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Zalman Shazar

Zalman Shazar - Biography

Zalman Shazar (Hebrew: זלמן שז"ר‎, born Shneur Zalman Rubashov) author, statesman, socialist Zionist and third President of Israel, was born November 24 1889 in Mir, Russia, (now Belarus) and died  October 5, 1974 in Jerusalem.  He served as president of Israel from May 21, 1963 to May 24 1973. Shazar's Hebraicized family name is an acronym of his birth name.

Shazar's family were ultra-orthodox Chabad (Lubavitch) Hassidic Jews. He was named Shneur after the first rabbi Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi, Menachem Mendel Shneur (the name was later changed to Shneurson).

Zalman Shazar

In 1892 Zalman Shazar's family moved to the shtetl (Jewish town) village of Stolevsky  where Shazar began his education in a traditional ultra-orthodox Yeshiva, but one that was not overly anagonistic to Zionism. He also became acquainted with socialist and secular literature and philosophy. At a young age he joined the Marxist Zionist Poalei Tziyon. In 1907, at the age of 18 he  moved to Vilna, where he worked on publications of the Poalei Tzion movement together with its founder, Ber Borochov. He was promptly arrested by the Czarist regime and spent two months in jail. He then studied Orientalism in St. Petersburg and came under the influence of Samuel Dubnov and Y. L. Katznelson. He wrote and edited Yiddish newspapers to pay for his studies. 

In 1911 Zalman Shazar visited the land of Israel and became friends with the poetess Rachel and with Berl Katznelson, the Zionist labor leader. In 1912, he travelled to Germany to study German history and philosophy. There, he was among the founders of the Labor Zionist movement in German in 1916, and of the German Hechalutz movement in 1917.

In 1919, Shazar again visited Palestine with a delegation of the Poalei Tziyon. In 1920 Zalman Shazar married Rachel Katznelson. In 1921 He was a delegate to the twelfth Zionist congress, where he was chosen as a member of the Zionist executive. Thereafter, he was a delegate at numerous congresses.

In 1924, Zalman Shazar settled in Palestine, and became a member of the secretariat of the Histadrut.

Shazar participated in a Jewish National Fund delegation, and was a delegate to meetings of the Socialist International. He joined the staff of the Histadrut newspaper "Davar" when it was founded, and with Chaim Arlozorov edited the Achdut Ha'avoda monthly from 1920-22. From 1944-1948 he was editor of Davar and CEO of the "Am Oved" publishing house. He was a member of the Vaad Leumi (Zionist Executive) and the head of the Diaspora Education and Culture section of the World Zionist organization. In November 1947 Zalman Shazar was a delegate in the Zionist delegation to the United Nations General Assembly, which decided on the partition of Palestine.

Zalman Shazar maintained ties with the chief rabbi of the Chabad movement in the United States, Yosef Yitzhok Schneerson who was evidently moved by him to set up the Kfar Chabad village in Israel.

In 1949, Shazar was elected to the Israeli Knesset for the Mapai party where he served until the third Knesset. He also became the first Minister of Education of the State of Israel until 1951. In 1952 he was appointed as a member of the board of the Jewish Agency. In 1956 he resigned from the Knesset, and from 1956-1960 he was chairman of the Jewish Agency.

Zalman Shazar became President of Israel on May 21 1963, and was reelected in 1968, completing a second term on May 24, 1973. During his presidency the presidential residence moved to new permanent quarters. He founded circles for bible study and Diaspora studies that continue to meet to this day, as well as a fund for scholars and writers. He made the presidential residence a center of scholarship. Much more than most other Zionist leaders, Shazar was interested in preserving and furthering Yiddish culture and the culture of Eastern European Jews. He maintained a link to religion and the Hassidic movement. During his term, VIP guests were invited to Saturday morning Kiddush in the presidential synagogue.

In 1969, Zalman Shazar sent one of 73 goodwill messages sent by world leaders to NASA for the historic first lunar landing of Apollo 11. The message, which along with others is  still n the lunar surface today, states, "From the President of Israel in Jerusalem with hope for 'abundance of peace so long as the Moon endureth' (Psalms 72:7)."

Zalman Shazar died October 5, 1974 in Jerusalem. He was the author of several books. His book, Morning Stars, was translated and published by The Jewish Publication Society of America: Philadelphia,  in 1967. The Zalman Shazar Center  (Web site in English and Hebrew) carries on research on Jewish history and culture and publishes books on this topic.

Ami Isseroff

November 29, 2008

See also: Presidents of Israel

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