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June 21: A Father of Socialist Zionism

June 21, 2013

Ber_BorochovDov Ber Borochov, a key founder of the Socialist Zionist movement and an important Yiddish philologist, was born in Zolotonosha, Ukraine on this date in 1881. At age 20, he led in the establishment of the Zionist Socialist Workers Union (Poale Zion), which helped to pioneer Jewish self-defense against pogroms, and he began to write and speak with the goal of integrating Zionism and the class-struggle orientation of Russia’s Marxist parties. Largely self-educated, Borochov became a much-admired scholar of Jewish history, sociology, language, and culture. Socialist Zionist ideology became dominant within the kibbutz movement, although Borochov’s vision of Jewish-Arab proletarian unity proved naive. During his seven years (1907-14) in Vienna, he researched and wrote about the history of Yiddish language, which he had only just learned to speak. “Just as socialism and Zionism did not constitute a contradiction to his bold way of thinking,” writes Dovid Katz in the YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, “so too were Yiddish and Zionism mutually compatible for him.” He lived in New York from 1914, writing for the Yiddish press and launching the World Union of Poale Zionism, until his return to revolutionary Russia in 1917, where he died of pneumonia at 36.

“When the waste lands are prepared for colonization, when modern technique is introduced, and when the other obstacles are removed, there will be sufficient land to accommodate both the Jews and the Arabs. Normal relations between the Jews and Arabs will and must prevail.” —Dov Ber Borochov