America's Two Zionist Traditions:
Brandeis and Weizmann
That Zionism has a tradition of its own in this country, with roots sunk deeper in the past than many a tradition that, on the face of it, appears more “native,” will come as a surprise to most readers.
Feeling the strong pressure of Israel to fulfill their Zionist duty and provide immigrants to Israel in substantial numbers, American Zionists have again come down with a case of aliyah fever. Shlomo Zalman Shragai, former mayor of Jerusalem, and now chief of the Aliyah (Immigration) Department of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, arrived here last May and for a fortnight addressed meetings of Orthodox groups, Zionist and non-Zionist, exhorting them in Yiddish to send forth men and women to settle in the land. At the same time, 75,000 American Jews associated with the Labor Zionist movement, many of them perhaps tenuously, had begun receiving questionnaires asking whether they plan, and how soon and under what circumstances, to pull up stakes and settle in Israel. Caught between the forensic Labor Zionists, with their forty-year history of “summoning the masses,” and the dogged, tense Shragai, other Zionist groups have likewise pledged themselves, not without reluctance perhaps, to join in stimulating “immigration from the West.”
This is not the first case of aliyah fever since the establishment of Israel. Playing for time, American Zionist leaders had at first assured Ben Gurion that if he were only patient they would eventually deliver real halutzim to him, American youth as ready for sacrifice and pioneer living as any from East Europe. Subsequently the sights were lowered quite a bit and the talk was all about professionals and technicians who would go to Israel for a year of service, rather than settling there permanently. Most recently, still without renouncing the earlier goals, American Zionists have spoken of middle-class, middle-aged immigrants with modest means who might set themselves up comfortably with a capital of $15,000 to $25,000. There have even been apologetic suggestions to the effect that no harm would come to Israel if a considerable proportion of American immigrants consisted of retired couples whose Social Security allotments, supplemented by modest savings, would go further in Tel Aviv than in New York.
Behind the present nervousness and sense of urgency lie a combination of circumstances, not all of them unfavorable. Zionist and Israeli government circles have begun to speak, with some gratification, and even surprise, of a trend toward American aliyah, numerically negligible perhaps, yet constant and perceptible nevertheless. Some of these olim have not even been cleared through Zionist institutions, nor have they bothered to determine their status with the Israeli authorities; this is why it is so difficult to ascertain their numbers from official agencies. They may be described as “lingering tourists,” people who linger on long enough to be regarded as residents. They include small-town shopkeepers or businessmen who had been bothered by fears of intermarriage as they watched their children grow into adolescence, and who, on visiting Israel, found they could do better by investing their small capital in Israel than by moving to Los Angeles or New York, where the danger of mixed marriage is less than in a small American community. You find some who have tarried in Israel for the sheer “adventure in living”; and among the latter you find some Gentile Americans who became enamored of the country while serving there as technical advisers—Dr. Walter Clay Lowdermilk is the most celebrated example. This trend has reassured those American Zionists skeptical of the prospects for aliyah and apprehensive about the charge of dual allegiance.
But there are other reasons, too, for Zionist aliyah talk. The Zionist movement stands less than a year away from the next World Zionist Congress. America’s Zionist leaders, especially the Laborites, who have over-committed themselves on aliyah, are wary of again facing the charge of having failed to produce aliyah. Their reaction may also, unconsciously, be related to David Ben Gurion’s return to government.
Ben Gurion is the chief exponent of an Israeli attitude that springs from an unqualified ignorance of the character of American Jewry. He has visited this country several times, once as prime minister, yet he has never permitted later impressions to supplant or modify those he carried back with him to Palestine after a brief sojourn in this country during World War I, when the American Jewish community was in a political and theological turmoil that was notably uncharacteristic of American Jewish life and has by now long subsided.
At that time Jewish communal life generally, and also American Zionism, was feeling the full impact of the new or relatively new immigrants whose problems, semantics, procedures, and tastes were conditioned by the same East European milieu as Ben Gurion’s. The new immigrants, with their prodigious energies, total absorption in political causes, and energetic pursuit of status and prestige, had temporarily unsettled the community. “Downtown” was rebelling against “Uptown,” the “yahudim” of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee were being compelled to give “yidn” representation in its counsels; the American Jewish Congress, elected by popular ballot, was challenging the august authority of the American Jewish Committee; East Side meeting halls, crowded to the rafters, shook with cheers, Bronx cheers, and even fisticuffs whenever Jewish ideologies were debated. Ben Gurion was a very young man at the time, one of a group of Palestinian and Russian Zionist visitors stranded here by the 1914 war. The group included that mature wit, Schmaryahu Levin, the future builder of the Palestine Electricity Station, Pinchas Rutenberg, and Isaac Ben Zvi, now President of Israel. They quickly became auxiliary leaders of the East Europeans’ revolution against the domination of the German Jews. It was in the course of this struggle that B.G.’s personality as a leader began to emerge; now, when he recalls American Jewry, he is really revisiting the scene of his hopeful youth. Behind his castigations of American Zionists for their dwindling zeal, there is probably much personal resentment over the discrepancy between his memories and present reality.
The interlude of fervor and activity which, through an accident of history Ben Gurion witnessed forty years ago, lasted no more than a decade, and American Jewry, and Zionism with it, then reverted to an earlier tradition. The slogans of that decade remained, however, and are with us today, and the inconsistency between their words and traditions on the one hand and their present behavior on the other is what has made American Zionists the target of B.G.’s polemical blasts. Nor can abstruse discourses on whether America is golah (exile) or tfutsah (dispersion) resolve the basic misunderstanding. Indeed, these discourses were introduced by the late Hayim Greenberg, essentially a Russian Zionist, who resorted to them as an unconscious means of reconciling his own very real private conflict. The truth is that American Zionists were never committed to the East European Zionist Shulchan Aruch, and even the mitzvot, the ritual commandments that Zionists everywhere had in common, were performed differently in America than in Europe. Unless American Zionists learn how to assert or reassert the particularism of their own American kind of Zionism, the conflict with Israelis of Ben Gurion’s cast of mind will continue.
Let us consider these separate traditions. On both continents, Zionism preceded Herzl. In Eastern Europe it was primarily a movement seeking to solve the very grave problems of the Jews under Czarist rule. It was the last of three stages in their struggle for emancipation. The first two Stages occurred simultaneously. Victims of a policy which hemmed them in geographically, economically, and culturally, young Russian Jews joined revolutionary movements while their elders petitioned for relief from harsh interdicts. The policy of the Czars also had harmful effects within the Jewish community, since in the narrow confines of the Pale the disciplines and prescriptions of Orthodoxy exacerbated the frustrations of the younger generation of Jews. The intramural struggle between the pious and “enlightened” gave rise to indiscriminate and unjustifiably bitter self-criticism, which indicated that the Czarist regime was succeeding in its policy of humbling the Jew and lowering his self-esteem. Not that this self-criticism was not warranted in part by objective conditions, but it was also stimulated by a predisposition toward masochistic introspection which the Russian Jew may have acquired from his Slav environment.
When the Lovers of Zion and Bilu (the student group who emigrated to Palestine in 1882) proposed their program of agricultural resettlement on the ancestral soil of Palestine, they pointed the way out of a dilemma. Here was the opportunity for simultaneous release from both Czarist oppression and Orthodox Jewish constriction, and for a restoration of Jewish self-esteem—life in the city, according to the view of that time, was contrary to natural law, and the shtetl was held to embody the worst features of decadent city life. This movement was thus launched by a rationalist generation set on three objectives: religious reform, social reform, and political franchise. There was almost nothing Messianic about it; after several traumatic experiences, even the most pious and mystic among the “learners of the ghetto” had become wary of Messianism.
None of the circumstances that brought East European Zionism into being existed in America. The emancipation that Russian Jewry hoped to gain by unrelenting struggle was the immigrant’s natural right almost from the moment of his disembarkation in this country. His religious discipline crumbled under the impact of American conditions; he was immediately given a full political franchise, though he kept on demanding it by conditioned reflex without yet knowing how to exercise it; and his impulses to social reform could well express themselves on the American scene within the trade union and the civil rights movements—and within the Jewish community by the struggle for recognition that followed the attainment of economic power by the “men with a trade,” who had formed the lower strata of Jewish society in the Pale.
This ferment from East Europe was introduced into an American community that already happened to enjoy considerable prestige, not only for its demonstrated character and achievements, but also because of its past cultural history. American culture had strong Hebraic roots; Hebrew characters adorned the portals of its oldest universities. In the Civil War both North and South had solicited doctrinal endorsement from the rabbinate. English-speaking poets on both sides of the Atlantic wrote with deference of the ancient Hebrew Witness to Sacred Revelations. Lincoln, Whitman, and Thoreau, each in his own way, evoked the rhythms and accents of the Old Testament. This high regard for Judaism and the Jew in Anglo-American tradition also set the pattern for the American Jew’s Zionism. European Zionism was concerned with the condition of the Jew, but was not enamored of his personality. The earliest American Zionism, in the days of Mordecai Emanuel Noah and Emma Lazarus, proudly proclaimed its pride of Jewish birth and invoked the respect for the Holy Land and the Chosen People that was traditional in Bible-reading America.
Louis Lipsky shows himself aware of this difference in Zionist traditions when in his fragmentary Memoir he writes of his great antagonist in American Zionism, Louis D. Brandeis: “His romantic impulse had been touched. He seemed prepared for the ideal adventure of a Chosen People, and he wanted the best Jewish talent to be summoned to build the New Zion.” Lipsky also writes: “I recall reading Emma Lazarus’ ‘Banner of the Jew’; what a lyric voice! how it stirred racial memories. But the probably more Jewish modern Zionist poetry fails to arouse an equal enthusiasm.” And again: “I recall the early reading of Eugene Sue’s Wandering Jew as if it were yesterday. But recollection of the first impression of Herzl’s Jewish State is a blur. The passionate eloquence of Mordecai in Daniel Deronda stirs me yet. It still gives me a refreshing thrill of quick recognition. But the masterly eloquence of Max Nordau at Zionist Congresses pales under the scrutiny of cool reason which quenches its fire.”
It is obvious that each of the two Zionisms reflected the image that the larger community had of the Jew. European Zionism, like all Jewish emancipation movements on the Continent, tended to see some, if not all, aspects and classes of Jewry through the less than charitable eyes of Christian Europe. American Zionism, in its nascent pre-Herzlian stages when it spoke with a Sephardic or German voice, saw the Jew in the same romantic light with which he was suffused in the eyes of the Anglo-Saxon community. Hence European Zionism made it its purpose to rehabilitate the Jew and make him as good as others, while American Zionism, like the early Christian Zionists in Britain and America, was essentially a delayed messianism stressing the incorruptible, essential, and enduring nobility of the Jew.
The time was auspicious for messianism. America, from just before the Civil War right down to 1918, had been retreating from the cool reason of the framers of the Constitution and experiencing a series of messianic convulsions that included Abolitionism, the Populist movements, the “phalanxes,” and the various other Utopian socialist settlements. It was a time of soaring dreams and bombast, of tragedy and high destiny. But, of course, this early American Zionism, however romantic its cast, arose in answer to very real Jewish needs overseas. Mordecai Emanuel Noah’s Zionism was a response to the Damascus “ritual murder” libel and its consequences for the Jews of the Levant, and Emma Lazarus’, to the Russian pogroms of 1881. America was then playing the big brother to Continental revolutions. How natural that American Jews should also feel an obligation to play the big brother to their persecuted fellow Jews; and then, too, there was their own tradition of pidyon shevuyim, the “ransoming of the captives,” which was a centuries’ old practice, especially among the Sephardic Jews, inveterate ocean travelers, merchant princes, and fugitives from Inquisitions.
There was still another, purely American, reason for the emergence of pre-Herzlian Zionism and for the subsequent endorsement of Herzl even by some members of that extremist wing of the Reform rabbinate which had substituted Sunday for the Jewish Sabbath—the “Social Gospel” and social reform movement in America. Christian ministers were descending into the slums and sweatshops and the Reform rabbi sought a similar ministry among the mass of Russian Jewish immigrants at the turn of the century. However, Bernard Felsenthal, the later Stephen S. Wise, and Judah L. Magnes could not expect these immigrant slum-dwellers to respond to their Protestantized or Unitarianized piety; the East European Jew was either Orthodox or anti-religious. Some other means of communication had to be found. Zionism provided this means of communication. Thus, from the very beginning a group of Reform rabbis who had little theology to offer became the spokesmen of the Jewish immigrant masses in three major areas of concern—nationalism or Zionism, the struggle against sweatshop exploitation, and the revolution against the dominance of the yahudim, the by then well-established German Jews.
American Judaism was experiencing a grave crisis. The Reform rabbinate, composed of Jews of German origin, was preaching to scantily filled pews. When the East European Jews came on the American scene with their prodigious needs and energies, their ethnic culture, and their secular nationalism—of which Zionism was the most forceful expression—the Reform rabbis who were affiliated with Zionism suddenly found that their talk of Israel’s Mission and the messianic millennium had taken on concrete relevance. Social reform and Zionism—the latter term is used here to embrace all those who help Israel politically and philanthropically—have remained to this day bricks and mortar of American Jewish community cohesion. It was this combined impulse that brought Louis D. Brandeis to Zionism. He began as an arbitrator in garment trade strikes and ended up as a controversial figure in world Zionism. American Zionism was, and still is, a fascinating admixture of tsedakah and a Messianic pragmatism, therefore something quite different from European Zionism.
The difference between these two traditions in Zionism was sharply revealed for the first time at the convention of the Zionist Organization of America in Cleveland in 1921. Historians, depending on where their sympathies lie, have variously described the convention as one in which the disciples of Louis D. Brandeis deserted the Zionist movement, or as one which saw them purged by the followers of Chaim Weizmann. Veterans of that struggle who then opposed Brandeis find themselves today, by a twist of fate, explicitly or implicitly upholding his ideas against Ben Gurion’s attacks. It is apparent that the issues over which Weizmann and Brandeis divided are almost exactly the same issues—due allowance being given to the changed circumstances of our time—in dispute today between the Israelis and American Zionists.
Louis Lipsky again: “The words of the Zionist [European] vocabulary had to be learned, and that was a jaw-breaking task. We had to learn the technique of an Austrian parliamentary system which had been adopted by the Zionist Organization . . . and then, more difficult, the full significance of Galut which, in Zionist idiom, became a terrible complicated monster.”
As against this conception there was the definition of Galut given by Judge Julian V. Mack, a Brandeisist, to which the Weizmannists took violent exception. Yet it is a definition that the average American Zionist holds today. Mack described “the Jews scattered throughout the world” as “a living nationality in the sense of a people with a common inheritance, a common tradition, and for the large part a common religion.” However, “The question of the recognition of the Jews in any country as a separate and distinct group was a question to be decided in each of these countries. . . . When in Paris we asked for national rights for the Jews in the new and enlarged states of Eastern Europe, we asked it for them when we asked it for every national group in each of these countries because, as we then asserted, equality of treatment to which the Jew is entitled meant equality as an individual with each other group or nationality within the country. But we asserted then, as we assert now, that in the United States of America and in the countries of Western Europe, there are no group-nationality political rights and we asserted and claimed none for the Jews in America, as no group in America asserted or claimed such rights for itself. We asserted then, as we assert now, that in Palestine the Jews, when the time came, would be the dominating element, would form a political nation in Palestine, but the thought of a political status of the Jews of the world was an impossible conception.”
Dr. Schmaryahu Levin, a member of the Chaim Weizmann-Albert Einstein delegation to American Jewry, replied to Mack. “We are for the time being a nation in exile,” he told the convention, “a dispersed nation, and if we are to put a ban on Diaspora Nationalism, what kind of Nationalism, I ask, would remain to us? Here is a conception created by Zionist leaders which . . . might mean the complete negation of our hope, for it is directed against the very foundation of our national claim. That we are not in the Diaspora a political nationality is self-evident, and it is simply vicious to assert this fact as though there were Zionists who denied it. But to deny Diaspora Nationalism is to deny our existence as a nation. It is to say: there is no Jewish nation in exile; the Jewish nation is to come to birth in Palestine. Or, if one is to be logical, one should say: in Palestine will come to birth not the Jewish nation, but a Jewish nation, and a brand new one, for the old one is really no more. . . .
“Were the statesmen who have taken it upon themselves to return Palestine to the Jewish nation to adopt the point of view of the American Zionist leaders, they could claim the entire agreement was based on a misunderstanding . . . .”
Louis Lipsky, who was a leader in the Weizmann camp, writes retrospectively that what troubled Zionism even then was “the charge of ‘double’ patriotism, which at irregular intervals would rise up to plague and disturb us. It was a heavy boulder in our path.” Mack’s fear of the jargon of Schmaryahu Levin’s Zionism possibly had in it some of the same distress and embarrassment which U.S. Zionists feel about the Israeli Zionist jargon. Nonetheless, Levin’s statement that “we are not in the Diaspora a political nation” should have been reassuring on that score, just as Mack’s definition of the Jews “as a living nationality” should, in turn, have left no doubt about his Zionist fealty.
But what Mack and Levin each said meant one thing in the context of the European experience and another in the context of the American one. Mack’s definition was actually a repudiation of Zionism’s determinist interpretation of the course of post-Emancipation Jewish history. What he announced was the heresy that is today at the root of Israel’s controversy with American Zionism—that American Jewry is not subject to what Herzl and Nordau, the bourgeois liberals, no less than Ber Borochov, the theoretician of Marxist Zionism, viewed as the immutable and inexorable laws of Jewish destiny in the Diaspora, and from which there was no release except through the Ingathering of the Exiles. Levin, and the Weizmannists generally, were undoubtedly aware that American conditions precluded the re-creation here of European patterns, yet this very fact caused them to regard the prospects for the viability of American Jewry as even slimmer than those of European Jewry. To them, the term “living nationality” was probably as hollow as the Reform rabbinate’s “mission of Israel” if it did not connote the vigorous and tumultuous activity of the European kehillah, the posting of Jewish slates in elections to the Duma and Sejm, and a struggle for recognition as a national minority along with other minority nations in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Nationalist fever was sweeping large areas of Europe. To Brandeis and Mack this was an alien emotion and experience: America was a nation of peoples; minorities survived by voluntary association, not because of their legal status, and Independence Day was more an occasion for family picnics than for martial parades.
It is interesting that the timing and context of the schisms were approximately the same in 1921 and in 1951. Chaim Weizmann castigated American Zionists just three years after their magnificent contribution to the diplomatic victory at San Remo. Ben Gurion accused them just three years after their magnificent contribution to the establishment of Israel. “I have and I formulate here a definite accusation, a definite charge . . . before the bar of history. American [Zionist] leadership did not understand the moment. They failed to grasp it . . . here began the degradation of our movement . . . [the American Zionist leaders] cut the Zionist program to fit [their] circumstances.” These words of Weizmann’s in Cleveland in 1921 might have been spoken by Ben Gurion in New York City in 1951. The Brandeisists accused Weizmann of allying behind their back with the non-Zionists. The whole American Zionist movement has been making similar charges against Ben Gurion and the Israelis generally. Weizmann explained that the relationship was “complicated” because “some non-Zionist American Jews whom I was intensely anxious to win over for practical work in Palestine [e.g., Louis Marshall and his friends] disliked the Brandeis group.” The Israelis today offer similar explanations. The Brandeisists then, like the entire American Zionist movement today, demanded a greater voice in Palestinian affairs, and accused the Palestinian-Europeans (today’s Israelis) of meddling in American Zionist affairs; in reply to which Weizmann then, like Ben Gurion today, accused the Americans of seeking to dictate to the Yishuv. The crowning indictment, then as today, was that American Zionism had been “reduced” to the level of “mere philanthropy,” and, even in this sphere, was performing less effectively than non-Zionists.
American philanthropy, however, was not kitzvah or halukah (dole) in the East European sense of the word, and this is something that the Continental and Israeli Zionist have not yet fully realized. Kitzvah, in the shtetl, was controlled arbitrarily by affluent gabaim until the intramural revolution in the kehillot turned them out and substituted self-help for the charitable dole. In this country, after a brief and successful struggle to democratize the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, philanthropy became a community-wide function, an efficient and impersonal pooling of resources for multitudinous ends—education, civic defense, charity, and international political action. American Jewry, it might be said, anticipated the methods of the Marshall Plan by several decades in the system by which it gave aid to world Jewry. That philanthropy in America is not charity but social action is something very difficult for foreigners to understand.
Around the austere Brandeis had assembled some of the early veterans of American Zionism, old immigrants or American-born scions of distinguished yahudi families, and a host of fledglings who in the course of time were to acquire high status in their special fields. There was Felix Frankfurter, whose caustic tongue was not yet tempered by judicial dignity, Stephen S. Wise, already the friend of presidents, and the very young Abba Hillel Silver. Ben Cohen hovered in the wings, an incognito young princeling.
The rank and file of American Zionism, which went along with Weizmann in voting for the ouster of Brandeis, was largely composed of relatively recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, Yiddish-speaking and Hebrew-schooled. As a seasoning, but no more than a seasoning, there was a handful of American-born intellectuals who had themselves sprung from this milieu. Foremost among these was the immigrant Rochester shochet’s son, Louis Lipsky, whose elongated skull and features could fit even then among the family portraits of Yankee traders, clergymen, and college presidents. Louis Lipsky’s immediate, intuitive identification with the “masses,” and Stephen S. Wise’s later return to them, is not to be accounted for by romantic enchantment alone. Lipsky still recalls impassionately that the Brandeisists, in his view, sought to impose the authority of an American Zionist elite upon the Zionist rank and file in this country and upon world Zionism, and that there was implicit humiliation for European Zionism in their demands. Dr. Wise returned to the Zionist Organization apparently because he felt that democratic procedure required the minority, i.e., the Brandeisists, to continue active participation in the Z.O.A. despite their defeat at the convention. However, there were still deeper causes for the Brandeis-Weizmann split.
A deep cultural schism separated the two groupings, a projection into the Zionist movement of the “people’s revolt” against the yahudim of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the American Jewish Committee. A strange and sad Zionist pattern repeated itself: the East European Zionists had once before acclaimed and then savagely renounced a messiah who had come to them from outside the Pale. Theodor Herzl’s heart broke beyond mending because of the callous way in which he was repudiated on Uganda. Now came Brandeis’s turn. Perhaps the East European immigrant Zionists were seeking to assuage their own guilty consciences in accusing Brandeis of lack of Zionist loyalty. They had come here with the slogans and dreams of a Zionism patterned in considerable part on the nationalist movements of their native lands. World War I was over; the slogans were being hammered into policy in Poland, the Baltics, and Russia, and the Zionist dream was becoming flesh in Palestine. By their very emigration to America they had excluded themselves from these great and hazardous experiences and the obligations following upon them. By their verbal identification with the events they had fled from, they could participate in them at least vicariously. Brandeis’s counsel ran counter to their needs and their mood. He spoke out of alien attitudes and experiences.
This may explain why of all Zionist groups, Hadassah alone stayed with Brandeis for many years. Hadassah was composed almost entirely, from the very beginning, of native American Zionists reared in the tradition of philanthropy as social action.
What is paradoxical, however, is that all of American Zionism was to become converted eventually under Weizmann’s global stewardship into a movement of philanthropic social action, very much like Hadassah, however much it clung to political shibboleths and even to its ideological contempt for philanthropy. Brandeis had been ousted, but his view prevailed.
The difference between Hadassah and the other groups lay primarily in Hadassah’s Brandeisian accent on such projects as nursing schools and hospitals, while the rest of the movement concentrated on fund-raising for the more general Zionist causes. With the retirement of Brandeis, however, the whole future evolution of American Zionism changed. That sizable contingent of the native Jewish intellectual elite which had been attracted by his prestige retired with him, or trickled away in the years immediately after. Their kind, in any such numbers, was never again to return to American Zionism as an organized movement. Leadership passed on to the East European immigrant intellectuals, Yiddish journalists and orators, but these were soon to be forced into a corner by the combined circumstance of the declining use of Yiddish and the emergence of the “managerial” Zionist.
With Weizmann continuing to advocate practical effort as the wisest and most expedient diplomacy, the fund-raiser became dominant. The fervent contributor to the little JNF blue-and-white box—which was the fund-raising instrument of the Stone Age of Zionism—was replaced by the affluent big contributor, and the giver and the fundraiser were to dislodge both the intellectual and the humble “klal tooer” with a heart but no means. This was a universal evolution affecting all American Jewry and occurred simultaneously among Zionists and non-Zionists and in all areas of Jewish life.
The rise of the promoter and fund-raiser spelled the decline of American Zionism as an intellectual movement and the suspension of all Zionist ideological debate.
Debate was not to be resumed again until the 1940’s, and even then it was not ideological. The bitter differences between the official Zionist movement and the Irgun were largely over methods. It was a difficult and wondrous period for American Jewry, which vacillated between despondence and exaltation as it shared vicariously the humiliation and destruction of Jews under Hitler and the heroic feats of the Palestinian underground. The professional “community organizers” took hold of the American Jewish community more firmly, as they expanded fund-raising operations, set up hierarchal strata of givers, and devised new solicitation techniques. The distinction between Zionists and non-Zionists largely disappeared. When Prime Minister Ben Gurion rode down Broadway under a shower of ticker tape in 1951, the hundreds of thousands that cheered him included Zionists and non-Zionists alike. Ben Gurion may well have mistaken this enthusiasm for the kind of ideological fervor that had characterized the East Side of World War I days. In any case, he suddenly became more insistent in his demands that American Zionists come and help build “land and nation.” Out of practice in ideological discussion, the leaders of American Zionism could only apologize for not coming, and plead for dispensation. But the challenge continues to come from Israel: how does Zionism differ from non-Zionism if you do not come and settle with us?
Yet the answer may well be simple. It lies in the pre-1921 American Zionist tradition. Messianism in the guise of social action, not national fervor, had been the very foundation of early American Zionism. Except for calls issued by the American Poale Zion, there was no special outcry from any quarter for olim from America in the years of World War I and immediately thereafter; and in the 1930’s, when the British were so parsimonious with allotments of halutz immigration certificates, Americans were indeed discouraged from sharing in the pool, for which there was a long queue in Poland. But in the era of the Balfour Declaration, some very distinguished olim had come from America, of a caliber unmatched since, natives of yahudi stock—the idealistic Judah L. Magnes, the tender Jessie Sampter whose remains are interred in the large collective settlement Givat Brenner where she had made her home, and the nurses inspired by the revered Henrietta Szold, who, like East Europe’s Labor Zionist ideologist, the saintly A. D. Gordon, settled in Palestine when past middle age. They came because of an inexorable passion to serve, to fashion for themselves a useful destiny, on the pattern of the Quakers, the Social Gospelists, the Social Reformers.
There were many factors operating against such Zionist immigration from America after the establishment of the State of Israel. There was the essential non-intellectualism of the movement in America for the past several decades, and social idealism is primarily a quality of intellectuals. There was the inhibition in American youth of the political and social impulse all through the Communist-McCarthy interlude; there is the fact that Israel, like all new postwar states, although in lesser degree, suffers moral vagaries which dishearten those who might have sought to fill a social mission there. There has also been perhaps the offensiveness of Ben Gurion’s nationalist appeals, which belong by right to another era and another climate.
However, when the need for service reasserts itself in American Jewish youth, the Zionist movement will once again have the opportunity to channel the energy generated by the impulse toward social action into service in Israel. The Zionist movement is ideologically committed to regard Israel as the axis, spiritually and culturally, of Jewish survival, and other Jewish communities as ancillary or auxiliary in this respect. There is no other movement or grouping in Jewish life, however well disposed to Israel, that is similarly committed. And there is still another distinction.
All American Jewish organizations fall roughly into the three categories of defense, philanthropy, and religion. The first two are primarily concerned with social action in some form. There is evidence of apprehension among all three categories of Jewish organizational life that defense and philanthropy alone, and the liberal commitments that are regarded as consistent with Prophetic tradition, cannot go on indefinitely being the substance of a gratifying community existence. However, none seem to have realized as poignantly as does the rabbinate—perhaps because large sections of the latter have long erred in the other direction—that social action in the secular liberal sense cannot substitute for the religious-cultural experience. Hence the rabbinate, or sections of it, are desperately trying to induce—if not the reality at least the appearance of—this experience in themselves and in their parishioners, as is demonstrated by their almost unprecedented concern with the home activities and leisure-hour concerns of the American Jew. This, as it happens, is an area in which the Zionist movement might hope to accomplish much by virtue of its very catholicity, and because it is to this kind of activity, no less than to the establishment of Jewish political sovereignty, that Zionist ideology is committed. Not defense, the observance of ritual, or tsedakah alone, but these and many other ingredients go into making the hypothetical complete Jew.
But before it can perform usefully in this area, the Zionist movement must recapture the wholeness of its ideology; namely, the messianism of the American Zionist tradition and the concern with Jewish higher studies, elementary education, and Hebrew culture that once characterized all Zionism, both American and European. It will have to become again, as it was in the days of Herzl, Nordau, Gottheil, and Felsenthal, a movement that can win the interest and commitment of the Jewish intellectual elite.
American conditions, precisely because they offer him full participation in the larger community, can at best produce only a fragmentary Jew. The various survivalist doctrines tend to fragmentize the Jew further, into a Yiddishist, Hebraist, or Reconstructionist. The Zionist movement, with its experience in accommodating a diversity of ideological breeds, from Hashomer Hatzair to the General Zionists, could render a signal service to American Jewry by admitting under its roof the many survivalist doctrines; by offering the American Jew a variety of satisfactions, Zionism could claim a larger proportion of his time and preoccupations for “Jewish living.” This would mean, of course, a constant and arduous effort to disentangle more of him from the claims and distractions of the larger community and to confine him within “introverted” or Jewish-centered activities. Such a contest between the Jewish and general community, however, would be no life-and-death struggle for the “soul” of the American Jew, but something falling within a traditional pattern—the kind of contest that pits family against community or individual against family, and leads not to the utter triumph of the one and defeat of the other, but to a better balance between the two.