Table of Contents


Read more in our article about the first years of the department in "Etmol" (Yad Ben Zvi) journal, Vol. 220, pp. 29-32, 2012 (in Hebrew). 

Psychology was first offered as an academic subject in Palestine in 1933 at the Hebrew University. That same year, the university began negotiating with Kurt Lewin, one of the founding fathers of social psychology, to join the faculty of the university and to establish a chair of psychology at the Hebrew University. For years serious negotiations took place between the university and Lewin concerning the possibility of joining, but for different reasons, the prospect was never realized (1).

In the year 1939, Chaim Weizmann invited Professor Enzo Joseph Bonaventura, professor of psychology from the University of Florence, to join the academic faculty at the Hebrew University. Prof. Bonaventura accepted the invitation and immigrated to Palestine with his family. He began teaching the discipline of psychology at the university, which was located at Mount Scopus at the time, and established the first psychology laboratory.

A psychology curriculum began in practice in the year 1941 under the framework of the School of Education. It was a limited program with only a few students in which psychology was offered as a minor. Due to the difficult reality of Palestine and the events of WWII, the program was not developed significantly until 1945 when the faculty was expanded. In 1948, Mount Scopus was separated from the rest of Jerusalem and could only be reached by a special convoy ("Hadassah Convoy”) that was sometimes ambushed along the way. On April 13, Dr. Bonaventura was killed in one of these attacks, leading to the closing of the department.

 A monument in memory of the victims of the Hadassah medical convoy massacre, Sheikh Jarah, Jerusalem. Among those who fell: Prof. Bonaventura, founder of the Department of Psychology.


Difficulties in Rehabilitation

In 1949, psychology studies and research resumed but in a very limited format. The university found it difficult to find a permanent replacement for Prof. Bonaventura, and relied on temporary teaching faculty and on instructors from other departments. The first acting department chair was Dr. Haim Ormian, who was formerly an adjunct professor and his profession was mainly clinical. His successor in 1951 was Prof. John (Yochanan) Cohen from the University of Leeds in England. He held the position of department chair for one year and then returned to England. Afterwards, Carl Frankenstein was given the position but he was also only acting chair of the department. The other leading instructors were Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Dr. Gina Arthur, and Dr. Shimon Herman.

There were few students at the time (in 1954, for example, only 7 students completed their B.A. in the department). Studies took place at temporary buildings around the city, and the main one was Terra Santa College in the center of Jerusalem. Similarly, there was also activity on Mamilla St. and in the Talbieh neighborhood.

During those difficult years, the university made serious efforts to recruit a researcher who would re-establish the Department of Psychology, with the purpose of transforming psychology into a major- in keeping with the high demand among students, and the need to certify students to work as psychologists in both the clinical and research areas. These efforts took place at the highest levels, including the presidents of the university during those years, the rectors, and different personalities who were sent on recruitment missions in the United States. The well-known researchers Abraham Maslow and David Wechsler (after whom the department seminar room is named until this very day), were among those who stood out in helping to locate candidates in the United States to fill the position as chair of the department in Jerusalem. Under this framework, there was an attempt made to recruit the Freudian psychologist David Rapaport, who lived in the United States at the time and even came to Israel to check the possibility of moving there, but ultimately, it did not succeed. Another attempt was made in recruiting the famous psychologist Solomon Asch, who also considered moving to Israel, however, this attempt also proved to be unsuccessful.



In 1957, the Department of Psychology was reopened through the initiative of a young psychologist and researcher from the United States, Dr. Shlomo (Sol) Kugelmass. Sonny (so nicknamed by friends) Kugelmass was a young lecturer at Columbia University in the City of New York who immigrated to Israel with his family and began research at Hadassah Hospital in the neurology department. He was appointed chair of the department in conjunction with an academic committee that supervised his work in the early years, since he was only a junior faculty member at the time. On the supervisory academic committee were some senior members of academia at the time; among them were Profs. Carl Frankenstein, Louis Guttman, Shmuel Eisenstadt, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Lipman Heilprin and Nathan Rotenstreich. The department office was housed at the time in two offices in the Chemistry Department on Mamilla St. in Jerusalem. The lessons themselves were given at the Givat Ram campus and some were still given at Terra Santa.

Kugelmass remained acting chair of the Department of Psychology until 1968, creating a department that was essentially devoted to research and very selective in admitting students. The curriculum he established was similar to those in well-known research departments in the United States. During the first few years, all the undergraduate courses were required courses, including Physiological Psychology (the mind-body connection, taught by Yeshayahu Leibowitz), Experimental Psychology (taught by Daniel Kahneman), Developmental Psychology (taught by Reuven Cohen-Raz), Social Psychology (taught by Shimon Herman), Personality Theory (taught by Abraham Minkowitz), Testing Theory (taught by Gina  Ortar) and Intermediate Statistics (taught by Louis Guttman). Later appointed to the faculty were Rivka Eiferman and Moshe Sandberg (later of Bank of Israel) and many others. The first TA was Yehudit Shama and then Itzhak Schlesinger and Ozer Schild, who later joined the faculty.    


Prof. Shlomo (Sonny) Kugelmass, founding father of the Department of Psychology as we know it today.

Prof. Shlomo Brezhnitz (Haifa University) relates, "…[About] Prof. Kugelmass's role, it should be clarified that the probability of establishing a serious department with an emphasis on empirical research was close to zero… Sonny [Kugelmass] had to fight like a lion for many years in order to ensure that the scientific way of thinking would be the one that would be reinforced. To his credit, psychology in Israel has reached the special, prestigious status that is like no other in the world!!! … In order to do justice to history, it is important to emphasize this in a clear and unequivocal way.”  

From the outset, the demand for studies in the department was very high and so the department introduced difficult entrance exams ("Concourse") to choose from its many candidates. During the first few years, fewer than 20 students were accepted each year. The students in the very first class, which started in 1957, included Amos Tversky, Amnon Rapaport, Shlomo Breznits and Emanuel Donchin – all of whom became important researchers in different areas of psychology. Other students in the first class included Tamar Swedovski (later on Breznits and afterwards Kron) and Rami Bar-Giora, two of the veteran clinical educators in Israel.


     Class picture, March, 1967. Taken across from the Levy Building in Givat Ram. Among those photographed: Prof. Yeshayahu Leibovitch, and the young instructors, the future department chairs: Dr. Shlomo Breznitz, Dr. Israel Lieblich, Dr. Charlie Greenbaum


From football matches to Nobel prize

In 1966, the department's graduate M.A. program was approved, which was purely research-oriented in its first years. During this period, the department set up various laboratories – a laboratory for research on vision, a laboratory for research on physiological reactions, and an animal laboratory. Strong personal and social ties were established during the first years between students and teachers in the department. Football matches and magnificent Purim parties with everyone together were held every year. Especially remembered were the costumes of Sonny Kugelmass and his wife Judy who arrived at the party dressed as "Oral" (with a giant pacifier) and "Anal" (wrapped in toilet paper).

The department football team vs. the faculty football team, Purim 1967 Standing , from left to right: Amnon Rapoport, Danny Pasternak, Shlomo Weiner, Dan Klinkovitzki, Baruch Nevo, Giora Kronzon-Keenan, Gershon (Zero) Ben-Shachar, Kalman Binyamini, Sam Rakover, Danny Gopher. The group of three in the middle, on the left: Amos Tversky, Charles Greenbaum. On the bottom row, from left to right: Shlomo Breznitz, (?), Ehud Olmert, Yoram Bilu, (?), (?).


Some of the alumni of these early years went on to obtain graduate degrees abroad, supported by the Hebrew University. At the same time, other alumni obtained their Ph.D.s in the department itself. In 1964, the first Ph.D. in the department was awarded to Itzhak Shlesinger, who became a faculty member of the department, and has since been researching and teaching in the department for over forty-five years. In 1965, a Ph.D. was awarded to Shlomo Brezhnitz followed by Israel Lieblich, Amia Lieblich and Tamar Kron (then Brezhnitz). The young doctors joined the department faculty and together with Amos Tversky, Asher Koriat and Amnon Rapaport, who obtained their Ph.D.s in the United States, and with other instructors, they led the department forward, developed new research directions, and laid the infrastructure for an outstanding department. The researchers who were educated at the Hebrew University also established the psychology departments in Haifa University and Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.


One of the graduates and teachers of the department who deserves special mention is Prof. Daniel Kahneman, who was among the first to study this discipline and completed his B.A. in psychology and mathematics in 1954. Danny Kahneman joined the faculty of the department at the Hebrew University after obtaining his Ph.D. from the University of Berkley in 1961. In 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his research in collaboration with Prof. Amos Tversky during the years when they taught in the department.

     Nobel Prize Winner Prof. Daniel Kahneman with Rachela Shaked, Department Coordinator.



From Mount Scopus to Givat Ram and back...  

Over the years the department moved many times. After leaving Mount Scopus in 1948, the discipline was studied in the Terra Santa College building, as well as in other buildings and rooms scattered in the city, including in Baka, and in the Mamilla neighborhood. When the Givat Ram campus (now the Safra campus) was completed in 1960, the department moved to the Levy building there and then to the Sturman building. In 1981, the department returned to the newly rebuilt Mount Scopus campus, to the building of the Social Sciences Faculty, where it remains to this day.


A picture from the farewell party for Miriam Bajaio (the department's secretary, later named coordinator), at the home of Prof. Kugelmass, 1995. The faculty members present in the picture, from right to left and clockwise: Udi Shavit, Shalom Schwartz, Ram Frost, Yitzchak Schlesinger, Anat Ninio (Chair), Yaacov Schul, Ilan Yaniv, Gary Bornstein, Tamar Krohn, Yoel Elitzur.   


The past and present heads of the department (in chronological order of the year when they began their tenure) are Professors: Shlomo Kugelmass (1957), Ozer Schild (1968), Zev (Charlie) Greenbaum (1971), Zev Klein (1975), Israel Lieblich (1978), Amia Lieblich (1981), Shalom Schwartz (1984), Izthak Schlesinger (1987), Gershon Ben-Shakhar (1987), Benny Shanon (1990), Yoram Bilu (1992), Anat Ninio (1994), Yaakov Schul (1996), Yehuda (Udi) Shavit (1999), Ram Frost (2002), Gary Bornstein (2005),  Asher Cohen (2008), Ilan Yaniv (2011, for teaching), Leon Deouell (2012).


 End of the year faculty meeting, 2002. Faculty members in the picture from the bottom right clockwise: Raz Yirmiya, Merav Ahissar, Ilan Yaniv, Ram Frost, Asher Cohen, Gary Bornstein, Gaby Shefler, Rachela Shaked, Udi Shavit.


The department remembers and commemorates its teachers who have passed away: Enzo Joseph Bonaventura, Israel Lieblich, Eliezer Ilan, Kalman Binyamin, A. A weiss, Joel Shanan, Gary Bornstein and Shlomo Bentin.


Literary and historical testimonies and sources about the department

In his book, "Mitom Ad Tom,” the author Hanoch Bartov refers to studies in the Department of Psychology before the establishment of the State of Israel and a little bit afterwards. The heroine of the book, Noga, (p. 242-243): "returns to her studies, climbs the tall steps of "Terra Santa” to the classrooms, turns to search every time anew for Prof. Bonaventura, the main teacher in the Department of Psychology, has not yet digested the fact that he was killed in Sheikh Jarah, sits in the lessons of Dr. Ormian. This is her favorite atmosphere, lecture halls, the big reading hall on the third hall, which was improvised and equipped if possible, meetings with people whom she had not seen since the war and meeting new students who flooded the university.”


The author Hanoch Bartov added more from his memories about the Department of Psychology for us (October 2010):


"In those days we studied, my wife Yehudit of blessed memory and I, at the Hebrew University. Because it was not possible to choose psychology as a main major, Yehudit chose it as one of two secondary majors. The department chair most admired by her was Prof. Bonaventura. More than one hundred employees and students as well as doctors and nurses at Hadassah Hospital witnessed the murder, and among them was Prof. Bonaventura.Since the university was organized in temporary buildings in the city, primarily in Terra Santa, we would walk together to this building, I to the departments I chose and she to the departments she chose. I do not remember her going to another place for studies in the department. She finished her Masters studies in history and psychology in 1951. One of her main teachers was Dr. Haim Ormian.”



(1) For a detailed account of the exchanges between Kurt Lewin and the Hebrew University, see (in Hebrew): Bargal, David. "The Social Psychology that Never Was: Kurt Lewin, the Hebrew University". From: The History of the Hebrew University, Roots and Beginnings (eds. Shaul Katz and Michael Hed). The Hebrew University Magnes Press, Jerusalem, pages 627-645, and also: Bargal, David. Kurt Lewin and the first attempts to establish a Department of Psychology at the Hebrew University. Minerva 36: 49-68, 1998.   Dolev, Amram. Sonny Kugelmass: Some Reminiscences. In: Ben-Shakhar, G. & Lieblich, A. (Eds.), Scripta Hierosolymitana, Vol. XXXVI. Studies in Psychology in Honor of Solomon Kugelmass. The Magness Press, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1995, pp. 14-22.   Kugelmass, Sol. Chapter 17: Israel, in: Sexton, V.S. & Misiak, H. (Eds.), Psychology Around The World, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, 1976, pp. 219-227.  



This document was compiled by Shoham Choshen-Hillel and Prof. Ilan Yaniv from the Department of Psychology at the Hebrew University in 2010-2011. The document is based on documents from the archives of the Hebrew University, some of which were brought here via scanning. We would like to extend our thanks to the archives manager, Mr. Ofer Tzemach, for locating the documents and making them accessible. Similarly, we would like to thank the veterans of the department who assisted us in reconstructing various historical details: Prof. Gershon Ben-Shakhar, Prof. Maya Bar-Hillel, Prof. Shlomo Breznitz, Hanoch Bartov, Dr. Amram Dolev, Prof. Emanuel Donchin, Prof. Amia Lieblich, Prof. Daniel Kahneman, Prof. Amnon Rapaport, Prof. Itzhak Shlesinger, Prof. Anat Ninio and the department coordinator, Rachel Shaked.