Dora (Vera) Weizmann
Was a physician, Zionist activist, and the wife of Israel's first President, Chaim Weizmann.
Dora Deborah was born to Isaac and Theodosia Hazeltine, a devout Jewish family in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Her father was a cantonist who served in the Crimean War, and her family spoke Russian rather than Yiddish. Dora studied medicine at the University of Geneva, where she met Chaim Weizmann, who was a lecturer in chemistry at the university.
Weizmann was engaged to another student, Sophia Getzov, at the time, but he formed a secret connection with Dora that led to the dissolution of his first engagement. In 1906, Dora and Chaim Weizmann married in a civil ceremony in Manchester, England, after she completed her studies and obtained her medical degree in May 1906.
Their separation lasted two years, during which they visited each other briefly. They finally married in a religious ceremony in the synagogue in Zoppot, Germany (near Danzig), in August 1906, after she finished her studies and six years after their initial connection. Their intensive correspondence, some of which was published by Chaim Weizmann, provides valuable historical insight into Zionist leadership and the spirit of the time.
Their honeymoon combined work and leisure, with the couple traveling to Cologne, where Chaim Weizmann participated in Zionist Congress meetings. Afterward, they traveled to Switzerland and then returned to Manchester, where they held both a civil and religious wedding ceremony.
It wasn't until 1913 that Dora received permission to practice medicine in England. She worked as a pediatrician within the public health system until her retirement from medical practice in 1916, after which she dedicated herself to Zionist activities and supporting her husband's public work.
In 1916, the Weizmann family moved to London, and Dora became increasingly involved in social and political activities while growing closer to Zionist ideals. Dora also had a close relationship with Ze'ev Jabotinsky (before the political split between him and Chaim Weizmann), and she shared his deep appreciation for Russian culture and literature.
The Weizmanns had two sons, Benjamin (Benjie) and Michael (Micky), with the latter becoming a pilot in the Royal Air Force and tragically dying in a plane crash over the Atlantic Ocean in 1942. Chaim Weizmann wrote about this loss in his book "Trial and Error." Michael Weizmann had a notable influence on his nephew, the Israeli statesman Ezer Weizman, who also ventured into the field of aviation.
In 1936, the Weizmanns decided to build their home in Rehovot, near the Weizmann Institute of Science. The house became a meeting place for scientists and leaders alike. During Chaim Weizmann's presidency, it served as the official residence of the President of Israel. Dora was instrumental in establishing WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization) in 1920 and was active in the Youth Aliyah movement.
She founded the "Soldiers of the Dawn" organization, which laid the foundation for future IDF Nahal units. Concurrently, she volunteered for various public organizations like the Red Cross and ILAN.
After Chaim Weizmann's death in 1952, Dora continued to reside in their home for another 14 years, remaining actively engaged in various voluntary activities. A special law passed by the Knesset granted her a stipend equal to that of a minister and exempted her from inheritance tax upon her husband's passing.
In 1954, Dora embarked on a fundraising trip to support the development of the Weizmann Institute of Science in South America. After visiting Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, she made her first visit to Russia in 40 years, donating her summer residence for use by children with disabilities during these years.
In September 1966, while on a private visit to London, Dora suffered a hip fracture. A few days later, she passed away in the hospital at the age of 85. She was buried next to her husband in the Chaim Weizmann Cemetery in Rehovot.
The wives of Israeli presidents, including Dora Weizmann, have played an essential role in shaping the nation's history.
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