Brandeis -  Not By Charity Alone

January 2, 1916

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Louis Brandeis - Not by charity alone


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, following his death, in a volume entitled "Brandeis on Zionism," by Solomon Goldman. These are not pristine primary sources and may not include materials that were considered "inconvenient." 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. 

The Jews of Chicago were the first to respond officially to Dr.Theodor Herzl's call for a Jewish Congress (The First Zionist Congress) in 1897. After the return of the elected delegate, a small group of Zionists organized the Knights of Zion, a fraternal organization chartered in 1897. In 1918 it became a part of the Federation of American Zionists, and merged with it completely in the formation of the Zionist Organization of America in 1918.

Following are excerpts from the address delivered by Justice Brandeis before the convention of the Knights of Zion in Chicago on January 2, 1916. He was introducing Shmarya Levin, a close friend and associate of  Dr, Chaim Weizmann, who had come to the United States to raise money. Palestine had undergone numerous privations and depredations in the war. The Turkish government denuded the country of its sparse tree cover in order to make charcoal to run its trains. Palestine was plagued by an infestation of locusts, a periodic phenomenon in the Middle East. The Turks forbade exports in order to hoard scarce commodities for war use, and the war made it difficult to import many necessities. The Zionist movement, particularly in the United States, did its best to keep the Palestinian Yishuv supplied, though this was never enough. The full extent of war devastation was yet to come. In 1916, the Turks discovered the NILI spy ring operated by Aaron Aaronsohn and clamped down on Zionists in Palestine. Later, typhus and influenza epidemics coupled with poor sanitation and health facilities would claim numerous lives.

A typical Brandeis theme is his closing exhortation  "Let no one of you, if he be a true American, shirk his duty." This was Brandeis' way of saying that Zionism is patriotic, an important pillar of the arguments he used to overcome fears that Zionists would be accused of dual loyalty.  


Ami Isseroff

June 13, 2009   


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


Not by Charity Alone

You cannot in my opinion do your duty as Jews unless you help raise the Jewish people to that point where it may best serve America and the world. And that can be done only by the realization of the ages long dream and the fulfillment of the prayers of Jews that they may have again a homeland, where the Jewish life may be lived according to the Jewish spirit, without trammel of any kind. You and each of you are called upon to do your part. You may not shift that duty to others. You may not rely upon others to do more than their share and you do less. Your own self-respect, your own duty demands that you join a Zionist organization because without organization, without a great and perfected organization the cause which brings us here this evening cannot succeed. You, who hear about Zionism without being members of an organization, cannot picture to yourselves the forces that have kept alive Zionist thought and made possible the Zionist achievement. There are no miracles. Things happen in the world of Zionism as they happen in your own businesses and in your own households. Things come from working. Men accomplish because they work, because they work with the necessary material and instruments. That means effort and it means money.

The great thing that the Zionist movement does and has sought to do in all its years is this: To look at the Jewish problem as something to be solved, and to go about it with statesmanlike aim, to remove once for all the causes of misery. We are not satisfied merely to alleviate suffering or, by charity, to lessen the tribulation and distress of centuries. We have learned, each and every one of us who are interested in the attainment of social justice, that no amount of philanthropy can ever remove social injustices unless we first remove its causes. The Zionist movement is undertaking to do just that, to remove the causes of the injustice to the Jew and thus to end his misery; to give him liberty; and not only to give him liberty but to give him that standing in the world without which no legal declaration of liberty will be of serious moment.

Palestine, as you know, has not only been harassed by the war, but it has also suffered because of the cutting off of its export and import. Palestine has lived largely from the exports of its plantations, orange groves, vineyards and wheat fields, and when the war came that was stopped. We have tried to sell some of their oranges here. You of Chicago know a little of that. But then came the complete prohibition of exports and the valuable orange crop was lost. The colonies were in great need, not in need of charity, but of capital, capital to operate their plantations, capital to continue that life of self-support and self-respect which had won the admiration of all who are acquainted with their story and their struggle. We in America, the Zionist Provisional Committee and others, undertook to raise a loan for those planters, to be repaid when better conditions would enable them to market their products.

Later there came to Palestine besides the severe sufferings incident to the war, sufferings incident to a locust plague. In the thirty-three years since the colonies were originally established there had been no locust plague there. This year the horrible pest came. Had they had a well ordered government it would have been possible to have put an end to it or to have prevented it from coming, particularly since the general direction of the thing was in the competent hands of Aaron Aaronsohn. If he had had the power of government behind him the locust pest might have been prevented, but he did not have the power of government behind him, and consequently the colonies did suffer despite the tremendous fight they made. The locust came like an enemy, devastating the land. While, thanks to the heroic efforts of the colonists, no permanent damage was sustained, the year's crop in large part was lost. Now these planters need further help and the Provisional Committee is endeavoring to arrange another loan. That is the line of work we are doing.

But there is only one way in which we can carry on effectively, and that is through organization. We must bring behind the Zionist movement, the Zionist organization, the Provisional Committee and the Actions Committee, the support, not of a few, but of the many, because the cause for which they are fighting is the cause of the whole people. They need the whole people behind them. Everyone should give as much as he can even if he can give only little; but besides that which he gives in money there must be the giving of the heart and of the head.

You will have the opportunity in a few minutes to listen to the address of one who understands the Zionist problem so thoroughly and who feels it so deeply that each and everyone of you who has a drop of Jewish blood and a speck of Jewish consciousness will, I am sure, be moved by his words. When Dr. Levin talks to you, you will feel more strongly than ever what Zionism is. No one here can move you more mightily. But do not rest satisfied even with what he says. Learn, study, read what has happened in the Zionist world. There isn't a thing that should be more interesting to a Jew today than the events of Zionism as they are occurring from week to week. Your local papers give you some information. The "Yiddishe Folk" and "The Maccabaean," the two Zionist organs published by American Zionists, will give you infinitely more. Read them. Read them as they appear. Learn about Zionism, and there will be no doubt as to your own interest, or your desire to move others to follow your example and to become members of the Zionist organization. There is work to be done for each and everyone of you. Let no one of you, if he be a true American, shirk his duty.



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