Brandeis -  The Pilgrims had Faith

May 27 1923

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Louis Brandeis - The pilgrims had faith


Louis Dembitz Brandeis was a prominent American lawyer and later associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, who became associated with the Zionist cause in 1910. 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." It is not clear, in many cases, whether he provided the titles of these speeches when published.

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. Brandeis was active in organizing Zionism in the United States during the war, though he removed himself from official positions in 1916, following is appointment as associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was instrumental in getting United States support for the Balfour Declaration, issued by Great Britain on November 2, 1917.

Most of the funding could not come from the impoverished Jews of Eastern Europe, who might supply the immigrants. The largest Jewish community in Europe, however, the Jews of Russia, were cut off by the communist regime there, and the Zionist organizations in Russia found it increasingly difficult to operate. The money would have to come primarily from the Jews of the United States and Great Britain.

Though Brandeis and his followers had been unseated from the Zionist organization, he did not sulk or abandon the Zionist project, despite his busy life and many obligations as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. He and his group formed several organizations to collect the money needed to settle Palestine. These worked in parallel with the mainstream Zionist funding organizations. The Palestine Land Development Council and its associated Leagues were the first such organizations, followed by the Palestine Economic Corporation, which also assumed the Palestine activities of Joint Distribution Committee. He delivered this address to the Second Annual Meeting of the Palestine Land Development Council in New York on May 27, 1923

Undeniably, the work in Palestine proceeded slowly. The war had devastated Palestine and there was a deep economic recession as the country was flooded with immigrants. Despite all the good efforts of Brandeis and others, Jews were reluctant to donate money to a project that seemed impossible in a remote part of the world. This was especially true following the Arab riots of 1920 and 1921.

Brandeis understood that if the Jewish national home was not developed by the Zionists it would have no political future and would eventually be given up as a failure. But businesses and settlements failed regularly in Palestine. Brandeis never faltered from his vision that the barren wastes and tiny communities of the land of Israel as it was then would one day be a flourishing country, and he constantly put this vision before fundraising groups. He liked to compare the efforts of the Zionists in Palestine to the efforts of the pilgrims in North America. "The Pilgrims had faith," he said.

By this time, Brandeis understood clearly that money sent to Palestine could not be considered an investment, because the nature of the land and the conditions required a great deal more development before investments could begin to show a return. But he pointed out that most of the investments in great projects made in the United States, such as the early railroads, had in fact never been returned and the projects "failed." Nonetheless, the American industrial substrate had gotten built.

The Rutenberg project mentioned is the electrification of Palestine, using hydroelectric power from the plant being built in Naharayim, on the Jordan River, in the north of Israel. This plant built by Pinhas Rutenberg served Palestine for many years but was eventually outgrown and in 1948 it was lost to the Jordanians and put out of commission. Today it is a park that is under Jordanian sovereignty but is open to Israeli visitors.

Ami Isseroff

June 20, 2009   


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


The Pilgrims Had Faith

Four years ago I visited Palestine accompanied by Jacob de Haas. Since then, I haven't ever doubted for a moment that what we are striving for can be accomplished. Since then, my difficulty has been in understanding the doubt which others feel. If any of you harbor a doubt, go see for yourselves; and the doubt will be dispelled.

The truth of Herzl's statement, "We have but to will it," impressed itself upon me at every point. Whether Jews really care for Palestine, care so much that they will put their hearts, and if need be their lives, into the solution of the Jewish problem, that is in my opinion, the only question open. For the opportunity is here. Doubters are not doubters of Palestine. They are doubters of Jews.

The land is an inspiration to effort. It is an inspiration not only because of its past and its associations; but because the present urges one on to make it bloom again, bloom not only physically, but spiritually. To accomplish that, we must care. We must be willing to enter upon a great adventure; must conceive of the life worth while as something other than the humdrum everyday existence to which so many of us are condemned, or rather, condemn ourselves. If, in our lives, we want something beside the commonplace, if we want adventure, if we want romance, if we want the elevation which attends intellectual and spiritual striving; if we want the deeper satisfaction of having aided in making this world and our own people better and happier, we must put our minds on what we can aid in doing there. If we cannot take a direct part within Palestine, if circumstances are such that we cannot go to the battle front, let us make sure that somebody else goes, in whose work we will interest ourselves, and in whose trials and ultimate success we have some part.

Do we Jews care enough for the things worth while in life to take the necessary part in that adventure? That is the question. Do we care enough, not only to contribute grudgingly some money, but to be a part of the undertaking? To be a part of it we need not be physically in Palestine, although for many that is the best place in which to do their part and the most satisfactory one. What is it that we who remain in the Diaspora can do? How can we contribute directly by our hands and brains, and above all through character, to Palestine's development? We can, in the first place, know what is to be done, know what is being done, know how it is being done; and know by whom it is being done. Knowledge, which grows with what it feeds on, will stimulate effort, will beget achievement. Knowledge, if comprehensive, detailed and accurate, is indeed power. To attain knowledge in this, as in other fields, requires work. Knowledge has its source in interest, but it can be attained only through persistent pursuit. It is not something which maybe had easily. Like all the other good things achieved in life, knowledge has to be toiled for. It is only by knowing intimately, and following from day to day the up-building of Palestine and the development of Jewish life as manifested there, that you can feel the deep interest and experience the joy and satisfaction incident to this new growth of our people. Palestine offers us the deep interest and the joy like that which all the world feels in the development of a child, an interest and a joy infinitely greater than that which attends the achievement of those who have reached maturity.

The great opportunity is here. The question is: What shall we do with it? Surely we will avail ourselves of it to the utmost. When I have felt a lack among those with whom I have worked, it has consisted less in unwillingness to make what some erroneously call sacrifices, than in failure to acquire that intimate knowledge of the details about Palestine's needs and conditions which are an essential of both good judgment and a real joy in our high adventure. For this deep joy can be achieved only through patient, persistent effort; and by reserving our resources of time and of money for the things in life worth while. So the first thing is to know. The second is to do. We do by being a part of doing. Don't take merely a passive interest. Don't try to find out whether you have done what people call your share. Your appetite grows with what it feeds on. When you approach the matter in this spirit, the question will surely be: "What further can I do?"

The Palestine Development Council was organized to create an instrument. By which those Jews, who are not so fortunate as to be able to take a direct part in the up-building of Palestine through settling there may effectively aid in carrying the work forward by their contributions made here of money and of time. The Palestine Development Council is only an instrument for doing things. The thing that it plans to do is not to extend charity, but to create opportunities for people worthy of Palestine to up-build and develop it. Familiarize yourselves with the work of this instrument, and with all things Palestinian so that you may aid in extending its effectiveness.

We must remember that it is Palestine we are engaged in up-building, not another United States. The standard of accomplishment is a very different one from the standard which we are accustomed to apply here. Some say: "How can you expect success in so small a country?" To my mind, the smallness of the country contributes greatly to the probability of complete success. The problems are all compassable. None is so big in bulk, so complex as to make man seem inadequate for the task. For this reason, achievement is always in sight. The assurance that success appears thus possible is one of the things which makes work in Palestine, and work for Palestine so alluring. Bear in mind also that the money we invest in this adventure would not be lost if it made possible the development of the country and a worthy life there, even if the receipt of dividends in money on our investment were less probable. Whether the thing we strive for is achieved, not whether dividends are paid in cash on the amount expended, is the test of a good investment.

We are prone to think of America as the home of good investments. But nobody who has looked into American industrial and financial development can fail to know that, with the exception perhaps of the automobile and a few other recent industries, there has been hardly a single field of great business success in the United States, which does not rest on a foundation of failures. Almost every enterprise in the United States, with the exception of the Great Northern, is built upon a failure. The Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe, and the Northern Pacific are outstanding instances of successful American railroads. But despite the rich land grants made by the government, both the Atchison and the Northern Pacific went through two receiverships. Stockholders and bondholders who lacked faith to pay burdensome assessments, or were unable to do so, lost all or much of what they personally had invested. This is true also of the original investors in the heavily subsidized Union Pacific. Most of America's 25,000 miles of railroad have a similar history. But they were great factors in our prosperity. When we think now of American successes, we think not of our beginnings but of the flowers in full bloom. Bear that in mind when you apply a test to our Palestinian undertakings.

The thing that the Palestine Development Council has been primarily endeavoring to do with such funds as have come to it for investment, is to make sure that the money which goes to Palestine shall be used to up-build the country; that whether used for building loans or for the Rutenberg 3 project, or for other projects, it shall promote the growth of the country; that it; shall make possible that life, spiritual as ,veil as material, without which we cannot conceive of the longed-for Homeland.

In the task of establishing a Homeland worthy of the highest Jewish ideals every man and woman can aid and aid effectively, if he or she will only bear in mind what it is that ,we wish to accomplish; and will make the daily contribution requisite to that accomplishment mean literally that we must give some aid each day. Why should we, who care for the development of Palestine, let a day pass without increasing our knowledge of Palestine, and at least thinking in what way we may do something to advance its development?

One hears of difficulties, of discouraging incidents, in Palestine. The discouragements of which people talk do not discourage me. It is only he who keeps the mind's eye too near to the object, instead of looking afar into the future, who will be greatly disturbed by a particular failure or setback. Look courageously into the future, be it near or far. Above all things, go to Palestine, and from its hilltops look off into the distance and see what the land is and what it offers. Then you will not doubt. And you will feel that no effort is too great.

We are trying to build a never land. When Americans think of building a never land, at least those of us who have lived in New England, they are apt to think of the Pilgrim Fathers. We remember what their adventure was and what they built. The Pilgrims had faith, we should have it. Like our early Palestinian pioneers, they did not allow themselves to be discouraged even by the death of half their number before the first year of settlement was over. Disease, death and sore trials were borne and put behind them. For the Pilgrims had the indomitable spirit. In time, Massachusetts became one of the most prosperous regions on earth. The same spirit which brought the Pilgrim west is the spirit which has sent many a Jew to the east, and should send many, many more. But those of us who remain behind may have an effective part in the building as well as those who have gone to the front. Let us persevere with redoubled energy. There is no place on earth in which your effort may bring you and to others worthier rewards. Don't be discouraged. Don't be afraid.

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