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Abba Hillel Silver: A Profile in American Judaism.

Recent Trends in the Historiography of American Zionism

"In his lifetime, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was among the giants in Jewish life," note Mark Raider, Jonathan Sarna and Ronald Zweig in their introduction to Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, comparing Silver's stature to that of Louis Brandeis, Theodor Herzl, and David Ben-Gurion, among others. However one ranks such men, there can be little doubt that, as Raider, Sarna and Zweig point out, "Silver's biography holds significant implications for modern Jewish history." That being the case, it is a wonder that it was not until 1996 that the first academic conference devoted to examining Silver's life finally took place. The lectures delivered at that Brandeis University conference, which have been brought together by Raider, Sarna and Zweig in Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, shed new light on the man and his era, as well as on broader historical questions concerning American Jewry and American Zionism.

Although the blurb on the back of the Raider-Sarna-Zweig collection claims Silver's "singular role in the establishment of the State of Israel has been hitherto neglected," in fact Marc L. Raphael's thorough and insightful biography, Abba Hillel Silver: A Profile in American Judaism, preceded the Brandeis conference by seven years.' Raphael's volume charts the life and times of a man whose personal evolution in many ways mirrored the changing attitudes in the broader Jewish community. He entered the rabbinate at a time when the Reform movement, "influenced by the optimism and social Darwinism of the 19th and early 20th centuries," chose to "negate the particularistic elements in Jewish peoplehood and affirmed Israel's universal mission to disseminate a special ethic--the prophetic ideals of social justice." Then the ideal clashed with reality. "The disillusionment caused by World War I coupled with the rise of Nazism destroyed this sense of optimism and sense of progress." Silver, like many American Jews, turned to Zionism. Many other Reform rabbis, if not becoming full-fledged Zionists, were at least moved to turn away from anti-Zionism, a trend that intensified in proportion to the persecution of Jews in Europe. While Silver was not the first Reform rabbi to embrace Zionism, Raphael regards the others, such as Stephen Wise, as "Reform rabbis who were Zionists," whereas Silver became the opposite, a Zionist who was also a Reform rabbi, "for whom Jewish statehood and Hebrew culture were increasingly the highest values of his career." That is not to suggest Silver abandoned his congregants; on the contrary, as Raphael notes, he "rushed home each week from lobbying on Capitol Hill or at the United Nations to teach and preach to and marry and bury his congregants." In Washington and New York, he affected the course of history; in Cleveland, he continued to affect individual lives.(2)

Silver's rise to power in the Zionist world in 1943 both mirrored and was given its impetus by the increasingly militant mood in the Jewish community in response to Nazi atrocities and Allied apathy. Silver was briefly pushed out of the American Zionist leadership by Stephen Wise's faction in late 1944, but triumphantly returned six months later, dramatically illustrating the inability of the older leadership to withstand grassroots pressure for an activist response to the Jewish catastrophe. Silver's high-profile lobbying in Washington and his mobilization of Jews nationwide for his campaign of rallies and political action demonstrated the emergence of American Jewish political power as a force to be reckoned with. In particular, his "eloquent and consistent challenges to President Roosevelt" (as Raphael puts it) departed from the traditional Jewish loyalty to the Democrats and marked a crucial stage in the political maturation of American Jewry.

Although the suffering of European Jewry was the catalyst for the changed American Jewish mood that brought Silver to power, Silver's challenges to the Roosevelt administration focused on FDR's attitude toward Palestine, not the U.S. response to the Holocaust. According to two recent studies, Aaron Berman's Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism and David Shpiro's From Philanthropy to Activism, Silver focused on Palestine precisely because he believed that Zionism was the answer to the Nazi persecutions.(3) Rather than seek the admission of more Jewish refugees to the United States or Allied measures that would provide temporary relief for some Jews in Europe, Silver preferred to set his sights on the long range goal of statehood. A Jewish state would provide a haven for Jews fleeing Hitler as well as future persecutors.

How exactly did Silver envision the societal, cultural, economic, and geographic contours of the Jewish State for whose creation he fought so passionately? Not many pre-1948 American Zionists were thinking that far ahead. In Palestine itself, the Zionist left and right battled over the future makeup of the state-to-be, but, as Aryeh Goren noted in a recent essay, such debates were "beyond the ken or care of most American Zionists, except for some intellectuals and the socialist Poalei Zion [Labor Zionists], who were more European than American." For the overwhelming majority of American Zionists, Goren writes, "their nonideological, philanthropic Zionism had little room for such issues as the type of settlers needed in Palestine, how they should be trained, what their ultimate purpose should be, and whether a national kibbutz or a federation of independent kibbutzim was preferable."(4)

In the new Raider-Sarna-Zweig volume, Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, competing interpretations of Silver's vision of the future Jewish state are offered by Goren and Hasia Diner, on the one hand, and Mark Raider, on the other. Goren maintains that Silver's support for labor rights in America did not necessarily translate into an endorsement of Labor Zionism in Palestine. Silver did believe in the importance of what Goren calls "the halutz ethos" of physical labor and social responsibility. "However, as an American progressive"--as distinct from the typical European-born Labor Zionist--"Silver emphasized the primacy of individual freedom, the opportunity it offered through free choice for economic and social growth, and he expressed his distrust for dogmatic ideologies." Goren quotes a 1929 speech in which Silver endorsed "the primacy of [the individuals] claims over the claims of all forms of human organization"--quite the opposite of socialism. Silver never felt entirely comfortable with Palestine's Labor Zionists, nor they with he; "for Labor [Zionists], his social reform was not rigorous enough nor anchored in socialist doctrine."(5)

Hasia Diner, in her contribution to Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, contends that Silver's attachment to social reform and other aspects of American Progressivism played a crucial and often overlooked role in the shaping of his Zionism. Diner disagrees with those historians who have portrayed Silver as "the fiery Zionist leader, the eloquent crusader for a Jewish state ... a kind of single-minded devotee of a single cause, disembodied from his concerns about the American nation." In her view, Silver's "vision of what an invigorated, meaningful democracy could do for America was infolded with his vision of what Zionism could do for American Jewry."(6)

Goren, for his part, also cites Silver's "Inclination to embrace a Zionist geography that approached if it was not identical with the Revisionist program." Speaking in Tel Aviv in 1933, Silver declared: "We need a spacious haven, no mere corner, nor a narrow, fenced-in place, as Eretz Yisrael is today, divided into two. Rather, from the desert and the Lebanon unto the great river, the Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the great sea will be our boundary ... In this place, on both sides of the Jordan, we will create our new life." As Goren points out, the phrase Silver used for "both sides of the Jordan," shtey gadot la-Yarden, "was the motif of the Revisionist Zionist hymn." In subsequent years, Silver publicly protested the British separation of Transjordan from Palestine, and his vigorous opposition, in 1946, to the Jewish Agency decision in favor of partitioning (Western) Palestine "stemmed not only from his view that a horrendous diplomatic blunder had been made--it flowed at least in part from an emotional tie to the physical Land."(7)

A profoundly different interpretation of Silver's viewpoint is offered by Mark Raider. It is worth examining in some detail because it is the first serious examination of one of the major unexplored areas of Silver's life, his relationship with the Zionist right. Raider, whose doctoral dissertation chronicled the history of Labor Zionism in America, believes Silver to have been a supporter of socialist Zionism and a foe of Jabotinsky and Revisionism.(8) "Though [Silver] identified most fully with the General Zionist platform"--an acknowledgment of some significance, since the General Zionists were often at odds with the Laborites--"his favorable disposition toward the Zionist pioneers associated with the Labor movement dated back to 1919." Raider proceeds to quote several statements by Silver praising those pioneers. But one should not assume that because Silver praised the efforts of the pioneers, and many of the pioneers were Labor Zionists, therefore Silver must have supported Labor Zionism as such. A more likely explanation is that Silver praised the pioneers because they were the ones draining swamps and irrigating deserts, not because he had any special admiration for communal living or theories of class struggle.

"Silver's attitude toward the Labor [Zionist] enterprise was the product of two confluent streams of thought," Raider continues. One of those streams was "Silver's own East European upbringing [which] implanted in him an openness and sensitivity to the utopian aspirations of the halutzim." But would an East European upbringing necessarily make a person more likely to embrace Labor Zionism? Jabotinsky and many other opponents of Labor likewise had East European upbringings; in fact, Poland eventually became Revisionism's stronghold.(9)

The second stream of thought that Raider believes drew Silver closer to socialist Zionism was what Raider calls "the messianic proclivity of the immigrant milieu." One problem with this proposition is that Silver left New York's immigrant milieu for Cincinnati when he was still a teenager. Moreover, to what extent did New York's "immigrant milieu" really teem with "messianism"? Many historians of American Jewry take a skeptical view. Edward Shapiro, for example, has written that "the Jewish businessman was far more representative of the [Lower East Side] world of our fathers than the socialist ideologue or the Yiddish poet ... the demon which haunted the minds of the Jewish immigrants was economic insecurity, and economic success, more than anything else, was their driving ambition."(10) Socialist street-corner preachers may have occasionally invoked the messianic allusions of the biblical prophets, Jeffrey Gurock has noted, but "these holy references were mostly the best way of communicating to their still-religious potential constituency" rather than an indication of genuine messianic fervor sweeping the ghetto."

During the 1930s, according to Raider, Silver "did not support and was less tolerant of" Revisionist Zionism because Revisionism "became embroiled in a protracted struggle between Jabotinsky and the Palestinian leader Abba Achimeir, who rejected democracy and embraced the model of Italian fascism"--and Silver, Raider emphasizes, "categorically opposed 'all Fascist, Nazi and Communist governments and movements.'" The juxtaposition of Raider's characterization of Revisionism and Silver's remark about fascism seems to imply that Silver was referring to Revisionism as fascistic. But Silver's vocal distaste for totalitarianism in general does not necessarily reveal anything about Silver's attitude toward Revisionism, since the Revisionist movement did not embrace fascism. Jabotinsky and Achimeir did not command factions of comparable size and stature; Jabotinsky was the unquestioned leader of the movement, supported by the vast majority of its members, whereas Achimeir's approach attracted only a handful of followers. Achimeir's writings may have caused a brief stir within the Revisionist movement in the early 1930s, but when the Achimeir line was put to a vote at the 1932 Revisionist world conference, it was overwhelmingly defeated. Achimeir spent 1933-1935 in prison (detained in connection with the Arlosoroff assassination, he was eventually cleared of that charge but then jailed for anti-British activities) and faded into obscurity afterwards.(12)

Raider does not produce any statements made by Silver, privately or publicly, in which he explicitly criticized Jabotinsky or Revisionist Zionism.(13) Instead, he points to the fact that while some other Jewish leaders criticized Revisionism during the 1920s and 1930s, "Silver himself remained conspicuously silent." Furthermore, Raider adds, when Jabotinsky visited the United States in 1926 and wrote Silver that he felt "unwelcome" in Cleveland, "Silver did nothing to alter Jabotinsky's perception."(14) Was Jabotinsky indeed angling for a speaking engagement at Silver's synagogue, and was Silver rebuffing him? The documents suggest otherwise. According to the Silver-Jabotinsky correspondence, the Revisionist leader was returning to Europe shortly, and he hoped for a private talk with Silver in New York, since he had no engagements that would bring him to Ohio. Jabotinsky's letter to Silver was casual, friendly, even humorous. Silver, in his reply, expressed "exceeding regret" that he would not be in New York in the near future, and that Jabotinsky had been out of town when Silver had recently visited Manhattan. Silver noted that he might be in Palestine in the summertime, and suggested they meet there. Their exchange sounds more like a simple scheduling conflict than a case of Silver cold-shouldering an ideological foe.(15)

As for Silver's view of Revisionism later on, Raider claims that in the 1940s, too, "when Revisionist Zionists sought to establish a foothold in the United States, Silver actively maintained his distance from the Zionist right."(16) In fact, far from "distancing" himself from the Zionist right, Silver initiated and maintained a friendly and sometimes even collaborative relationship with the U.S. Revisionist Zionists after he became cochairman of the American Zionist Emergency Council in late 1943. Silver "pleaded" (as Hadassah officials put it) with his AZEC colleagues to grant membership on the Council to the New Zionist Organization of America, as the U.S. Revisionists were known.(17) (They had been initially excluded from the AZEC because their parent body had seceded from the AZECs parent body, the World Zionist Organization, back in 1935.)

Significantly, Silver also installed three leading Revisionists in senior positions in the American Zionist establishment. Eliahu Ben-Horin, a key leader of the U.S. Revisionists during 1940-1943, was hired in the autumn of 1945 to advise Silver on political affairs, handle AZEC's contacts with VIPs, and author AZEC literature, including portions of the AZEC newsletter Palestine. Veteran Revisionist leader Benjamin Akzin, who had been working in a limited capacity in AZEC's New York office, was promoted by Silver to become director of AZEC's important Washington office in late 1945. In 1947, Silver hired Dr. Joseph Schechtman, the longtime aide to Jabotinsky and Revisionist delegate to the AZEC, to author studies of the Arab refugee issue for the American Section of the Jewish Agency, which Silver also chaired. Menachem Begin, leader of the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi, recalled in his memoirs that when he secretly met Silver in Palestine in 1947, he heard from Silver "words of encouragement for our struggle instead of the usual denunciations" by Jewish leaders.(18) Likewise, Irgun emissary Shmuel Katz, who met Silver in New York in 1948, was "astonished by the warmth" Silver displayed. According to Katz, Silver said he "whole-heartedly favored" the Irgun's war against the British forces in Palestine.(19) Silver's critics certainly considered him to be too far to the right; Nahum Goldmann, for example, complained that Silver was "sympathetic to [the Irgun's] activities and often condoned them"; The Reconstructionist chastised Silver for failing to specifically condemn Jewish violence against the British at the 1946 ZOA convention.(20)

Despite its shortcomings, the new Silver volume is an important addition to American Zionist historiography. It joins an impressive body of scholarly literature on American Zionism that has gradually made its appearance over the course of the past decade. The hallmark of this new scholarship has been its willingness to scrutinize controversial topics and thereby enrich our understanding of the American Zionist experience, even if it has meant unveiling clay feet on some heroes of old. The new scholarship is also more specialized, which is important because many of the general histories of American Jewry--including recent works such as Arthur Hertzberg's The Jews in America,(21) Howard Sachar's A History of the Jews in America,(22) and Henry Feingold's A Time for Searching(23)--cover too broad a period to be able to devote sufficient attention to significant aspects of American Zionism. Generalizations about the rise and impact of the Zionist movement in the U.S. are too often substituted for detailed analysis of the complex nature of the movement and the nuanced relationship between Zionism and American Jewish identity. Among the issues that are typically ignored for lack of space are the influence of minority factions such as the Labor Zionists, the Revisionists, and the supporters of Judah Magnes and binationalism, not to mention the anti-Zionists of the American Council for Judaism and the influential but neglected non-Zionists.

Two recent doctoral dissertations, one by Ilan Kaisar and the other by Mark Raider, have chronicled the history of the Labor Zionists' American wing, Poale Zion, an organization hitherto neglected by historians.(24) The two dissertations offer sharply contrasting interpretations of the Labor Zionists' achievements, especially prior to World War II.

The Labor Zionists' American wing began in the early 1900s as a thoroughly East European-style Zionist sect. According to Raider, the Laborites; realized, by the 1930s, that in order to appeal to second-generation American Jews they would have to shed Yiddish as their official language of discourse and tone down the revolutionary flavor of their old-world socialist ideology. By "discarding irrelevant and anachronistic doctrinal assumptions," the Laborites made themselves relevant to American Jews and became a significant force in American Zionism.(25) Thus, in Raider's view, the history of the U.S. Labor Zionists is another successful case of East European immigrants "Americanizing" their brand of Zionism and thereby making it palatable to American Jews. The Labor Zionists' strategy followed in the footsteps of Louis Brandeis, who, upon assuming the mantle of American Zionist leadership in 1914, honed a consciously "American" platform: it emphasized practical steps to aid Palestine development and dropped aspects of traditional Zionist ideology that discomfited American Jews, such as the inevitability of Diaspora anti-Semitism and the personal obligation of every Jew to settle in the Holy Land.

Ilan Kaisar, by contrast, argues that "the Poale Zion-Zeire Zion leadership was unprepared to change the socialist Zionist ideology that appealed to the Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe and adapt it to meet the interests of a wider public." They "devoted too little effort and only limited resources" to the League for Labor Palestine, which Poalei Zion had established in 1932 for the ostensible purpose of reaching the second-generation, English-speaking American Jewish public. The League "failed" to attract any significant number of American Jews, Kaisar concludes.(26) American Labor Zionism did produce several important Zionist intellectuals, and its journal Jewish Frontier provided an arena for lively discussion of current issues. But the movement never grew much beyond a small hard core of ideologically committed socialist Zionists, and it had no serious impact on political developments within or beyond the American Jewish community.

Raider is less than persuasive in his contention that the U.S. Labor Zionist movement played a seminal role in events such as the first gathering of the American Jewish Congress (in 1918). He describes the Congress as "a political coup for Poalei Zion's wartime leadership" and "a prime example of successful Labor Zionist agitation in the United States."(27) There is, however, a difference between "Labor Zionist agitation" and "agitation by Labor Zionists." Certainly, some prominent Labor Zionists were active in organizing the Congress and, alongside mainstream Zionist leaders, pressed the Congress to endorse a pro-Zionist resolution. But while Raider states that the delegates to the Congress "displayed an overwhelming sympathy for the Labor enterprise in Palestine," in fact the resolution they passed spoke only in general terms of developing a Jewish national home in Palestine; nothing in it could be construed as an endorsement of socialist Zionism.(28) Labor Zionists, like other Zionists, were involved in a multitude of communal activities, and not everything they did as individuals constituted a triumph or defeat for Poale Zion per se.

A similar tendency to overstate a particular group's significance is evident in the recent history of another previously-ignored organization, the American Council for Judaism, established by Reform rabbis in 1942 to fight against Zionism. Thomas A. Kolsky's Jews Against Zionism: The American Council for Judaism, 1942-1948 filled an important gap in American Zionist historiography, unearthing a substantial quantity of fresh information about a controversial organization that aroused passions and inflamed tempers throughout the American Jewish community during the 1940s. Kolsky went too far, however, when he attempted to inflate the American Council's significance by claiming that while the Council failed in its goal of blocking the creation of a Zionist state, "many of its predictions about the consequences of the establishment of a Jewish state did come true ... the ominous predictions of the Council are still haunting the Zionist venture." Actually, the Council's most significant prediction was that the creation of a Jewish state would endanger American Jewry's status--and that prediction certainly never came true. For Kolsky, the anti-Zionists were unfairly-scorned "prophets," victimized by hysterical Zionists who craftily exploited the Holocaust to garner American Jewish sympathy for the Zionist agenda. Kolsky's tendency to discard scholarly objectivity and indulge in cheerleading marred Jews Against Zionism.(29)

As for the non-Zionists, Menahem Kaufman's 1991 study, An Ambiguous Partnership: Non-Zionists and Zionists in America, 1939-1948 analyzed the sometimes collaborative, sometimes rivalrous; relationship between American Zionists and those American Jews who endorsed the idea of Palestine as a refugee haven but rejected the idea of a sovereign Jewish state. Focusing on the early 1940s, Kaufman helped clarify the dilemmas that American Jews faced during the Holocaust years and the factors that kept them from uniting at a time of unprecedented crisis. Kaufman criticized the major bloc of non-Zionists, the leaders of the American Jewish Committee, for presenting themselves to the Jewish community as active opponents of the British White Paper, while privately assuring the State Department that they opposed Zionism, supported American policy in the Middle East, and expected no change in Britain's administration of Palestine. Kaufman also portrayed the AJC top brass as elitists who pretended to make their organization more democratic in order to score points with grassroots Jewry, while in fact implementing changes that were mostly cosmetic. Kaufman's study makes an interesting companion to Naomi Cohen's more flattering history of the American Jewish Committee, Not Free to Desist.(30)

Within the AJCommittee itself, non-Zionists and anti-Zionists battled for control. Joseph Proskauer, who assumed the helm at the AJC in 1943, opposed Zionism but eventually had to face the reality of imminent Jewish statehood. Proskauer's life has been chronicled both in his autobiography, A Segment of My Times(31) and in a sympathetic biography by Louis M. Hacker and Mark D. Hirsch, Proskauer: His Life and Times.(32) For an alternative perspective on Proskauer, one should read the Hacker-Hirsch volume together with Jerold Auerbach's insightful review essay on Proskauer in American Jewish History.(33) Auerbach was commissioned by Proskauer to write his biography, then dismissed after the first draft was deemed excessively critical; he has more than a few interesting things to say about Proskauer and his era.

Noteworthy American Jewish Committee officials whose activities as non-Zionists remain to be studied in depth include Jacob Schiff, Cyrus Adler, and Louis Marshall, who helped bring about the crucial union of Zionists and non-Zionists in the expanded Jewish Agency in 1929.(34) By contrast, Marshall's successor as chairman of the American wing of the Jewish Agency, the banker Felix Warburg, was the subject of two recent studies. Ron Chernow's immense (and immensely entertaining) book, The Warburgs, traced the entire saga of a family whose wealth propelled its members to positions of power in both the American and German Jewish communities.(35) Jerome Kutnick's earlier Non-Zionist Leadership: Felix Warburg, 1929-1937, focused more narrowly on Felix Warburg himself, and in particular on Warburg's Jewish Agency years.(36) Both studies are useful, although they share the error of categorizing Warburg as a "dove" on Arab-Jewish issues.(37) Contemporary political classifications cannot be imposed so easily on a different era; Warburg's unorthodox ideas concerning the Palestinian Arabs defy simplistic political labels.(38)

Biography is an area where significant gaps remain in American Zionist historiography.(39) Because of his distinguished career as a jurist, there are more biographies of Louis Brandeis than any other American Zionist figure, not to mention Ben Halpern's intriguing study of the conflict between Brandeis and Chaim Weizmann (and its ramifications for American Zionism), A Clash of Heroes.(40) But two of Brandeis's closest confidantes, Robert Szold and Jacob de Haas, have not yet been studied. Nor, for that matter, has Silver's righthand man, Emanuel Neumann, although Dr. Neumann's autobiography contains some worth-while leads for the interested researcher.(41) Nahum Goldmann's auto-biography likewise has its fascinating moments, but it is no substitute for impartial scholarly research. Hopefully, Monty Penkower's recent essay, "Nahum Goldmann and Jewish Statesmanship, 1919-39," will not be his last word on the subject.(42) The only biographies--they are really hagiographies--of the early American Zionist leaders Harry Friedenwald and Julian Mack appeared in 1964 and 1974, respectively; fresh studies of their lives, undertaken in the context of the latest research on American Zionism, would be welcome.(43) On the other hand, gaps have been filled by the publication of two important new works, Sara Schmidt's biography of Horace Kallen, the foremost intellectual of early American Zionism,(44) and Bobbie Malone's study of Rabbi Max Heller, one of the earliest leaders of the effort to move Reform Judaism away from anti-Zionism.(45)

As for the American Zionist left, Aryeh Goren's edited letters of Judah Magnes (1982) included a valuable introduction and notes, and the 1987 volume of essays emerging from a University of California-Berkeley conference on Magnes contained much interesting material, but a full-fledged biography of the controversial pacifist and Hebrew University president awaits.(46) Magnes's political ally, Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold, has been the subject of several biographies over the years,(47) and they are complemented by two new studies. One is a section of Michael Brown's insightful new book on pre-1948 America-Holy Land relations, analyzing what he calls Szold's "Americanizing influence on the yishuv," an aspect of her life that other scholars have not considered.(48) The other new work on Szold is Baila R. Shargel's account of Szold's turbulent relationship with the Jewish Theological Seminary scholar Louis Ginsberg, which sheds rare light on the personal side of a prominent American Zionist. Shargel's study provides welcome insight into the human dimension that is too often absent from studies of American Zionist leaders.(49) A comprehensive scholarly study of Hadassah itself would also be in order; Donald H. Miller's dissertation covered only the organization's early years, while Marlin Levin's history of Hadassah was a sweeping, journalistic account that left some stones unturned.(50)

At the other end of the political spectrum, several scholarly essays have been published concerning the Bergson group, disciples of Jabotinsky whose agitation for U.S. rescue action roiled the waters in Washington during the Holocaust years. Yet no history of the group nor biography of its founder, Peter Bergson (Hillel Kock), has been written.(51) Although an autobiography and several biographies of Bergson group activist Ben Hecht have appeared, they focus on his career as a journalist, playwright, and screenwriter, referring only briefly to his fascinating activities as a militant Zionist.(52)

The American wing of the Mizrachi party, the movement for religious Zionism, also merits scholarly scrutiny, within the broader context of Orthodox (and American Orthodox) attitudes toward Zionism. An important first step in this regard is Jeffrey S. Gurock's recent examination of American Orthodox rabbinical attitudes toward Zionism in the early 1900s. Contrary to popular assumptions about anti-Zionism in the Orthodox rabbinate, Gurock shows that a significant number of both Americanized Orthodox rabbis and those who (in America) advocated old world European Judaism were active in the American Zionist movement. They worked alongside Zionist Reform rabbis such as Stephen Wise and Richard Gottheil, submerging theological differences with their Reform colleagues for the sake of their common Zionist goals.(53)

Not by chance do the historiographical gaps noted here refer almost exclusively to the years prior to 1948, and especially the period between the two world wars. The archives of major Jewish organizations are typically accessible only long after the events they describe. In addition, historians are understandably attracted to momentous events such as the birth of the State of Israel and, along with it, the role played by the American Zionist movement in the birthing process. But as the number of previously-neglected topics from the earlier period dwindles, and as archival collections from the 1950s and 1960s become available, historians of American Zionism will begin asking questions about a whole new era. How did American Zionist organizations adjust their agendas, and their beliefs, in the wake of Israel's creation? Did American Jewish visitors to Israel during its early years find that the reality of Israel lived up to their expectations? What were the roots and ramifications of the clash between Ben-Gurion and the American Zionist establishment over the question of aliyah during the 1950s? How did American Zionists respond to the Israel-Egypt war of 1956? What impact did the Kastner and Eichmann trials have on the Diaspora? How did the 1967 war affect American Jewish identity? These are just a few of the many intriguing issues which await historians of American Zionism in the years ahead.

(1.) Marc Lee Raphael, Abba Hillel Silver. A Profile in American Judaism (New York, 1989).

(2.) Raphael, xiv, 2,14.

(3.) Aaron Berman, Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism, 1933-1948 (Detroit, 1990); David H. Shpiro, From Philanthropy to Activism: The Political Transformation of American Zionism in the Holocaust Years, 1933-1945 (New York, 1994).

(4.) Arthur Aryeh Goren, "`Anu banu artza' in America: The Americanization of the Halutz Ideal," in Alton Gal, ed., Envisioning Israel: The Changing Ideals and Images of North American Jews (Detroit, 1996), 82-3.

(5.) Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, 81, 83-4

(6.) Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, 50.

(7.) Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, 81-2.

(8 .) Mark Raider, From the Margins to the Mainstream: Labor Zionism and American Jews, 1919-1945 (Ph. D. dissertation, Brandeis University, 1996).

Raider also refers to a speech delivered by Silver in 1920, at a memorial gathering for Joseph Trumpeldor, the legendary one-armed Russian Jewish immigrant who died defending a Galilee outpost from Arab attackers. Raider emphasizes that Silver's attitude towards Trumpeldor was "unlike [that of] Jabotinsky, who co-opted Trumpeldor's image to symbolize a right-wing agenda." Actually, it was the Zionist left, not the Revisionists, who first sought to use the Trumpeldor legend for their particular ideological purposes; in fact, at the time of Triumpeldor's death, Jabotinsky was not a "right-winger" but a member of the mainstream Zionist Executive, and the establishment of his Revisionist movement was more than five years away. Anita Shapira, the foremost historian of Labor Zionism, describes how the Labor Zionist youth movement Ha-Noar Ha-Oved and others turned Tel Hai, the site of Trumpeldor's death, into the site of a "secular cult," complete with pilgrimages to their hero's grave, the commemoration of Tel Hai Day "as a holiday in the full sense of the term," and the compilation of poems and songs about the man and his death." (Anita Shapira, Land and Power [New York, 1992], 104-5) Shapira also points out that the poem Jabotinsky wrote upon Trumpeldor's death "aside from extolling self-sacrifice, lacks any message," while the poem authored by David Shimonovitz (Shimoni) "highlight[ed] the educational message that the labor movement attached to [Trumpeldor's death]." (104-5) But Abba Hillel Silver was not part of this cult, nor was his 1920 memorial speech a political or ideological brief for socialist Zionism. Silver declared: "Our future lies in [the] realm of halutziut--not politics"; in other words, he was praising (some) socialists, not socialism.

(9.) For more on Revisionism's popularity in Poland, see Ezra Mendelsohn, The Jews of East Central Europe Between the World Wars (Bloomington, 1983), 76-7, and Laurence Weinbaum, A Marriage of Convenience: The New Zionist Organization and the Polish Government, 1936-1939 (Boulder, Colorado and New York, 1993), 42-3.

(10.) Edward S. Shapiro review of Thomas Kessner, The Golden Door: Italian and Jewish Immigrant Mobility in New York City, 1880-1915 (New York, 1977), in American Jewish Historical Quarterly 66 (March 1977), 461-2.

(11.) Jeffrey S. Gurock review of Gerald Sorin, The Prophestic Minority. American Jewish Immigrant Radicals, 1880-1920 (Bloomington, 1985), Jewish Social Studies 49 (Spring 1987), 185.

(12.) Walter Laqueur (A History of Zionism [New York, 1972], 360-4) describes Achimeir's followers as "a small group" who "were of no great political significance." He says Achimeir "had a few admirers but his impact on the younger generation was strictly limited." Likewise, Anita Shapira (Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force [New York, 1992], 201) calls Achimeir's Brit HaBiryonim group "an ephemeral movement whose membership did not encompass more than a few dozen isolated individuals." In 1935, Achimeir "emerged a broken man from his experience in prison and did not return to the helm of leadership of any group." (Shapira, 202) Yaacov Shavit (Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Movement, 1925-1948 [London, 1988], 71) agrees that "Achimeir's faction disintegrated after 1933. Following [the Arlosoroff] trial, the Brit Habiryonim faded out of sight."

(13.) Silver was one of the 24 1 Reform rabbis who signed a 1935 resolution lauding the accomplishments of the Histadrut. The resolution's authors--Reform rabbis affiliated with Labor Zionism's American wing--were motivated in part by concerns about Jabotinsky's forthcoming visit to the United States. Yet the text pointedly omitted any specific reference to Jabotinsky or Revisionism, and stressed that "the purpose of this endorsement is not to place our stamp of approval upon every phase of the Labor movement"; thus even rabbis who did not fully identify with socialist Zionism, or who were not hostile to the Revisionists, could feel comfortable signing it. Silver undoubtedly fell into the latter category, since at the same time he was signing the resolution, he was serving on the official Jabotinsky Reception Committee that welcomed the Revisionist leader to America's shores. [Silver's name is included on the official Jabotinsky Reception Committee letterhead, a sample of which may be found in De Haas to Wise, 19 March 1935, Box 102, Folder "Revisionism (1926-57)," Stephen S. Wise Papers, American Jewish Historical Society, Walthm, MA] Silver's signature on the 'resolution of the 241' was an expression of support for Palestine, not hostility towards Jabotinsky. [Even Raider notes that Silver "was not an avid proponent" of the rabbis' declaration. (Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, 96)] It took place in the context of the battled waged by Zionist Reform rabbis--Silver prominent among them--to reverse their movement's tradition of anti-Zionism. The declaration of the 241 had been preceded by resolutions praising the Jewish Agency for Palestine (1928) and the inclusion of the Zionist national anthem Hatikvah in the official Reform hymnal (1930). For background on the declaration of the 241, see pp. 242-7 Of Ilan Kaisar, "Mobilizing American Jewish Liberals to Support American Zionism," The Journal of Israeli History 15 (1994)

(14.) Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, 96.

(15.) Jabotinsky to Silver, 23 March 1926, 6-4-1, AHS; Silver to Jabotinsky, 29 March 1926, 6-4-1, AHS. At the same time, Jabotinsky's secretary sent Silver an invitation to the forthcoming farewell dinner for the Revisionist leader, in New York. While declining because of a previously-scheduled engagement in Cleveland the same day, Silver wrote to Jabotinsky's secretary that "I would have regarded it as a rare privilege to attend this gathering." See Silver to Beenstock, 2.9 March 1926, 6-4-1, AHS.

Raider's claim that during the 1930s, "the climate of American Jewish opinion was generally antipathetic to the Revisionist cause" (97) bears a footnote referring to Chanoch Rosenblum, "The New Zionist Organization's American Campaign, 1936-1939," Studies in Zionism 12:2 [Autumn 1991]), Pp. 16g-i85. Rosenblum's article deals with the Revisionists' diplomatic contacts with the United States, not its efforts to organize an American wing of the movement. It does, however, contain a passage referring to the fact that the Revisionists lacked "an adequate organizational infrastructure" in the U.S. during the 1930s and that Jabotinsky failed in his attempts to establish "a political and financial base" in the U.S. during his 1926 and 1935 visits. Raider seems to have wrongly assumed from Rosenblum's remark that "the climate of American Jewish opinion" was anti-Revisionist during the 1930s. Two issues after the appearance of Rosenblum's essay in Studies in Zionism, a follow-up essay by this author cited documents demonstrating that the Revisionists attracted considerably more support in the American Jewish community during 1939-1940 than historians had previously assumed. (Rafael Medoff, "The Influence of Revisionist Zionism in America During the Early Years of World War II," Studies in Zionism 13 [Autumn 1992]," 187-190.

(16.) Abba Hillel Silver and American Zionism, 96. It is not entirely clear how Raider reached this conclusion, as the footnote for his statement refers to three works (one book and two essays) that do not describe any events later than the summer of 1940. His first citation, PP- 388-394 of Joseph Schechtman's Rebel and Statesman: The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story-Volume I: The Early Years (New York, 1958), refers only to Jabotinsky's visit to America in 1921-1912, before the Revisionist movement even existed; furthermore, there is no mention of Silver. The second source, Chanoch Rosenblum (op.cit.), deals only with the years 1936-1939 and makes no reference to Silver. Raider's third source is an essay by a Revisionist, in the U.S. Jewish periodical Menorah journal in 1934, explaining his movement's ideology. It contains no references to the activities of the Revisionists in America, nor to Silver. (Elias Ginsburg, "Is Revision-Zionism Fascist?," Menorah journal 22:2 [October-December 1934], 190-206.)

(17.) Minutes of Hadassah National Board Meeting, 22 December 1943, Hadassah Archives, New York City. (18.) Menachem Begin, The Revolt (Los Angeles, 1972), 314-6, 346.

(19.) Samuel Katz, Days of Fire (Tel Aviv, 1968), 209-11.

(20.) Nahum Goldmann, The Autobiograpby of Nahum Goldmann: Sixty Years of Jewish Life (New York, 1969), 229; "The Convention of the ZOA" (editorial), The Reconstructionist 312 (15 November 1946), 3-4.

(21.) New York, 1989.

(22.) New York, 1993.

(23.) Baltimore, 1993.

(24.) Ilan Kaisar, Labor Zionism in the United States: Poale Zion-Zeire Zion 1931-1947 [Hebrew] (Ph.D. dissertation, Hebrew University, 1994); Mark A. Raider, From the Margins to the Mainstream: Labor Zionism and American Jews, 1919-1945 (Ph.D. dissertation, Brandeis University, 1996).

(25.) Raider, From the Margins, 338.

(26.) See p. 256 of Kaisar's "Mobilizing American Jewish Liberals . . . " op.cit., which is actually Chapter 5 of his Ph.D. dissertation, op.cit.

(27.) Raider, Prom the Margins, 49, 329.

(28.) Raider, From the Margins, 49.

Other historians who have examined the history of the American Jewish Congress have reached conclusions markedly different from Raider on this point. See Morris Frommer, The American Jewish Congress: A History, 1914-1950 (Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1978), 109-10; Isaac Neustadt-Noy, The Unending Task: Efforts to United American Jewry from the American Jewish Congress to the American Jewish Conference (Ph.D. dissertation, Brandeis University, 1976), 51-52; and Melvin I. Urofsky, American Zionism from Herzl to the Holocaust (Garden City, NY, 1976), 192-3.

Raider suggests that his assessment of Poale Zion's role in the Congress concurs with the findings of Jonathan Frankel. Raider writes: "There were also instances in which the national party played a decisive role in American Jewish affairs. The most notable case was the American Jewish Congress of 1918 which, as Jonathan Frankel has demonstrated, proved to be a political coup for Poalei Zion's wartime leadership." Raider's footnote refers the reader to Frankel's Prophecy and Politics: Socialism, Nationalism, & the Russian Jews, 1862-1917 (Cambridge, 1981). Frankel describes the efforts by some leading Labor Zionists to spur the convening of the American Jewish Congress, but cites only one development as a "triumph" for Poale Zion--its better-than-expected performance in the pre-Congress elections--and reports that "this moment of triumph for the Poale Zion proved to be short-lived" (p. 536). It was short-lived because the Labor Zionists were a distinct minority among the delegates-to-be, and when the mainstream leaders decided to postpone the Congress, the Labor Zionists were "too weak" to stop them. Afraid that the convening of the Congress in the midst of a world war might be perceived by non-Jews as an unAmerican focus on narrow ethnic interests, the major Jewish leaders repeatedly postponed the Congress so that it would take place after the war ended. Poale Zion "fought hard against every vote in favor of postponement, but could not muster the necessary support in the relevant committees" (p. 538). When the Congress was finally held in December 1918, the Labor Zionist delegates made long speeches, proposed passionate resolutions, and even ran a dark horse candidate for the Congress presidency, but ultimately were relegated to the role of a "noisy opposition." They also managed to cause a near-riot by calling for "a clear-cut separation of the Jewish religious conception from the Jewish national idea." Shouting matches between Mizrahi delegates and Labor Zionists brought the Congress to a temporary standstill until the police restored order (p. 543). Some Labor Zionists later claimed that their efforts had prevented the mainstream Jewish leaders from dominating the Congress, but Frankel dismisses this claim as "a gross exaggeration." According to Frankel, "the Congress was dominated throughout by the same alliance of the Zionist leadership and the A[merican] J[ewish] C[ommittee] that controlled events since late in 1916" (p. 544). Frankel notes that the Labor Zionists did help secure passage of a resolution endorsing "national rights" for East European Jewry and "slipped through a resolution in favor of a world Jewish congress," and that the Labor Zionists gained a measure of "recognition and legitimacy" as a result of the Congress (pp. 545, 547), but that hardly makes the Congress a "political coup for Poalei Zion," as Raider puts it, nor does it demonstrate any significant level of American Jewish support for socialist Zionism per se.

A related question that might warrant further exploration is whether American Jewish attitudes toward socialist Zionism during the 1920s and 1930s were to any extent affected by the same factors that shaped American Jewish attitudes toward socialism in general. The studies of Aryeh Goren and Zosa Szajkowski have shown that Jewish socialist political candidates in New York were successful only when they toned down their socialism and advocated `parochial' Jewish interests. At a time of escalating American public hostility toward Marxism and affiliated revolutionary ideologies (especially in the wake of the Boleshevik takeover in Russia), it is hardly surprising that some Jewish immigrants feared they would be risking their status as American citizens if they embraced a movement advocating class struggle and other `unAmerican' concepts. Did such fears regarding socialism keep some Jews away from socialist Zionism as well? (Arthur Gorenstein, "A Potrait of Ethnic Politics: The Socialists and the 1908 and 1910 Congressional Elections on the East Side," Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 1 [1960-1961], 202-38; Zosa Szajkowski, "The Jews and New York City's Mayoralty Election of 1917," Jewish Social Studies 32 [October 1970], 286-306.)

(29.) Philadelphia, 1990.

(30.) Menahem Kaufman, An Ambiguous Partnership: Non-Zionists and Zionists in America, 1939-1948 (Detroit and Jerusalem, 1991); Naomi W. Cohen, Not Free to Desist: The American Jewish Committee 1906-1966 (Philadelphia, 1972.)

(31.) New York, 1950

(32.) University, Alabama, 1978.

(33.) Jerold S. Auerbach review of Proskauer. His Life and Times, in American Jewish Historical Quarterly 18 (September 1979), 103-16.

(34.) Two sources for Marshall are Morton Rosenstock, Louis Marshall: Defender of Jewish Rights (Detroit, 1965) and Charles Reznikoff, ed., Lous Marshall: Champion of Liberty, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1957). For Adler, see his autobiography, I Have Considered the Days (Philadelphia, 1941) and his collected letters, Ira Robinson, ed. Cyrus Adler: Selected Letters, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1985). Another useful source regarding the non-Zionists is Certain Days, Evyatar Friesel's collection of the letters of Julius Simon (Jerusalem 1971).

(35.) New York, 1993.

(36.) Ph.D. dissertation, Brandeis University, 1983.

(37.) Naomi Cohen makes the same mistake, in her essay "An Uneasy Alliance: The First Days of the Jewish Agency," in Bertram W. Korn, ed., A Bicentennial Festschrift for Jacob Rader Marcus (New York and Waltham, MA, 1976), 115.

(38.) For more on Warburg's views concerning the Palestinian Arabs, see Rafael Medoff, Zionism and the Arabs: An American Jewish Dilemma, 1898-1948 (Westport, CT, 1997), 62, 66.

(39.) In addition to those mentioned herein, serious scholarly studies of prominent American Zionists include Melvin Urofsky's biography of Stephen Wise, A Voice That Spoke for Justice: The Life and Times of Stephen S. Wise (Albany, 1982); Deborah Lipstadt's The Zionist Career of Louis Lipsky 1900-1921 (New York, 1982); and Baila Round Shargel's Practical Dreamer. Israel Friedlaender and the Shaping of American Judaism (New York, 1985).

A number of autobiographies by American Zionists of varying stature have also appeared, including Stephen Wise's Challenging Years (New York, 1949) [For Wise's published letters, see Carl Herman Voss, ed., Stephen S. Wise: Servant of the People (Philadelphia, 1969) and Justine Wise Polier and James Waterman Wise, eds., The Personal Letters of Stephen S. Wise (Boston, 1956)]; the two autobiographical memoirs written by Hadassah leader Irma Lindheim (Parallel Quest: A Search of a Person and a People [New York, 1962] and Immortal Adventure (New York, 1928)]; Israel Goldstein, My World as a Jew (New York, 1984); Julius Haber, The Odyssey of an American Zionist (New York, 1956); Bernard Hourwich, My First Eighty Years (Chicago, 1939); Jacob Katzman, Commitment. The Labor Zionist Life-Style[sic] in America: A Personal Memoir (New York, 1975); Bernard A. Rosenblatt, Two Generations of Zionism: Historical Recollections of an American Zionist (New York, 1967); and Meyer Weisgal, Meyer Weisgal ... So Far. An Autobiography (New York, 1971).

(40.) A Clash of Heroes: Brandeis, Weizmann, and American Zionism (New York, 1987.)

(41.) Emanuel Neumann, In the Arena: An Autobiographical Memoir (New York, 1976).

(42.) Monty Noam Penkower, "Nahum Goldmann and Jewish Statesmanship, 1919-1939," in The Holocaust and Israel Reborn (Urbana and Chicago:, 1994), 3-16.

(43.) Alexandra Lee Levin, Vision: A Biography of Harry Friedenwald (Philadelphia, 1964); Harry Barnard, The Forging of an American Jew: The Life and Times of Julian Mack (New York, 1974).

(44.) Horace M. Kallen: Prophet of Zionism (Brooklyn, 1995).

(45.) Rabbi Max Heller: Reformer, Zionist, Southerner 1860-1929 (Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1997).

(46.) Arthur A. Goren, ed. Dissenter in Zion: From the Writings of Judah L. Magnes (Cambridge, 1982); William Brinner and Moses Rischin, eds. Like All the Nations? The Life and Legacy of Judah L. Magnes (Albany, 1987). Norman Bentwich's For Zion's Sake. A Biography of Judah L. Magnes (Philadelphia, 1954) contained some valuable material, but was superficial-in its analysis and inadequate in its research methodology.

American supporters of the binationalist solution, such as the fledgling U.S. wing of Magnes' Ihud group and the Marxist-Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, may not have been of sufficient political or social significance to warrant a book-length study. Still, Charles Arian's M.A. thesis, "Zionism, Socialism, and the Kinship of Peoples: Hashomer Hatzair in North America" (Hebrew Union College, 1986), does raise questions that deserve further consideration.

(47.) Marvin Lowenthal, Henrietta Szold. Life and Letters (New York, 1942); Rose Zeitlin, Henrietta Szold. A Record of a Life (New York, 1952); Irving Fineman, Woman of Valor: The Life of Henrietta Szold, 1860-1945 (New York, 1961); Joan Dash, Summoned to Jerusalem: The Life of Henrietta Szold (New York, 1979); Alexandra Lee Levin, Henrietta Szold and Youth Aliyab: Family Letters, 1934-1944 (New York, 1986).

(48.) Michael. Brown, "Henrietta Szold: Health, Education, and Welfare, American-Style," in The American-Israeli Connection: Its Roots in the Yisbuv, 1914-1945 (Detroit, 1996), 133-60.

(49.) Baila Round Shargel, Lost Love: The Untold Story of Henrietta Szold (Philadelphia, 1997).

(50.) Donald H. Miller, A History of Hadassah, 1912-1935 (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1968). Marlin Levin, Balm in Gilead: The Story of Hadassah (New York, 1973); a somewhat updated version was recently issued as It Takes a Dream: The Story of Hadassah (Jerusalem and New York, 1997).

(51.) Monty Noam Penkower, "In Dramatic Dissent: The Bergson Boys," American Jewish History 70 (March 1981), 281-309; Rafael Medoff, Menachem Begin as George Washington: The Americanizing of the Jewish Revolt Against the British," American Jewish Archives 47 (Fall/Winter 1994), 185-95; Rafael Medoff, "Why Mrs. Brandeis Endorsed the Irgun; Am Episode in Holocaust-Era American Jewish Politics," American Jewish History 84 (March 1996), 19-38.

(52.) Ben Hecht, A Child of the Century (New York, 1954); William MacAdams, Ben Hecht: The Man Behind the Legend (New York, 1990); Doug Fetherling, The Five Lives of Ben Hecht (Toronto and New York, 1977).

(53.) Jeffrey S. Gurock, American Jewish Orthodoxy in Historical Perspective (New York, 1996), 117-33.
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Author:Medoff, Rafael
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Date:Mar 1, 1998
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