Brandeis -  Democracy Means Responsibility

July 7, 1916

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Louis Brandeis -  Democracy Means Responsibility


Louis Dembitz Brandeis was a prominent American lawyer and later associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The outbreak of World War I made it impossible for the Zionist movement to continue its activities from Europe, that were centered in the German capital of Berlin, and cut off British Zionists from their associates in Berlin and Palestine.

Brandeis's speeches and articles on Zionism were edited and published by the Zionist Organization of America in 1942, soon after his death, in a volume entitled "Brandeis on Zionism," by Solomon Goldman. These are not pristine primary sources. They may not include materials that were considered "inconvenient." They are all clearly thoughts for public consumption, and those that had stood the test of time were included in this volume.

His early speeches tended to emphasize over and over the basic characteristics of his Zionist credo:

American minorities show true patriotism by enriching America with their own heritage and remaining loyal to that heritage.

Every Jew should be a Zionist.

American Zionism was a largely apolitical creed and did not require Jews to be part of a larger international Zionist political organization or to learn Hebrew or anything else about Judaism.

The Jewish national home in Palestine would be a shelter to Eastern European Jews and an example and moral inspiration to their more fortunate brothers in the United States.

Zionist work in the United States was to consist of  joining organizations,, organization, recruiting and charitable fundraising for immigrants to Palestine.

This least common denominator Zionism was designed to overcome specific controversies within the American Jewish community and to ensure that the audience did not feel threatened or challenged by Zionism to give up their American way of life. Brandeis saw himself as a unifier, and avoided divisive subjects and discussions of tactics and ideological polemics, unlike Eastern European and Russian Zionists. Very often they were "fitting words for the occasion," almost like the fictional speeches of ancient history, save for the fact that the addresses were actually delivered. Whatever one may think of some this high flown rhetoric and patriotic platitudes, it did the job of bringing Zionism into the mainstream of American Jewish respectability.

A Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs was formed in the United States, and Louis Dembitz Brandeis was elected as chairman of the committee in August 30, 1914. As chairman, Brandeis was able to bridge the chasm between the impoverished Eastern European Jewish constituency of Manhattan's Lower East Side and the affluent college educated Jews of the older generations of immigrants, who included many of Brandeis's friends and associates. In this way, Brandeis helped make Zionism fashionable and respectable among leaders of Jewish society. What he said or wrote in a speech or article was less important than the fact that he said it, which was sensational enough, and which ensured support for Zionism by "the right" people. 

This address was delivered on July 7, 1916, before the Convention of the Federation of American Zionists in Philadelphia. This organization became the Zionist Organization of America in 1918.

Unlike many of Brandeis' other speeches, especially his earlier ones, it was a "nuts and bolts" organizational and fundraising speech. By this time, the Zionist organization had grown, and in order to support itself and its functionaries, it required a budget of a quarter of a million dollars annually, not a small sum in those times. The burden of raising this money was apparently onerous, as it is mentioned in several of his speeches. American Jews had to support the European Zionist organization, and Brandeis later quarreled with European and Palestinian Zionists and attempted to reduce the expenditures in favor of investments. Brandeis continued to exhort Zionist leaders to organize every American Jew into a Zionist organizational framework of some description, and to read Zionist newspapers and be aware and knowledgeable about the issues.


Ami Isseroff

June 13, 2009   


The introduction above is copyright 2009 by Ami Isseroff. The document below is in the public domain.


Democracy Means Responsibility

Our work can be accomplished only if we recognize and live up to the fundamental basis of Zionism, the democracy of the Jewish people. Democracy means not merely, I had almost said not so much, the rights of the whole people, as the duties of the whole people. It means that every Jew in this land, preeminently every Jew in the Zionist Movement, has a right to be heard. What is more, he has also a duty to be heard. This duty extends down to every private in the ranks; each and every man, each and every woman, must realized that with him or her rests the power; that upon them rests the duty to spread the Zionist Movement, spread the Ideal and the work, by word of mouth, by act, and by constant sacrifice. For only by constant sacrifice on the part of the whole people can we achieve what we are seeking to achieve. There should be no such thing as shifting responsibilities and tasks to be performed to the officers, be they the officers of the Provisional Committee, or the Federation, or of any of the other numerous central and local organizations.

It is our proud boast (if boast there be on the part of the Jewish people) that we have been a literate people, accustomed for thousands of years to use the mind, and use it especially for study, learning and intellectual pursuits. We may ask, therefore, of each and every Zionist that he make study a part of his daily work; study of Zionist facts, not merely of the theory of Zionism. Doubtless every Zionist has some knowledge of the theory of Zionism; but the facts of Zionism, what is being done in Europe and what is being done in America to advance the Zionist cause, should also be known by each of us. If you know what is being done, if you understand the Zionist past and particularly if you understand the Zionist present, you will be able to picture it and the Zionist future to others; and you cannot adequately aid in our work without such knowledge.

Every Zionist should make it a part of his business to read at least one of our Zionist papers and to read it, not cursorily as he reads and throws away the daily paper, morning and afternoon, but to read it diligently and digest its contents. Read and master the facts and you will be able to overcome the indifference and the opposition which surround you.

 Approach the people who are Zionistically inclined but indifferent, equipped with a knowledge of the facts; make them understand what the problem is, and what the remedy is that Zionism is offering. In at least nine cases out of ten, the people you are approaching will be obliged to admit that the Zionist program is the only practical solution of the Jewish problem. Those who wish to help, if they will use their brains, must accept that program.

No Zionist is doing his duty unless he is affiliated with a Zionist organization, and no member of a Zionist organization is doing his duty unless he sees to it that his brother and sister are also doing Zionist work. In that way and in that way only can we achieve what is before us.

We have, as the figures tell you, accomplished much. But the figures are only a part and not the most important part of what has been done. The most important work is that which has made those figures possible, the spread and intensification of Zionist conviction; that is what has made it possible to do what we have done. But what we have done is of interest mainly as an indication of what we can do. The past is valuable as the mirror of the future. In the past year, we have practically doubled the activity of the preceding year in all fields, in membership, fund raising and propaganda among Jews and non-Jews. Now we must look forward to doubling our efforts and accomplishments during this year of 1916-17. For unless we do this, we shall be inadequate for the task which is set before us and which the Jews of the world are looking to us to perform.

When shall this work begin? Here and now on the part of those who are present, and as for your friends and associates whom you can reach and to whom you can carry our message, immediately after the Convention. Every Zionist should realize that this Convention is the beginning, not the end of the season's activities. Let each and everyone of us carryon during the months of July, August and September with determination. In that way, and in that way only, can we hope throughout this year to bear the burdens which we have assumed.

All of the speakers made reference to the fund of $240,000 which we propose to raise. Do not be deceived by the sum named. That is the money which we need for what we call the Emergency Fund. We need an infinite amount more. But that fund of $20,000 which we must raise each and every month for the ordinary disbursements of the Provisional Committee is of vast importance. In order that you may understand what it means to raise that fund, let me remind you that last year our budget called for only $135,000. In other words, we must almost double our regular budget. There is, in addition to that, the extraordinary work, the work for relief and those large loans of which you have heard.

No month must pass without our raising $20,000 for the ordinary expenses and disbursements of the organization. It should be done, so far as possible, by monthly or annual pledges, by self-taxation on the part of members and societies. The Zionist Organization should have a regular income to meet its regular budget. I hope the time will come soon, when the Committee may say: "Our regular expenses are taken care of." But in addition to the budget of the Committee we require a large sum to carry forward the Zionist work throughout the world, and particularly the Zionist development in Palestine.

In conducting this work of our organization, we must call upon ourselves and upon others for an account, a monthly account, of what is being accomplished. This is to my mind one of the most important features of our method of proceeding. I want to say a few words to you on the importance of sending to the respective organizations a monthly account of what has been accomplished, in order that you may repeat them to your associates at home. We must get from every local a monthly account of the additions of membership; a monthly account of funds raised; a monthly account of the activities and the meetings, and other functions that have been held. A difficult task you may call it. Yet you must realize, on a moment's reflection, that without that monthly account those who are endeavoring to lead and direct your organization, and to determine what obligations they may assume in its behalf, will go astray in their calculations, if you fail to provide them with such accounts. The central body necessarily relies upon the local organizations scattered throughout the country, and it must have this information if the leaders are to act intelligently in the present and plan wisely for the future. I ask each and everyone of you to impress this upon your associates. Every unnecessary letter which you compel the central organization to write you about accounts and pledges detracts by just that much from what the Federation, the Provisional Committee and the other organizations could otherwise accomplish.

That task of looking after others to see that they do their work is a task which, in a democratic body like the Zionist Organization, ought to be wholly unnecessary. An organization of democrats is an organization of equals. Members of such a body ought not to require policemen to see that they do their duty, or inspectors to see that they perform their task. Just as it is a part of the Zionist duty of each and every member to press forward in the work of propaganda instead of leaving it to the officers, so each member should, so far as possible, relieve the officers of all other kinds of work that can and should be done by the members throughout the land. The mere task of direction is a serious one. When once a rule has been laid down, when once a direction has been given, it ought to be the eager desire of each and every affiliated Zionist to obey those rules, to enforce the law upon themselves and not have it enforced upon them. It is a reflection upon ourselves, if an officer of any organization is compelled to call upon us more than once to induce us to carry out our duties to the Zionist ideal to which we have pledged our loyalty.

Such is the work before us. Such is the work for each and every one, for every man, woman and child in the service of the Zionist Ideal.



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