י"ב סיון התשע"ח

Brandeis on Zionism: A Collection of Addresses and Statements by Louis D. Brandeis

Resources » Zionism » Zionism General
Author: Louis D. Brandeis

 Sympathy for the Zionist Involvement

This is Justice Brandeis's first recorded statement on Zionism, contained in an interview published in The Jewish Advocate of Boston, December 9, 1910.


I have a great deal of sympathy for the movement and am deeply interested in the outcome of the propaganda. These so-called dreamers are entitled to the respect and appreciation of the entire Jewish people. Nobody takes greater pride than I do in the success of the individual members of my people. I mean success in a higher sense and I believe that the opportunities for members of my people are greater here than in any other country. I believe that the Jews can be just as much of a priest people today as they ever were in the prophetic days.

A Great Vision


Brandeis's first public act of participation in Zionist activities was his chairmanship at a reception for Nahum Sokolow in Boston in March, 1913.


Sokolow (1859-1936) later president of the World Zionist Organization, was then touring the United States for the cause. Justice Brandeis's brief statement was greeted by the audience with great enthusiasm; "matched by the incredulity of his relatives in Louisville." (Alfred Lief) Brandeis, The Personal History of an American Ideal, New York, 1936, p. 279.)


The Jewish people have a great vision. In every land they are struggling for social rights. They are trying to relieve the burden of their friends and relatives in Russia and to lessen the toil of the poor. The true happiness in life is not to donate, but to serve. The great message that Mr. Sokolow brought to Boston may sometime become a reality, and the Jewish people may establish the national state that they have aspired to and longed for so long.


We have listened to the unfolding of a wonderful dream. The great quality of the Jews is that they have been able to dream through all the long and dreary centuries; and mankind has credited them with another quality, the power to realize their dreams. The task ahead of them is to make this Zionist ideal a living fact. "If they wish it, they can by service bring it about."

To Be a Jew


This is one of Brandeis's earliest speeches on Zionism. It was delivered on May 18, 1913 before the Young Men's Hebrew Association of Chelsea, Mass.


A fortnight ago it was my privilege to spend the evening with one of the most interesting, brilliant and remarkable men I have ever met. He is the son of a poor Rumanian Jew who migrated from his native land thirty-two years ago to take up his residence in Palestine, the land of his fathers. The son, who is now at the head of the Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station in Palestine, is Aaron Aaronsohn. He made what is considered one of the most remarkable and useful discoveries in recent years, and possibly of all times. He discovered what is known as the "wild wheat," the plant which botanists, all over the world, had been trying for years to locate. There is a hope that, by reason of this discovery, the food products of the world may be immeasurably increased in quantity; that it may be possible to extend the area of wheat culture by utilizing land long believed to be unfit for that purpose because of the lack of moisture. He told us that it was his persistent efforts to improve the fertility of Palestine which had led to the discovery of the wild wheat, a feat which has impressed the Government of the United States and which may mean much for the future of Palestine.


He related another story even more remarkable than the first. We were discussing the series of unpleasant occurrences in New York City, with which the Jewish name was connected last year. Then Mr. Aaronsohn told us that in Palestine, in the little communities which have grown up in the last thirty-two years and now number 10,000 Jewish souls, not a single crime was known to have been committed by one of our people during all that time. In our conversation I asked him: "How do you account for that fact?" He answered: "I account for it as follows. Every member of those communities is brought up to realize his obligations to his people. He is told of the great difficulties it passed through, and of the long years of martyrdom it experienced. All that is best in Jewish history is made to live in him, and by this means he is imbued with a high sense of honor and responsibility for the whole people. You will find in the children," he added, "none of the weakness, none of the servility, which they or their parents had when they came to Palestine."


What is being achieved in Palestine can perhaps be achieved only there in the fullest degree; but the lesson applies to the Jews all over the world. We have our obligations, the same noblesse oblige. Our traditions are the same. They have been transmitted also to us. We have not applied them in the same degree as those of our people who have returned to our ancestral home. But the ages of sacrifice have left us with the sense of brotherhood.


That brotherhood has given us the feeling of solidarity which makes each one of us ready and anxious to fulfill its obligations. And we know, from the lesson of history, that the traditions we cherish depend for their life upon the conduct of every single one of us.


It is not wealth, it is not station, it is not social standing and ambition, which can make us worthy of the Jewish name, of the Jewish heritage. To be worthy of them, we must live up to and with them. We must regard ourselves their custodians. Every young man here must feel that he is the trustee of what is best in Jewish history. We cannot go as far as the pioneers in Palestine, but we must make their example to radiate in our lives. We must sense our solidarity to such an extent that even an unconscious departure from our noble traditions will make us feel guilty of a breach of a most sacred trust.


Here then is the task before you. Here is the work of your association and suck kindred bodies. It is to promote the ideals which the Jews have carried forward through thousands of years of persecution and by much sacrifice. We must learn to realize that our sacrifices have enhanced the quality of our achievements and that the overcoming of obstacles is part of our attainments.


Men differ in ability, however great the average ability of the Jews is, but every single Jew can make his own contribution to the Jewish way of life. Every single one of us can do that for himself. Every one of us can declare: "What is mean is not for us." We bespeak what is best, what is noblest and finest in all civilization. This is our heritage. We have survived persecution because of the virtues and sacrifices of our ancestors. It is for us to follow in that path. It is the Jewish tradition, and the Jewish law, and the Jewish spirit which prepare us for the lessons of life. In Palestine the younger generation is taught that heritage and as a result they live for the highest and best of what life is and what it may be.


To my mind, in order that the world may gain from what is best in us, we should aid in the effort of the Jews in Palestine. We should all support the Zionist movement, although you or I do not think of settling in Palestine for there has developed and can develop in that old land to a higher degree, the spirit of which Mr. Aaronsohn speaks. With our assistance the Jew there will develop to fullest manhood and manfully perform his fullest duty to his people and to his country.


You ask what the Young Men's-Hebrew Association can do? It can do much. It can achieve almost anything worthwhile if its members respond to this hope, if they live in the spirit of our highest traditions, if they are resolved to make new records for a people distinguished for its great lives.

The Jewish People Should Be Preserved


The outbreak of World War I brought American Zionism to the fore of the world movement. Zionists, as citizens of their respective countries, were necessarily divided in their national loyalties. The central headquarters in Berlin could no longer serve as the center of a world movement, nor could most European Zionists, even those devoted to the Allied cause, assist the Jewish colonies in Palestine. Of necessity, the major responsibility for the continued existence of the movement had to be borne by American Zionists. Accordingly an emergency conference of all the Zionist societies was called in New York City at the end of August, I914, to organize for this work. It resulted in the formation of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs. The following remarks were made by Justice Brandeis upon his acceptance of the office of chairman of this Committee on August 30, 1914.


I feel with all of you the gravity of the present situation. I feel, perhaps more than most of you, the difficulties which confront us, because I realize my own inability to contribute much to the removal of those difficulties. But I hold it to be my duty and my privilege to aid, and so far as it is in my power to do so, I will join you in this great work. I thank you for your confidence in my ability to help the cause.


I feel my disqualification for this task. Throughout long years which represent my own life, I have been to a great extent separated from Jews. I am very ignorant in things Jewish. But recent experiences, public and professional, have taught me this: I find Jews possessed of those very qualities which we of the twentieth century seek to develop in our struggle for justice and democracy; a deep moral feeling which makes them capable of noble acts; a deep sense of the brotherhood of man; and a high intelligence, the fruit of three thousand years of civilization.


These experiences have made me feel that the Jewish People have something which should be saved for the world; that the Jewish People should be preserved; and that it is our duty to pursue that method of saving which most promises success. While I feel unable to bring to this task the knowledge, the experience, and the ability which it requires, I am glad to work to that end with you and the other Zionists of this and other countries.


By a sudden catastrophe, the movement has been deprived of leadership by those who for many years have successfully advanced it. In the last few weeks, since the need of American aid became probable, I have endeavored to acquaint myself with what had been accomplished. I am greatly impressed with the progress made; with the wisdom manifested; with the energy applied in overcoming difficulties.


And I may add that I am greatly encouraged, as I am sure every one of you is, by what Dr. Levin has told us today. The spirit with which he has approached the questions under discussion, the unusual intelligence with which he has dealt with them, intensify my admiration for the work of the past.


To achieve our purpose we need the cooperation of everyone here and of the tens of thousands whom those here can influence. Let us work together! Carry forward what others have, in the past, borne so well! Carry it forward to the goal for which we all long!

Strain Every Nerve

 This is Justice Brandeis's first official appeal to the Zionists of America. It was issued after his election to the chairmanship of the Provisional Executive Committee for Zionist Affairs.


The war in Europe has brought a crisis upon the Zionist organization. The members of our Actions Committee are scattered. Our central bureau at Berlin is crippled. The Federations of England, Germany and Austria are partially or wholly disabled. The Zionists of these countries and of Russia are forced to take thought for themselves alone, and Palestine, which they have hitherto aided in amplest measure, is bereft of their support.


The achievements of a generation are imperiled. The young Jewish Renaissance in the Holy Land, the child of pain and sacrifice, faces death from starvation.


In this unprecedented emergency, the Zionists of America are called upon to take energetic measures, lest Zionist work in Europe and in Palestine suffer interruption and irreparable harm. At an Extraordinary Conference of American Zionists held at New York on August 30,1914, a Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs was formed, to act until such time when the Actions Committee shall reassemble.


The Provisional Executive Committee is fortunate to have the cooperation and advice of one member of the Actions Committee, Dr. Shmarya Levin. It has put itself into touch with the other members of the Actions Committee and with the Federations here and in all neutral countries. It has inaugurated the work of administration. It has made plans for the maintenance of the institutions of Zionism in Palestine, its schools, its colonizing enterprises, all the manifold social and cultural interests that have been originated and fostered by our movement. It is in communication with our pioneers in the land of the fathers, and they have received the assurance that we shall not fail them in this catastrophe. It has entered into relations with other bodies of Jews, in the hope that a united American Jewish community may be ready to act at the opportune moment.


Fellow Zionists, the work of safeguarding the continuity of our movement is begun. Upon you depends the successful issue. Grave as the Provisional Executive Committee knows its undertaking to be, so grave is your part in its accomplishment. It requires men, it requires money. You must furnish both. You must give of your devotion without reserve, of your means without stint.


For the Jew in America, at peace in a strong, neutral country, these are momentous days pregnant with serious tasks. He will be called upon to raise in large part the relief funds that will be needed to alleviate the distress and repair the losses of the millions of our people who are now groaning under the pitiless exactions of war. He will be called upon to rescue the Jews in Palestine, who have always looked to the Diaspora for sustenance, and who are now overwhelmed by want and anxieties. In these respects we urge you to do your fullest duty as Jews when the proper time is at hand.


But you, Zionists of America, have another, paramount duty to perform. You have a particular charge devolving upon you, a peculiar treasure to cherish. Your organization, your institutions are looking to you for succor. To safeguard the one and maintain the other will require immediately the sum of $100,000. Without this sum the Provisional Committee cannot discharge the obligations it has assumed. With this sum we hope to tide our sacred movement over these critical times.


Zionists, the duty of the hour is supreme. Strain every nerve to obtain at once the $100,000.00 fund that is essential to the welfare of our movement. Put the machinery of all your organizations into motion without delay. Let every individual Zionist heed the solemn appeal to Tender service and bring sacrifices. And who knows but that opportunity may yet be wrested from disaster! Who knows but that our tried people everywhere hearing the message of Zionism ring above the din and clash of battle, will strive, united with us, for permanent justice, peace, and liberty for the Jewish people in the Jewish land.


The Fruits of Zionism


Brandeis's activities as the chairman of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs entailed his traveling to many cities in the fall and winter of 1914-1915 to awaken American Jews to their war time responsibility. De Haas grouped together a number of excerpts from addresses delivered by the Justice at that time under the title: "The Rebirth of the Jewish Nation." (Jacob de Haas, Louis D. Brandeis, A Biographical Sketch, New York. 1929, pp. 163-I70.) Parts of them appear below.


Americanism and Zionism


During most of my life my contact with Jews and Judaism was slight. I gave little thought to their problems, save in asking myself, from time to time, whether we were showing by our lives due appreciation of the opportunities which this hospitable country affords. My approach to Zionism was through Americanism. In time, practical experience and observation convinced me that Jews were by reason of their traditions and their character peculiarly fitted for the attainment of American ideals. Gradually it became clear to me that to be good Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists.


The Possibilities of Palestine


Those who undertake to describe Palestine are apt to speak of it as a miniature California, in its climate, its topography and its agricultural possibilities. Others have compared it with Sicily, long the granary of Rome. Much patience and perseverance and faith have been required to develop the possibilities of Palestine; and very much remains to be done to make the life of the Jewish settler what it should be. But a commercial test has been made. The progress is obvious to every traveler; and it may already be measured in statistics. In a single generation the orange exportation grew from 60,000 boxes to 1,500,000; and the planting of orange groves in recent years has been so extensive that exports to twice this amount are expected when these trees begin to bear fruit. The grape, the almond and the olive culture have prospered likewise, and there is an important export of wheat to Italy. This material development has been attended by a spiritual and social development no less extraordinary; a development in education, in health and in social order; and in the character and habits of the population.


Ben Yehudah and the Revival of Hebrew


It was a bold dream to plan the foundation of a new Jewish nation in Palestine by giving a common language to the comers from many lands, particularly so when it is remembered that the language, long called dead, had not only to be introduced, but had to be adapted to modern use. Yet this has actually been accomplished in a single generation; and the man who took the first practical step, Ben Yehudah, is still in Jerusalem engaged in furthering the work. His story will have its place in history.


In 1880, Ben Yehudah, living comfortably in Paris, wrote an article for a Jerusalem paper demanding that Hebrew become the language of intercourse in the Talmudic schools of Palestine. The editor of the paper in which that article appeared spoke of the proposition as "a pious wish." Ben Yehudah was not content that it should remain a wish. He purposed that the wish should become a fact. So he went to Palestine himself.


He concluded that if Hebrew was to become a spoken language the way to begin with Hebrew was, as with charity, at home. He said he would marry no woman who did not speak Hebrew to him. Fortunately he found one who could; and Hebrew became the language of his own household. Then he declared he would deal only with those who would speak Hebrew. He was naturally regarded as half crazy. But soon others followed his example. Before a generation had passed, Hebrew became in Palestine the language of kindergartens, of primary schools and of higher institutions of learning. For years, daily papers and magazines have been published, public lectures have been delivered, and plays performed in Hebrew. Many parents learned Hebrew from their children. And there are Instances also of non-Jews learning Hebrew in order to avail themselves of the advantages afforded by the Hebrew educational and cultural institutions.


It was no ordinary sense of piety that made Ben Yehudah seek to introduce the Hebrew language. He recognized what the leaders of other peoples seeking rebirth and independence have recognized, that it is through the national language, expressing the people's soul that the national spirit is aroused, and the national power restored. Despite the preva lence of the English tongue in Ireland, the revival of Gaelic became one of the most important factors in the movement which has just resulted in securing for the Irish their long-coveted home rule. The revival of Flemish was a potent factor in the rebirth of the Belgian people, who are now giving such good account of themselves. And so it was with the revival of Greek, of Bulgarian and of Serbian.


The intensity of conviction, the devotion which the revival of Hebrew has developed, was shown in the struggle last year for its maintenance in Palestinian schools. Believing that an effort was being made to supersede it in some of the schools, practically every teacher, 200 in all, struck, thus giving up his only means of livelihood rather than submit to the impairment of the position of the Hebrew language. Pupils followed teachers; parents, aided by others in the community, willingly faced, despite their poverty, the burden of establishing new national schools so that their old-new national language might prevail. That is stuff out of which nations can be built.


The Responsibilities of American Jews


The burden has fallen upon America to maintain, after years of travail, the Zionist movement now so promising. The organization which has hitherto directed the movement has its headquarters in Berlin. The governing committee is composed mainly of citizens of the different nations now at war with one another. Some of the members are Russians, some Germans, some Austrians. The president of the Zionist body is a German. The leading financial institutions, through which the business of the organization is conducted, were formed under British law. The war has scattered these officers under conditions which prevent their cooperating or indeed communicating with one another. This prevents them from directing affairs in Palestine.


The establishment in a neutral country of a provisional committee to take up the work thus became necessary; and such a committee was naturally established in America, the only neutral country which has a large Jewish population, and where more than one-fifth of all the Jews in the world live. The committee so formed has at the outset the task of providing funds necessary for maintaining the Zionist Organization and institutions. Hitherto ninety per cent of all money required for this purpose was raised in Europe. The European Jews are now prevented from contributing practically anything. Upon us falls the obligation and the privilege of providing the needed funds. For this purpose it is necessary to raise at present $100,000 besides the other larger sums which the Jews of America must raise to relieve those made destitute by the war.


When we consider how large and generous has been the contribution of the Irish of America for the cause of home rule, the present demand upon the Jews for Zionist purposes seems small indeed. The Jews in America can be relied upon to perform fully their obligation. And indeed there are special reasons why we should be eager to do so. Palestine gives promise of doing for us far more than we can ever be called upon to do for Palestine. For the Jewish renaissance in Palestine will enable us to perform our plain duty to America. It will help us to make toward the attainment of the American ideals of democracy and social justice that large contribution for which religion and life have peculiarly fitted the Jew.


Throughout all the years of persecution the general standard of morals was exceptionally high among the Jews. The Jewish criminal was rare. For with the Jews laws were self-enforcing; and each individual was his own policeman. The Rosenthal case with its horrible revelations of violence and corruption, and the white-slave prosecutions, with their disclosures of prostitution among Jewish women, brought to the American Jew a deep sense of humiliation, and to the thoughtful grave concern. What could be more remote from Jewish tradition than such resort to violence, unless it be the preva lence of unchastity?


There is one other consideration to which the Jews of America must give thought. Though the result of this war should be, as we hope, the removal or lessening of the disabilities under which the Jews labor in Eastern Europe, nevertheless when peace comes, emigration from the war-stricken countries will certainly proceed in large volume, because of the misery incident to the war's devastations. More than one-half of the Jews of the whole world live in that territory near the western frontier of Russia which has become one of the two vast battlefields of the nations. Is it desirable that America should be practically the only country to which the Jews of Eastern Europe may emigrate? Is it not desirable that, as the Zionists propose, Palestine should give a special welcome to the emigrant Jews?


I am impelled all the more to ask you for your support, both moral and financial, because at this critical juncture we should all stand together, so that when the occasion arises we may be of lasting service to our people. Now is not the time to foreshadow the policy which we should engage upon. But united, we may be a factor in obtaining for the Jews of other parts of the world something more real than promises of amelioration; something more lasting than philanthropy. This greater undertaking depends upon the readiness with which you rally in every possible way to the cause. Your loyalty to America, your loyalty to Judaism should lead you to support the Zionist cause.




Education has ever been treasured by the Jewish people. Civilization without education is inconceivable to them. And so they have established in Palestine a school system almost complete. But for this war, it would have been capped with the establishment of the first department of the University of Jerusalem, the medical department. The war interrupted that forward step, as well as the opening of the Institute of Technology at Haifa. But before the war there had been established high schools in which were fitted not only Jews of Palestine, but hundreds who came from Russia and Romania, so thoroughly that they could enter on equal terms with the European students any of the great universities of Austria, Germany and France.


Pure Democracy


In their self-governing colonies, over forty in number, ranging in population from a few families to some 2,000, the Jews have pure democracy, and since those self-governing colonies were establishing a true democracy, they gave women equal rights with men, without so much as a doubt on the part of any settler. And women contributed, like the men, not only in the toil of that which is narrowly called the home, but in the solution of broader and more difficult problems.


Social Responsibility


Among the problems which they undertook to solve is one with which we have been particularly concerned this last year, the problem of unemployment. The prosperity of the Palestine colonies had depended largely upon its export trade. When the war came, their trade practically ceased, because the export markets were closed to them. It ceased wholly later, because, when Turkey entered the war, it prohibited all exports. This stoppage of trade naturally brought on unemployment. The Zionists undertook to find employment for those who had lost their jobs. In part they did this by going on courageously with public works, road-building and drainage, and the construction of a public hospital and similar undertakings. That helped some. They suggested that the farmers look ahead and do upon their farms work that would add ultimately to their value. That took care of a large part of the workmen in the country districts. But there were many unemployed in the cities, which had been growing incident to the growth of the colonies. Whereupon the Zionists undertook to the extent of their available funds to lend money to the industries which were relatively large employers of labor. In that way they avoided a dole system and the pauperization of those for whom they held themselves responsible. Labor was most helpful. Those who had steady jobs suffered their salaries to be but one-fourth, one-third, and in some cases these voluntary cuts were even more generous. Thus those without steady jobs were provided with work under as fair a distribution as it was possible to achieve.


In other fields, likewise, Zionists have undertaken functions which government should assume, but generally do not. Among their institutions is the Palestine office, so-called, an exalted information bureau and intelligence office for the prospective settler, which helps to place him in his new home with the minimum of self-sacrifice and suffering on his part, and acts in many ways as friend and adviser of the Jewish inhabitants in the land of their fathers.


I was talking not long ago with one of the men who went as a pioneer to Palestine. He referred in discussion to another Palestinian, of whom he said in severest censure: "Yes, he is a Zionist, but he thinks of his own interests first. That is all right in other countries, but in Palestine it is all wrong." And as he spoke he made me think of the words which Mazzini, when entering Rome in 1849, uttered: "In Rome we may not be moral mediocrities." That is the feeling of the Palestinian Pilgrim Fathers. That should be the feeling of their brethren throughout the world when they think of their great inheritance, of their glorious past, the mirror of the future.


Print Version   |   Send to Friend
Delegitimation of Israel kav Israel Education  kav  Zionist Education  kav Delegitimation of Israel  kav  Israel Education  kav Zionist Education 

The World Zionist Organization is a global organization with the support of the Keren Kayemet Le'Israel, Keren Hayesod and the Government of Israel.


Shlichut | Zionism | Mount Herzl | Shlichim | World Zionist Congress | World Zionist Organization | Zionist Activities in the Diaspora | Zionist Young Adult Movements | Making Aliyah 2013 | Activities in Israel and Countering Antisemitism | Israel Advocacy | Delegitimation of Israel | Israel Education | Zionist Education | Herzl