Brandeis -  Zionism Brings Understanding and Happiness

November 13, 1916

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Louis Brandeis - Zionism Brings Understanding and Happiness

Introduction

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." For some of these speeches, titles may have been created by Goldman or other editors.  

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. 

Later, an idea was put forward to provide a united body that would represent Jews in war efforts, charity and reconstruction. Brandeis was made Chairman of the organization committee of the American Jewish Committee which included both Zionists and non-Zionists. Thus, Brandeis stood at the head of both Zionist and non-Zionist efforts in the American Jewish community. In 1916, despite opposition from conservatives, Woodrow Wilson appointed Brandeis as an associate justice of the United States Supreme court. Non-Zionist enemies criticized his continued activities on behalf of Zionism, and therefore he removed himself from all official Zionist connections with the Zionist movement, nonetheless remaining an important and effective spokesman for the cause. He gave this speech on the occasion of his 60th birthday, when he was honored by a testimonial signed by 10,000 Zionists. He had been a Supreme Court justice for about two months.

Brandeis had not become involved in Zionist work until 1910, influenced after meeting Aaron Aaronsohn. Jacob de Haas, a collaborator of Herzl and British Zionist, was his mentor. He had worked closely with the American Zionist movement.

In his work for Zionism and Jewish causes, Brandeis was beset by endless arguments and quibbling both among American Zionist factions, between Zionists and non-Zionists and between American Zionists and European Zionists, who likewise had numerous internal divisions. His talent and his mission was to be a great unifier, and therefore his speeches tended to avoid polemics. The following is typical of his desire to seek consensus and project the image of unity:  

For my experience belies what I had been told, before I entered the ranks. I had been told of endless dissensions among Jews. I had been told of their unwillingness to work together, of the impossibility of uniting them for a common cause. But in the whole period during which I presided in the Provisional Committee, I never had occasion to complain of lack of loyalty to the cause, to the work which I was endeavoring to further or to myself.

Sadly, the Brandeis faction was ousted from power in the American Zionist movement in 1921.

Ami Isseroff

June 20, 2009   

Copyright

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


 

Zionism Brings Understanding and Happiness

 

The few years which cover my real activity in Zionist affairs have been rich in their gifts to me. They brought me understanding and happiness. This meeting is in line with what I have before experienced. I might also say, in line with what I have always experienced while working with others in the Zionist Cause. For my experience belies what I had been told, before I entered the ranks. I had been told of endless dissensions among Jews. I had been told of their unwillingness to work together, of the impossibility of uniting them for a common cause. But in the whole period during which I presided in the Provisional Committee, I never had occasion to complain of lack of loyalty to the cause, to the work which I was endeavoring to further or to myself.

The last seven weeks which have separated me from that daily participation in the work of the Zionists, have not left me without knowledge of what is occurring. Conferences with Jacob de Haas, who was active originally in bringing me into the Cause and upon whose wisdom and devotion and experience I have relied so much, and daily reports from the office have kept me in touch with what is going on. There may be many details which I do not know with that accuracy with which I knew them when I was at the Zionist office every week and had Zionist conferences every day. But I do feel, in a general way, fully advised; and the aloofness of those seven weeks, the distance incident to residence in Washington, may perhaps enable me to see with greater clearness our opportunities, our necessities, and our dangers.

I feel more than ever, that the opportunities are very great, greater than at any time in eighteen centuries. The world is with us, that is, the non-Jewish world. Whether the Jewish world will be with us will depend very largely upon the Zionists themselves. But the responsibility for success or failure will rest, not upon anti-Zionists or non-Zionists. It will rest upon ourselves. The loyalty, the wisdom, the virtues of the relatively few who have declared their conviction of the truth of Zionism will determine whether the future shall bring success or failure.

 

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