May 18, 1954
Selig Brodetsky was born in Ukraine on July 5, 1888. When he was young, his family moved to London to escape the violence and discrimination that Jews routinely faced in Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century. An outstanding student, Brodetsky earned a scholarship to study mathematics at Trinity College at Cambridge where he became Senior Wrangler, a title awarded to the top mathematics undergraduate. It was considered to be the greatest intellectual achievement attainable in Britain.
At Cambridge, Brodetsky’s connection to the growing Zionist movement deepened as he became increasingly involved in Zionist activities. Following his graduation from Cambridge, he studied mathematical astronomy at the University of Leipzig; there he served as President of the Zionist Student Association.
Brodetsky earned his doctorate in 1913. In 1928, while working as a professor at the University of Leeds, he was appointed to the Executive Committee of the Zionist Organization in England, and became head of the organization’s Political Department in London. Upon his appointment, he remarked,
I am a firm believer in the [Chaim] Weizmann policy concerning the [Jewish] Agency, basing myself upon the conviction that Palestine will in the long run be built by the efforts of the whole of Jewry. But I am not so blinded to realities as to believe that the vast majority of Jews are yet ready to join in the task. (“Professor Selig Brodetsky Accepts Membership in Zionist Executive,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 12, 1928)
In 1949 Brodetsky was chosen to replace Judah Magnes as the President of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shortly after assuming the Presidency, Brodetsky suffered a major heart attack. Because of his declining health, he resigned from the university in January 1952 and returned to London. In his career, Brodetsky also served as the President of the World Maccabi Union, which oversees the Maccabi Games.
The photo of Brodetsky is from the Smithsonian.