Brandeis -  Strain Every Nerve

September, 1914

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Louis Brandeis - Strain Every Nerve


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 Zionist Committee was formed in the United States, and Louis Dembitz Brandeis was elected as chairman of the committee. This was his first appeal to American Jews to participate in the wartime Zionist effort, following his election as chairman of the provisional Zionist Committee. It is couched in very dramatic terms, but after all, Brandeis was not asking his audience to join a Jewish Legion or settle in Palestine, but only to donate money and support the cause.

Ami Isseroff

June 13, 2009   


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


Strain every Nerve

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.


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