An American-illustrated declaration of the Zionist dream

In 1912, a major development in the American Zionist movement occurred. Justice Louis D. Brandeis became the leader of the Federation of American Zionists.

 The cover of the ‘New Palestine’ broadsheet on January 13, 1920 advertising the Palestine Restoration Fund. (photo credit: DAVID GEFFEN)
The cover of the ‘New Palestine’ broadsheet on January 13, 1920 advertising the Palestine Restoration Fund.
(photo credit: DAVID GEFFEN)

Amid the years leading up to the dramatic founding of the State of Israel, there is a 1920 illustration that has been long forgotten. 

American newspapers in the 19th century always featured stories by noted individuals urging the return of the Jews to their homeland in Palestine. Herzl’s dream for the Jewish homeland was often described in the press, and included an outstanding photograph of the “father of modern Zionism” in various US newspapers after the First Zionist Congress in 1897. In the first decade of the 20th century, the early filmmakers made movies that captured the spirit of the Jewish people returning to their ancestral homeland.

Then, in 1912, a major development in the American Zionist movement occurred. Justice Louis D. Brandeis became the leader of the Federation of American Zionists. The goal of the American Zionists was to “create the Jewish national home in Palestine.”

The commitment of American Jewry to this movement expressed itself via the 200,000 paid members of the Federation of American Zionists by the time World War I broke out. The belief in the “home revived” was raised by the inspired Zionist members. 

As Prof. Jonathan Sarna, a leading scholar of American Jewish history has pointed out: “The war had introduced mass Jewish philanthropy in the US, and countless rank-and-file Jews gave money in response to slick advertising by the Joint Distribution Committee and others. The Zionists paid attention.”

 Justice Louis D. Brandeis initiated the Palestine Restoration Fund. (credit: WIKIPEDIA) Justice Louis D. Brandeis initiated the Palestine Restoration Fund. (credit: WIKIPEDIA)

Clearly, this illustration fell into that category.

The 201,000 members in the various Zionist organizations, out of 3.3 million Jews in the US, were committed individuals ready to raise $10 million dollars for a Jewish state. At that time, they considered aliyah because of the enthusiasm of the returning Jewish legionnaires serving under General Edmund Allenby. These veterans, at that time, were firm in their resolve to return to the ancient homeland promised by the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

(It’s worth noting that it is a bit surprising that everyone depicted in the illustration has a beard. It is hard to believe that all these individuals were religious, as there is no evidence that a major part of the previous aliyot were religious Jews. The artist may not have been informed about the actual population of 200,000 Jewish families living in Mandatory Palestine.)

THE PALESTINE Restoration Campaign was born at the Zionist Organization of America convention in Chicago in early December 1919. Judge Julian Mack was the president, and Justice Brandeis was the honorary president of the major US Zionist organizations. 

Between them and Judge Felix Frankfurter, they were able to motivate the 600 delegates to get the drive underway by enumerating its 11 objectives:

  • A campaign against malaria before any immigrants arrive
  • The purchase of lands by the Keren Kayemet-Jewish National Fund and the Zion Commonwealth 
  • Planting new forests to stop the sand, aid rainfall and provide timber
  • Extensive support for water conservation and wide-scale irrigation
  • Assistance for public welfare and communal groups
  • Improvement of housing conditions
  • Development of sanitation and drainage in cities and towns
  • Survey and development of natural resources
  • Assistance for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Improving the Hebrew school system in Palestine
  • Setting up technical laboratories for agriculture and industry

With the call to the delegates and the Jews of America of “let us rise up and build,” the cover of the ZOA’s January 13, 1920 New Palestine newspaper, founded the previous month as the official organ of the ZOA, carried a full-page illustration highlighting in picturesque drawings what the $10 million 1920 campaign could accomplish. Most of the artwork reflected the listing of campaign goals passed at the meeting.

In our day and age, illustrations are so common that we tend to forget that the call for funds was done in a much more “demure” way a hundred years ago. We do not know who the PR people were for the ZOA, but it is notable that fundraising was put on a new track with this illustration. 

There was a pause to see how over 200,000 Jewish households would react.

THE FIRST big step for the campaign occurred on Saturday night of January 7, 1920.

It would have been wonderful to be among the 3,500 workers gathered for a briefing. Some 1,500 were in Manhattan at the Pennsylvania Hotel; 1,000 gathered at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, and another 1,000 at Pythian Hall in the Bronx.

These American Jews were seething with excitement to raise the money so that Eretz Yisrael, the land of the Jewish people, could begin to develop. It did not happen overnight, but this is one of the steps frequently overlooked.

Those workers left the meetings with actual orders regarding how much money they had to raise. They were “to comb” New York City for $3.5 million. They did not raise every dollar they sought, but The New York Times reported that “over $2 million was raised by the inspired Zionist members.” 

The initial success of the campaign motivated Brandeis behind the scenes to attempt a merger of the two largest fundraising bodies in the US at that time – the Joint Distribution Committee and the ZOA. Jacob Schiff was brought in to mediate between the two groups. Unfortunately, Julius Rosenwald, owner of Sears-Roebuck, threw a wet blanket on the negotiations.

“Many Jews who are not Zionists contribute to JDC,” Rosenwald emphasized. “Unfortunately, they will refuse to contribute when they know that a part of the money is for Zionist purposes.” So no union of the two came to be.

A SURPRISING story about aliyah was part of this issue of the New Palestine. “Plans are formulated for scientific control of immigration into Palestine. Emigrants are being registered and classified for their own good and for Palestine’s.” 

This was said without mentioning that the numbers of new immigrants had really risen. The dream of a large aliyah appeared to be real in the minds of the Zionists, so it had to be handled carefully. 

They went even further. “Zionist officials point out that the difficulty of restraining wholesale immigration to Palestine from all parts of the world is becoming an acute problem.”

The article also said, “The elaborate system of handling and checking immigration has been devised, it was explained by the London Zionist office, to guarantee that only persons perfectly fit, physically and otherwise, to live in Palestine, will comprise the pioneers.”

It was then pointed out that “their duty will be to reclaim the country, and that will be evenly balanced as to professions and occupations so that there will be no dearth of overabundance of any kind.”

Sadly, the assumption of the Zionist movement that there would be a massive aliyah, as Herbert Samuel became the High Commissioner, did not materialize. Once the Jews of the world saw that the countries where they lived were not as antisemitic as they had been, they stayed put. 

The illustration is a wonderful milestone in the march to our State of Israel. As we celebrate Israel’s 74th birthday, let us remember what American Jewry sought to do to encourage individuals to make aliyah. May that number now continue to increase. 