The American Delegate(s)* at the First Zionist Congress Part 4

Posted on September 13th, 2017 by

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

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

Missed the beginning? Start here.

Rosa Sonnenschein, from The American Jewess. Courtesy of the University of Michigan.

Rosa Sonnenschein, from The American Jewess. Courtesy of the University of Michigan.

Rosa Sonneschein was a pioneering journalist, the founder of the first English-language magazine for Jewish women in the United States. In the pages of her magazine, The American Jewess, she promoted the National Council of Jewish Women and the Zionist movement. She had the distinction of attending both the first and second Zionist Congresses, reporting on the Congress in the pages of her journal.

Rosa Fassel was born in Moravia and grew up in Hungary, where she received excellent secular and Judaic educations, IN 1864 she married Solomon Hirsch Sonneschein, a radical Reform rabbi with a congregation in Croatia. After several moves the couple settled in St. Louis, where Mrs. Sonneschein was active in Jewish and German cultural life. By the mid-1880s Sonneschein had begun to publish stories in Jewish periodicals and in the German-language press.

In 1891 she separated from her husband; their divorce was finalized in 1893. Shortly after, Sonneschein participated in the Jewish Women’s Congress, which created the National Council of Jewish Women. In April 1895 she began editing The American Jewish. During the next four years she advocated for the expansion of women’s roles in the Synagogue and the Jewish community. She was also a staunch supporter of the Zionist idea, of Theodor Herzl, and of the Zionist Congress.

When financial difficulties forced the closing of The American Jewess in 1899, Sonneschein continued to write and travel, but was never again publicly active in Jewish women’s organizations or the Zionist movement. She died in St. Louis, where she had resided intermittently in her daughter’s home.[1]

Continue to Sidebar II: The Other Americans: Davis Treitsch (1870 – 1935)

[1] Jane H. Rothstein, “Sonneschein, Rosa,” in Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (New York: Rutledge, 1997), 1289-1291.

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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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