The American Delegate(s)* at the First Zionist Congress Part 3

Posted on September 11th, 2017 by

Written by Avi Y. Decter. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel

Part III: A National Assembly

Missed the beginning? Start here.

Some of the participants in the World Zionist Congress, Basel, 1897. Theodor Herzl is in the center. Courtesy of Herbert Levy, L2008. 135.1

Some of the participants in the World Zionist Congress, Basel, 1897. Theodor Herzl is in the center. Courtesy of Herbert Levy, L2008. 135.1

One of the key tasks of the organizers was to establish the Congress as an effective organization. Herzl himself, in his opening address to the Congress, declared that “Through this Congress, we are creating an agency for the Jewish people.”[1] Rosa Sonneschein reports that Herzl characterized the Congress as a “Jewish organ, which heretofore it did not have, but which it needs for its existence.”[2]

Only a few days before the first Zionist Congress convened Herzl wrote that “I stand in command of striplings, beggars, and sensation-mongers…Nevertheless, even this army would do the job if a success were in sight. Then it would quickly become a first-rate body of regular troops.”[3] Gathering a group of self-selected individuals would not make the Congress an effective body – the Congress needed to assert a claim to representing organizations and communities. This, the distinction between individual attendees and organizational delegates was made clear in the first session of the Congress, when Dr. Karpel Lippe referred in his opening remarks to “This meeting of Jewish associations and of individual Jews.”[4]

Transforming the Zionist Congress into a representative body was a critical, challenging step, and one not easily achieved. Once Herzl determined to organize a world congress and the site was finally chosen, he devoted his immense energies to gathering participants from all corners of the world. Letters of invitation were sent out to Zionist leaders, to Zionist organizations, and to Jewish communities calling for the election of representatives to the Congress.[5]

At the beginning of August, 1897, a Congress office was established in Basel, and a preparatory committee reviewed, approved, and registered the Congress participants.[6] When Herzl arrived in Basel on August 25 he took personal charge of all the details. As one observer noted, “He gave his attention to all the minutiae of the work. He let nothing slip past him. He issued the instructions, and supervised the carrying out of the instructions.”[7]

Looking back on the first Congress, Dr. Herzl wrote that “our movement has entered into the stream of history…If I were to sum up the Congress in a word – which I shall take care not to publish – it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State…I gradually worked the people up into the atmosphere of a State and made them feel that they were its National Assembly.”[8] Herzl’s comment about “founding the Jewish State” has entered into the lexicon of Zionist ideology, alongside his famous dictum, “If you will it, it is no dream,” which became the slogan of the modern Zionist movement.

Herzl’s comment about creating a “national Assembly” is less well-known, and yet this seemingly more mundane task was every bit as important as providing a vision and a compelling rhetoric. On the third and final day of the Congress, it was “resolved that each local society of Zionists have a right to send on edelegate and one more for each succeeding hundred.”[9]

Afterward, Herzl wrote that “in principle the most important event which perhaps remained quite unnoticed was my introduction of the representative system, that is, of the national assembly.”[10] In this critical effort Rabbi Schaffer, a Baltimore resident, and Adam Rosenberg, a Baltimore native, played important roles. Although their routes to the first Zionist Congress were distinct, and their designation as official “Delegates’ came about in totally different ways, both deserve to be recognized and remembered as the American delegates to the first World Zionist Congress.

Continue to Sidebar I: The Other Americans: Rosa Sonneschein (1847 – 1935)

Notes:

[1] S.U. Nahon, ed., The Jubilee of the First Zionist Congress, 1897 – 1947 (Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization, 1947), 54.

[2] Sonneschein, “The Zionist Congress,” 15.

[3] Marvin Lowenthal, ed., The Diaries of Theodor Herzl (New York: Dial Press, 1956), 220. Alex Bein’s version of this same diary entry is even less flattering: “The fact is that I have only an army of schnorrers. I stand at the head of a mass of youths, beggars, and kacjasses.” Quoted in Theodore Herzl: A Biography (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication society of America, 1962), 227f.

[4] Nahon, Jubilee of the First Zionist Congress, 65.

[5] Bein, Herzl, 224.

[6] Bein, Herzl, 226ff.; Bettina Zeugin, “Three Days in Basel,” in Heiko Haumann, ed., The First Zionist Congress in 1897 – Causes, Significance, Topicality (Basel: Karegen, 1997), 141f.

[7] Quoted in Bein, Herzl, 226.

[8] Lowenthal, The Diaries of Theodor Herzl, 223f

[9] Sonneschein, “The Zionist Congress,” 18.

[10] Nahon, Jubilee, 98.

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The American Delegate(s)* at the First Zionist Congress Part 1

Posted on September 4th, 2017 by

Written by Avi Y. Decter. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel

In August 1897, Rabbi Dr. Schepsel Schaffer (1862 – 1933) of Baltimore traveled up to New York to embark for Europe. His destination was Basel, Switzerland, where the first World Zionist Congress was convening. Rabbi Schaffer’s departure was trumpeted on the front page of at least one New York Jewish newspaper, and echoes of his trip to Basel still resonate today.

Schepsel Schaffer, c. 1897. From the newspaper Ha'Ivri. Courtesy of Yeshiva University, Mendel Gottesman Library.

Schepsel Schaffer, c. 1897. From the newspaper Ha’Ivri. Courtesy of Yeshiva University, Mendel Gottesman Library.

In the pantheon of early American Zionists, Rabbi Schaffer occupies a special place. Rabbi Schaffer was an ardent advocate of Zionism throughout his career. In 1895 he became president of the Baltimore Zion Association, Hevrat Zion, which was then one of the largest local Zionist groups in America.[1] When the Federation of American Zionists, predecessor of the Zionist Organization of America, was organized in 1898, Rabbi Schaffer was chosen as one of its original vice presidents, and when the Mizrachi  [Religious Zionists] of America Organization was established in 1913 Rabbi Schaffer was named to its first Governing Council. He remained active in the Mizrachi movement for many years[2].

Any of these leadership activities would have been sufficient to ensure Rabbi Schaffer’s place of honor in American Zionist history. However, during the past century, Rabbi Schaffer’s fame as a Zionist leader has rested mostly on his participation in the first World Zionist Congress, where he was the only “official delegate from the United States representing an existing Zionist organization.”[3]

Delegates to the World Zionist COngress, Basel, 1897. Courtest of the Jewish Museum of Switzerland, Basel, JMS 786.

Delegates to the World Zionist COngress, Basel, 1897. Courtest of the Jewish Museum of Switzerland, Basel, JMS 786.

Pioneers (“the first”) and singularities (“the only”) often stand out, and, as a result, are frequently the stuff of popular history. The fact that Rabbi Schaffer was the only “official delegate” from an American Zionist organization at the first World Zionist Congress has been repeated in one variation or another for generations, and it is now deeply embedded in Zionist historiography and in collective memory, especially here in Maryland. Of course, decades of imprecise usage has led to some inaccuracies. In one account, Rabbi Schaffer was “the only delegate from the United States;” in another, he was “the sole American representative;” and in still another, the Rabbi was “the representative of the Zionists of America.”[4]

In fact, four participants  at the first Zionist Congress signed in from the United States; we also know that two of these participants were listed as “delegates.”[5] Who attended from the United States, and how did they get there? What, precisely did it mean to be a “delegate” to the first World Zionist Congress? And why is this important, anyway?

Continue to Part II: The Congress Participants

Notes:

[1] Hamelitz 1897, no. 44, p. 2 cited in Isaac Fein, The Making of an American Jewish Community: The History of Baltimore Jewry from 1773 to 1920 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication society of America, 1971), note 245. See also Marnin Feinstein, American Zionism, 1884 – 1904 (New York: Herzl Press, 1965), 52, 95, and 142.

[2] Moshe Sherman, Department of Hebraic Studies, Rutgers University, “Schaffer, Shepsel (1862 – 1933),” January 1998 research note in the :Bridges to Zion” exhibition files, Jewish Museum of Maryland Institutional Archives; “Rev. Dr. Schepschel Schaffer’s 25th Anniversary as Rabbi of Shearith Israel Congregation,” Jewish Comment, January 4, 1918; Reverend Doctor Schepschel Schaffer: Twenty-Five Years of Activity in the Cause of Orthodox Judaism, 1893 – 1918 (Baltimore: Congregation Shearith Israel, 1918).

[3] “Schaffer, Schepsel,” in Raphael Patai, ed., Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971), vol. 2, 1000.

[4] Fein, Making of an American Jewish Community, 195; Yitzchok Levine, “Glimpes Into American Jewish History Part 34: Forty Years of Baltimore’s Congregation SHearith Israel,” 2, at llevine@stevens.edu; “Rev. Dr. Schepschel Schagger’s 25th Anniversary.” Other variations include “the only United States delegate to the first Zionist Congress,” Baltimore Sun, March26, 1975; “the one official delegate,” Gerald Sorin, A Time for Building: The Third Migration, 1880 – 1920 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 223; the “only…official delegate [of an American Zionist organization],” Melvin Urofsky, American Zionism from Herzl to the HolocaustI (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1975), 86; and “the only official delegate, representing an existing organization,” Feinstein, American Zionism, 104.

[5] The Congress published its own list of participants while it was in session. A copy of this pamphlet is found at the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem: Praesence-Liste des Zionisten Congresses 1897 – 5657, Basel, den 29, 30., und 31. August, Basel, 1897. Both Rabbi Schaffer and Adam Rosenberg are marked by asterisks, indicating a delegate from an organization or community. The Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1916), Vol. 12, 675 notes that “Among the delegates there were representatives of the various Jewish national bodies, though most of the members came in their private capacity.”

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Chronology: Maryland and Israel Part 2, 1900 to 1950

Posted on August 28th, 2017 by

Compiled by Avi Y. Decter and Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations 2007-2008: Maryland and Israel

 Missed part 1? Start here.

1903

German-speaking Baltimore Jews organize the Theodor Herzl Zionistischer Verein (Zionist Association), the first German-speaking Zionist organization in America. A leading Reform rabbi, William Rosenau, declares: “I believe that one can be a good reform Jew and be a Zionist.” Two of the organization’s founders, Dr. Harry Friedenwald (Aaron’s son) and Henrietta Szold, will play major roles in the history of Zionism, nationally and internationally.

Baltimore Jews also organize Kadima, a vigorous Zionist group that also concerns itself with local Jewish problems, creating a bridge between the Zionist movement and the community as a whole.

 

1904

Harry Friedenwald, with inscription to Louis L. Kaplan. JMM 1996.10.64

Harry Friedenwald, with inscription to Louis L. Kaplan. JMM 1996.10.64

Dr. Harry Friedenwald (b. 1864) of Baltimore is elected the second President of the Federation of American Zionists, serving until 1917 and as honorary President until his death in 1950.

 

1996.010.064 – Photograph of Harry Friedenwald, with inscription to Louis L. Kaplan.

 

1905

Dr. Herman Seidel with a Zionist group believed to be Poalei Zion, c. 1905. JMM 1963.9.1

Dr. Herman Seidel with a Zionist group believed to be Poalei Zion, c. 1905. JMM 1963.9.1

In December, a recent immigrant to Baltimore from Lithuania, Herman Seidel (1884-1969), organizes in Baltimore the first national convention of the Poale Zion (Zionist Workers) organization with 22 delegates in attendance. The Labor Zionist movement supports kibbutzim (cooperative settlements), the labor union Histadrut, and worker-owned businesses in Palestine. Every Friday night, Seidel attracts a crowd to his soapbox on a corner in East Baltimore, where he encourages support for the pioneer working Jews of Palestine.

 

1906

Boris Schatz

Boris Schatz, courtesy of the Schatz Estate.

Sculptor Boris Schatz (1867-1932) founds the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem to create a completely Jewish art blending Jewish motifs, Near Eastern design, and art nouveau forms. Jews traveling to Palestine return with the school’s jewelry, rugs, metalwork, and wood carvings, reminders of the Land of Israel. Bezalel products are exhibited at expositions in Baltimore in 1914 and 1931, and also at local Zionist stores such as Fannie Drazen’s in East Baltimore.

1909

Henrietta Szold takes her first trip to Palestine, where she is appalled by the health conditions of the Jewish and Arab residents. Upon her return, she organizes Zionist study groups and travels around the United States, speaking about Palestine.

 

1912

In New York, Henrietta Szold founds and is elected first President of the Hadassah Chapter of the Daughters of Zion. Two years later, the organization is re-named Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Hadassah funds and organizes progressive health and social services in the Land of Israel which eventually grow into the Hadassah Hospital, while Hadassah becomes the largest Jewish membership organization in the United States. A branch of Hadassah is established in Baltimore in 1913.

1915

Louis H. Levin, c. 1915. Photo by Nat Lipsitz, JMM 1987.80.2

Louis H. Levin, c. 1915. Photo by Nat Lipsitz, JMM 1987.80.2

Baltimoreans gain national attention by sending a thousand tons of food to starving Jews in Palestine. Louis H. Levin travels with the ship S.S. Vulcan to Palestine and supervises distribution of the food.

1917

In June, Zionists from around the country gather in Baltimore for a week-long meeting featuring leading Zionist thinkers and speakers. The convention and its distinguished guests inspire mass demonstrations in the City and inspire local Zionist activists and organizations.

Great Britain issues the Balfour Declaration on 2 November, declaring that Britain views “with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” When Great Britain organizes the Jewish Legion to help free Palestine from the Turks, Dr. Herman Seidel serves as a recruiting officer for the Legion in the Baltimore-Washington area. About 90 young Baltimoreans volunteer to serve. The Jewish Legion becomes the first Jewish “army” in modern times.

 Rabbi Abraham Schwartz (1871-1937). JMM 1976.1.1

Rabbi Abraham Schwartz (1871-1937). JMM 1976.1.1

A branch of the religious Zionist organization Mizrachi is organized in Baltimore by Rabbis Shepsal Schaffer, Avraham N. Schwartz, and Reuben Rivkin. Mizrachi, founded in 1902 as the religious faction of the World Zionist Organization, is based on the idea that Torah should be the guiding force of a Jewish state in Palestine

1918

Dr. Harry Friedenwald is appointed chairman of the Zionist Commission, intended to help realize the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine. The next year, Dr. Friedenwald, Rudolph Sonneborn, and others travel on a medical mission to Palestine.

 

Zionist Society of the Johns Hopkins Unversity, 1924. JMM 1991.104.4

Zionist Society of the Johns Hopkins Unversity, 1924. JMM 1991.104.4

Johns Hopkins University students and faculty organize the Collegiate Zionist Society of Baltimore. The Society holds a weekly study circle and monthly meetings to publicize Zionist ideas on campus and to raise funds for the cause. Professors David Blondheim, Aaron Ember, and Aaron Schaffer serve as faculty leaders and contribute to national college-level Zionist efforts. Jonas Friedenwald (1897-1955) serves as President of the Society during his years at Hopkins and later assists with the development of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School.

 

1920

Postcard certificate for the purchase of a tree for the Jewish National Fund, Tree Fund, 1919. JMM 1988.99.1

Postcard certificate for the purchase of a tree for the Jewish National Fund, Tree Fund, 1919. JMM 1988.99.1

Baltimore establishes its first Jewish National Fund Committee. The JNF was established in 1901 to purchase land in Palestine for Jewish settlement. By 1904, it had enough land for its first village, Kfar Hittim.

 

1920s

Two campers at Camp Moshava Labor Zionist Camp.Gift of the Beser Family,  JMM 1993.173.62

Two campers at Camp Moshava Labor Zionist Camp. Gift of the Beser Family, JMM 1993.173.62

Zionist youth groups establish summer programs, with outings in Druid Hill Park. In the 1930s, the Labor Zionist Habonim and the Religious Zionist Hashomer Hadati share a Severn River shore property owned by Sigmund Sonneborn. Today, Zionist education remains central to Habonim Camp Moshava near Bel Air, where campers speak Hebrew, practice Labor movement ideology, and enjoy Israeli dancing, theater, and arts.

 

1926

Seven women from the Labor Zionists (Poale Zion) organize a Baltimore chapter of Pioneer Women, the Women’s Labor Zionist Organization of America (today known as NA’AMAT USA). Through the years, the organization supports a variety of projects aimed at improving conditions for women and children in Palestine and, later, Israel. In 1972 the group opens a “Baltimore Day Care Center” in S’derot. Today, many Baltimoreans continue to participate in NA’AMAT USA and its mission to support the women and children of Israel.

1933

Henrietta Szold at AZMU in Jerusalem, c. 1920. JMM 1992.242.7.42a

Henrietta Szold at AZMU in Jerusalem, c. 1920. JMM 1992.242.7.42a

Henrietta Szold, now living in Palestine, organizes and supervises the Youth Aliyah movement to bring young Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to Palestine. The new organization secures visas, provides transportation, and helps to settle the new arrivals in Jewish agricultural settlements. The movement rescues 11,000 young German Jews from the Nazis.

1942

 Aaron Straus. JMM 1991.178.1

Aaron Straus. JMM 1991.178.1

The American Council for Judaism is founded primarily by Reform Jews to combat Jewish nationalism and oppose the establishment of a Jewish state. Baltimore philanthropist Aaron Straus (1865-1958) is a key financial backer and Rabbi Morris Lazaron (1888-1979) is one of its ideological spokesmen.

1945

On 25 June, Baltimorean Rudolf Sonneborn brings together Jewish industrial leaders in a New York meeting with David Ben-Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive in Palestine. In the 1950s, Sonneborn serves as national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal.

1947

Richard Henig in lower left, passengers on Exodus ship to Palestine, ca. 1945. JMM 1993.50.14

Richard Henig in lower left, passengers on Exodus ship to Palestine, ca. 1945. JMM 1993.50.14

Baltimore Jews purchase the S.S. President Warfield, a Chesapeake Bay steamer, re-fit the ship, and load a cargo of guns and ammunition. The ship sails to France where it embarks 4,530 Holocaust survivors destined for Palestine. The ship, re-named Exodus 1947, is intercepted by the British and its passengers are interned. The international furor that follows makes the Exodus “the ship that launched a State.”

1948

"They shall come home/Mazel Tov to Israel State/Sunday May 16th, 1948" from Ahavas Shalom Synagogue on Poppleton Street

“They shall come home/Mazel Tov to Israel State/Sunday May 16th, 1948” from Ahavas Shalom Synagogue on Poppleton Street. JMM T1989.13.2

The State of Israel is declared on 14 May. On the 19th, Baltimore Jews rally in support of the new state outside of Beth Tfiloh Synagogue. Speakers include Baltimore Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., who declares that “America must rally to the support of the new Jewish state, morally and in every way. As Americans we can do no less.” A second rally is organized at the Fifth Regiment Armory on 3 June, drawing 6,000 people at which actor Murray Slatkin reads a poem by Baltimorean Karl Shapiro: “When I think of the battle for Zion / I hear the drop of chains . . .”

Continue to Part III: Maryland and Israel, 1950 to 2008

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