Email Email   


The history of the Zionist movement in the U.S. begins in the early 1880’s when Hoveve Zion, or Lovers of Zion, societies were formed by Russian immigrants in New York, Baltimore, and Chicago. Dr. Joseph Bluestone, who practiced medicine and wrote poetry, was the founder of the New York Lovers of Zion group. Bluestone believed that Zionism should serve a spiritual purpose and safeguard American Jewry against assimilation. In 1897, the two-year-old Zion Society of Chicago was the only such group to send a delegate to the First Zionist Congress held in Basel.

Stimulated by the reports from this Congress, the Federation of American Zionists was organized in 1898 at a national conference in New York. Professor Richard Gottheil was the first president of the federation, and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise its first secretary. The following year, a young journalist, Louis Lipsky, founded the Maccabean, the monthly that became the official Zionist publication. The periodical later changed its name to The New Palestine and finally to The American Zionist. By 1900, there were more than 100 societies all over the country. In addition to those already mentioned, a brilliant group of men including Harry Friedenwald and Benjamin Szold of Baltimore and Judah L. Magnes of New York were the leaders of the infant movement. Yet, until World War I, its growth was rather slow. Young Judea was organized in 1907 as the youth department of the federation, and Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, was founded in 1912. When World War I broke out in 1914, the role of American Zionism assumed new importance. The American Zionists were practically cut off from the European Zionist headquarters. Louis Lipsky, then chairman of the Zionist Federation, and Shmaryahu Levin, a member of the World Zionist Executive then visiting in the U.S., called an extraordinary conference to cope with the emergency. This conference established the Provisional Committee for Zionist Affairs under the chairmanship of Louis D. Brandeis. In its Berlin headquarters, the World Zionist Executive acted to avoid the splitting of Zionist forces between the contending hostile powers of the war by transferring its authority to the Provisional Committee. The Committee functioned until 1918, managing the Zionist institutions in Palestine and financing Zionist political activities in various war zones. Most important were the negotiations conducted by Brandeis and the Committee which contributed so largely to the issuance of the Balfour Declaration, and were so responsible for obtaining American backing for it.

In 1917, the Mizrachi and Poale Zion groups, representing the religious and Labor Zionists, withdrew from the Provisional Committee, and all the General Zionist groups united to form the Zionist Organization of America, replacing the Provisional Committee. The following year, the Zionist Organization met at a conference in Pittsburgh. There it adopted what came to be called the Pittsburgh Program which was liberal and appealed strongly to the Jewish love for social justice. Brandeis, appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, withdrew from public Zionist leadership. He became the honorary president of the Zionist Organization of America, while Judge Julian W. Mack was elected president. At the Cleveland Zionist Convention in 1921, the Brandeis program stressed private initiative in preference to the use of public funds in the economic development of Palestine. This brought about a serious difference of opinion between the followers of Brandeis and Mack and the followers of Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization. Finally, Brandeis and his colleagues withdrew from active Zionist responsibility. Louis Lipsky and the men who led the opposition to the Brandeis group were entrusted with the leadership. Until 1931, Lipsky served as president of the Zionist Organization of America.

The Keren Hayesod was established as the principal agency to support the development of Palestine. The Zionist Organization began to grow in membership, particularly after President Harding and the U.S. Congress approved the Balfour Declaration on September 21, 1922. Eventually, the breach between the two factions in American Zionism was healed, and most of the members of the Brandeis group, including Judge Mack, Stephen S. Wise, and Abba Hillel Silver, re
turned to active leadership. Between 1921 and 1929, approximately $10 million was raised for the Keren Hayesod. The Arab riots in Palestine in 1929 and the world economic depression set back Zionist activity. However, the rising tide of Nazism in Germany was followed by a wave of antisemitism in the U.S.; the result was an increase in Zionist membership.

When World War II broke out in 1939, representatives of the Zionist Organization, Hadassah, Mizrachi, and the Labor Zionist movement came together in the American Emergency Committee for Zionist Affairs to meet the crisis facing the Jewish communities of Europe and Palestine.

Since 1948, with the rebirth of Israel, the Zionist Organization established and supports the ZOA House in Tel Aviv, Kfar Silver, and the technical high school in Ashkelon which trains more than 750 Israeli, American, and foreign high school youth.

Within the Jewish community, ZOA is committed to work vigorously on behalf of education and Aliyah. To contribute to these efforts. ZOA established four Institutes in the 1980’s. They are the Jacob Goodman Institute for Middle East Relations and Information, The Ivan J. Novick Institute for Israel-Diaspora Relations, The George Rothman Institute on U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East, and the Greenwald-Tarnepol Foundation for the Advancement of Zionism.

ZOA’s Masada movement is the second largest Zionist youth movement in the U.S. Through Masada, ZOA’s Women’s Division, Young Zionist Leadership Groups and Regions and Districts, public affairs programs, ZOA remains a strong and vital Zionist institution in the U.S.

With some 30,000 members, the ZOA today is dwarfed by Hadassah with its 300,000 members. But it continues to play a vital role on behalf of Israel’s vital needs, such as ties with the U.S., security, and aliyah.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email