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January 11: The Maggid of New York

January 11, 2014
masliansky-tallitA brilliant itinerant Yiddish lecturer and storyteller who spread the ideas of Zionism throughout Russia and the United States, Zvi Hirsch Masliansky died at 87 in Brooklyn on this date in 1943. Masliansky had a prodigious knowledge of Judaism and taught in religious schools in Eastern Europe (Chaim Weizmann was one of his students). He reacted to the pogroms of 1881 by becoming active in proto-Zionist circles and working as a maggid, a wandering preacher, who endorsed the concept of a return to a Jewish homeland. Expelled from Russia in 1894, he toured Central and Western Europe and then emigrated to New York, where for three decades he became one of Zionism’s most compelling advocates, delivering Friday evening sermons at the Educational Alliance on the Lower East Side, which thousands came to hear, and wielding great influence upon Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants. Masliansky’s funeral eulogies were delivered by Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Nahum Goldmann, and Louis Lipsky, among other grandees of American Judaism. “[H]e would remind the old generation not to idealize too much the ghettos, ugliness and degradation they had left behind. He would remind the new generation of the rich spiritual and cultural character and the beauty of Jewish customs, holidays and Sabbaths and the glories of an ancestral faith which their fathers had preserved, of the ethical superiority to Paganism.” —Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver