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November 6: Lovers of Zion, 1884

Lawrence Bush
November 5, 2016

Delegates from Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) societies in several countries convened in Katowice, Poland on this date in 1884 for the first time, at the behest of Leon Pinsker, author of Autoemancipation, a pamphlet published in German two years earlier, which urged Jews to create a Jewish homeland in order to overcome antisemitism. The conference, writes David B. Green in Haaretz, "reflected the desperation of Jews who were confronting the wave of government-organized violence against Jews that broke out in the Russian empire in 1881 — combined with the abiding if almost hallucinatory dream of a physical return to Zion." Thirty-six activists attended, two thirds of them from Russia. "[T]alk at the Kattowitz Conference centered on establishing financial institutions to support Jewish land purchase, settlement and farming in Eretz Yisrael. The assembled delegates also agreed to set up two committees to continue their work, one based in Warsaw, the other in Odessa. . . . Unfortunately, future fundraising efforts fell short, particularly those led by Pinsker in Odessa, and support of the Jewish pioneering colonies in Palestine became increasingly dependent on funding from Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who between 1884 and 1899, contributed some ₤1.5 million to the cause. By the time of the First Zionist Congress, in 1897, most of the existing Hovevei Zion societies subsumed themselves into the new framework created by Theodor Herzl."

"The world has yet long to wait for eternal peace. Meanwhile nations live side by side in a state of relative peace, secured by treaties and international law, but based chiefly on the fundamental equality between them. . . . But it is different with the people of Israel. There is no such equality in the nations' dealings with the Jews. The basis is absent upon which treaties and international law may be applied: mutual respect. Only when this basis is established, when the equality of Jews with other nations becomes a fact, can the Jewish problem be considered solved." —Leon Pinsker

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.