Brandeis -  The Time is Urgent

July 7 1920

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Louis Brandeis - The Time is Urgent


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." 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.

The Zionist organization was unable to meet during the war, as its headquarters in Berlin was isolated from Jewish populations in neutral and allied countries. A first  "Small Congress," an international conference of the Greater Actions Committee held in off-Congress years, took place in London on July 7-22,  1920. Zionists all understood that the realization of the Jewish national home promised by  the Balfour Declaration required a tremendous effort of fund raising and organization that was beyond the capabilities of the Zionist organization as constituted. The need was indeed urgent, because the world was looking to the Zionists to see whether or not they could really bring about the feat of turning desert Palestine into a national home.

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. Thus, Brandeis had a key role. He made these remarks in the opening session of the meeting. However, he also had opinions about what the work of Zionism ought to be and how it must be organized that ran counter to those of European Zionists. Brandeis mistakenly thought that the political work of Zionism was over with the Balfour Declaration. This proved not to be the case. Britain was not anxious to keep its word in implementing the League of Nations mandate, and the vast majority of Jews were yet to be won over to the cause of Zionism as well.

Brandeis's speech also hints at another division between himself and the World Zionist Organization. He stated:

We must select men of the training, the experience and the character fitted to conduct that work.

Brandeis wanted to remove veteran Zionist leaders like Ze'ev (Valdimir) Jabotinsky and Menachem Ussishkin, who were ideologues, propagandists and romantics, as well as others who got jobs in repayment of patronage debts, and replace them with fund raisers, economists and planners. He developed this theme more thoroughly in a later address to the American delegation at the same meeting: Efficiency in Public Service.  

Perhaps he didn't realize the danger of threatening the entrenched leadership, or the need for leaders to inspire and provide an example, or the need for the Zionist organization to represent the opinions of its constituents. It was most likely this demand that led to the removal of his faction from leadership of the Zionist organization in 1921. Brandeis and his following formed separate colonization and fundraising organizations, that did not function better than those of the mainstream Zionist movement. In 1929 or 1930, the Brandeis group was returned to the Zionist organization and their projects and settlement organizations were merged with parallel ones of the mainstream organization.

Ami Isseroff

June 20, 2009   


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


The Time is Urgent

A great opportunity has come to the Jewish people. We, its representatives, are gathered here to consider and to determine how best we may avail ourselves of that opportunity. The work of the great Herzl was completed at San Remo. The effort to acquire the public recognition of the Jewish Homeland in Palestine, for which he lived and died, has been crowned with success. The nations of the world have made that recognition. They have done all that they could do. The rest lies with us. The task before us is the Jewish settlement of Palestine. It is the task of reconstruction. We must approve the plans on which the reconstruction shall proceed. We must create the executive and administrative machinery adapted to the work before us. We must select men of the training, the experience and the character fitted to conduct that work. And finally we must devise ways and means to raise the huge sums which the undertaking demands. For without these funds, the best of plans, perfect machinery, the most capable of devoted men, will avail us naught and the noble purpose which we have set ourselves would be defeated.

The task is heavy. The problems are many. The difficulties are serious. But the problem can be solved, the difficulties can be overcome. And they will be. Of this we have assurance in notable achievements, wrought by determination and self-sacrifice throughout the long centuries of adversity. This new task will be different. Though the burden is heavy it will be joyously borne. For we shall be buoyed up by the spiritual appeal and the irresistible beauty of Palestine. We shall toil on confident and with the eager impulse for justice for all. There will be developed a new Jewish civilization worthy of the Jewish past, worthy of the aspirations for the future. And from the old Home, restored in fulfillment of prayers and striving, there will go out again to the world in all its troubles the light for which nations will bless Israel again.

Now is the time for action, for service, and for sacrifice, service and sacrifice directed by understanding. In that service and sacrifice every Jew must be made to bear his part. Let us proceed, for the time is urgent.

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