Vera Weizmann

First Lady of Israel 1881 - 1966

Chaim and I went to this tea without an inkling that it would mark a momentous turning point in Chaim's political career and, indeed, in the fortunes of the Zionist movement.

Vera Weizmann

Public health physician, Zionist leader and life-partner of Chaim Weizmann


Lead a life intertwined with the Zionist movement's quest

When the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917 Britain’s women did not have the right to vote or serve in Parliament. The Jewish women who helped bring about the Declaration tended to exert their influence in more subtle ways.

For instance, on ‎November 15, 1916 Emma Rothschild, widow of Nathaniel Mayer de Rothschild, the first Baron, hosted a reconciliation luncheon during which James ‎Rothschild, son of Baron Edmund Rothschild of the French branch, tried—unsuccessfully—to bridge the gap between Chaim Weizmann’s Zionist camp and the ‎anti-Zionists within the British Jewish community. (James Rothschild served in the British Army in Palestine and became an MP.)

James’ wife, Dorothy, was very much his collaborator, in ‎part because James had been temporarily sidelined by war-related injuries. She was also Chaim Weizmann’s intermediary, not just with James but also with ‎his father, Edmund. She opened up any number of doors through which Weizmann could make his case to the right people in British society.

The Balfour Declaration was addressed to Lionel Walter Rothschild. His sister-in-law Rózsika Edle (Charles Rothschild’s wife) also provided Weizmann entrée to British decision-‎making circles.

And it was thanks to Providence and Vera Weizmann that her husband, Chaim, met Charles Prestwich Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian.

As Vera wrote towards the end of 1913:

“Chaim and I were invited to another afternoon [tea] ritual this time in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Eckhard. She was the chairman of the clinic for mothers in which I served as medical officer… Chaim and I went to this tea without an inkling that it would mark a momentous turning point in Chaim’s political career and, indeed, in the fortunes of the Zionist movement.”

C.P. Scott became a massively important champion of Zionism.

Chaim and I went to this tea without an inkling that it would mark a momentous turning point in Chaim's political career and, indeed, in the fortunes of the Zionist movement.

Vera Weizmann, 1913

Vera Chatzman

Tzarist policy required Russian Jews to live in a “Pale of Settlement.” Vera Chatzman’s family, however, was given the privilege of living in Rostov-on-Don (outside the designated territory) because her father had been conscripted into the Russian army for 25 years.

The family was comparatively well off and socially acculturated. Jewish holidays were observed and Vera’s two brothers were given some religious instruction, but Vera and her four sisters had only a rudimentary familiarity with Judaism and no Hebrew or Yiddish.

But Vera received a first-rate Russian education which included French and Latin. She graduated from the University of Geneva with a medical degree (later completing her medical studies in England).

Chaim and Vera

At the University of Geneva’s Zionist Club Vera happened to be in the audience for a lecture by a young scientist named Chaim Weizmann. Six years later, in 1906, Chaim and Vera were married in a synagogue ceremony in Germany.

Zionism had to be a key element in the couple’s partnership. They spent part of their honeymoon in Cologne where Chaim participated in a Zionist Executive conference.

Vera Weizmann moved to Manchester where her husband already had a lectureship in chemistry. She arrived speaking no English. By 1911 or so she had mastered English and German (the common language of many of Weizmann’s Zionist colleagues) and become a British citizen.

Medical Career & WWI

She was certified to practice medicine in Britain in 1913 and began working as a public health physician in the Manchester slums specializing in women’s and infant care.

Her husband’s scientific contributions to Britain’s World War I effort necessitated a move in 1916 to London where they lived in Addison Crescent.

After WWI, Vera Weizmann made her first trip to Palestine in 1919 together with Rebecca Sieff and Edith Eder, members of the British Zionist Federation Ladies Committee. Together with Olga Ginsburg, Romana Goodman and Henrietta Irwell, among others, they established the Women’s International Zionist Organization, or WIZO.

Weizmann made her second trip to Palestine in 1925, joining Chaim for the opening ceremony of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. As WIZO treasurer Vera raised monies to train and educate women settling in Palestine.

From about 1937 until 1944 the couple stayed mostly in London rather than at their home in Rehovot. In February 1940 their son Michael’s plane went down while on a World War II mission for the Royal Air Force. Their other son, Benjamin, also served in the British Army.

Vera contributed to the WWII effort as a physician-volunteer for the Red Cross in London’s poor neighborhoods.


After the Second World War Chaim’s duties required the couple to travel back and forth between London and Rehovot. In Palestine Vera became a head of the Youth Aliya movement bringing traumatized youngsters to Palestine. She travelled widely to raise money on behalf of a variety of Zionist causes.

When the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948 and Chaim was elected its first president, Vera became First Lady.

In that capacity her medical training drew her to public health issues. She devoted huge energies to developing Magen David Adom, Israel’s combination Red Cross and emergency ambulance service. Together with Dr. Chaim Sheba she made a major contribution to the establishment of Tel Hashomer Hospital in metropolitan Tel Aviv and its project to rehabilitate disabled soldiers. Among other responsibilities she was president of the Israel and British Commonwealth Association.

Death and legacy

Vera Weizmann died aged 87 on September 24, 1966 while on a private visit to London. She was buried next to her husband (who had died in 1952) in Rehovot, near the grounds of what is today the Weizmann Institute for Science.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol noted in his eulogy that at nearly every step of the way Vera’s life was intertwined with the Zionist movement’s quest—first to establish and then to nurture the Jewish homeland.

At nearly every step of the way Vera's life was intertwined with the Zionist movement's quest—first to establish and then to nurture the Jewish homeland.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol

To learn more about Vera Weizmann

The Impossible Takes Longer by Vera Weizmann