, for a few hours, I pretended to be Abraham Flexner. No, this is not a rare form of dementia, but rather a condition of participating in a community celebration of something called "Princeton Pi Day." You see, yesterday was March 14--314, the first three numbers of pi --and also happens to be the birthday of one of Princeton's most celebrated inhabitants, Albert Einstein.

So who was Abraham Flexner? When his name was given to me by the day's organizer I had no idea, but I did some research and learned that he was the first director of the Institute for Advanced Studies, a think tank founded in Princeton in 1930. Einstein was one of the first and most illustrious members of that organization, and it was Flexner who recruited him. But Einstein grew to hate him after Flexner attempted to muzzle him and and keep him out of the public eye. This was done out of concerns for Einstein's safety (the Nazis had put out a bounty on his head), and also because Flexner did not wish for Einstein's outspokenness to kick up anti-Semitism (Princeton was not known for its welcoming of non-white, non-Christian sensibilities).

For three hours I stood in the back of Landau's, a woolens store that also has the only permanent museum in North American dedicated to Einstein. I was one of five stops on the tour, as other re-enactors brought to life other figures from Einstein's life. I must have repeated my spiel twenty or so times (I had frantically memorized it a few days before) and though it was kind of tiring I had fun. Their were other activities during the day, such as a pie contest (pie-pi, get it?), an Einstein look-alike contest, and a pi-reciting contest. The winner of the latter reeled off about 200 numerals of pi, pretty impressive, but an 8-year-old kid got 18o-some.

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