For six decades, no Zionist or Jewish national activity took place in which Menachem Mendel Ussishkin (1863-1941), did not play an important role. A Zionist founding father known as “the Grand Old Man of Zionism” – and who some Zionists called “The Iron Will” – he is perhaps best known for publishing Our Program, which laid out his “five-point program” for Zionism that thereafter dominated the Zionist Movement: political action, acquisition of land, aliyah, settlement, and educational and organizational work. He launched the idea of the moshav ovedim (“worker’s settlement”), settlements in which Jewish workers cultivate JNF land with their own hands and with no assistance from hired workers.
Born in Dubrovno (now in Belarus), Ussishkin grew up with a traditional Chassidic education and went on to graduate as a technical engineer from the Moscow Technical Institute (1889). An early and active founding member of Chovevei Tzion, he made aliyah in 1919 and, as head of the Zionist Commission, he guided the Yishuv toward the actualization of the Jewish national homeland and later served for 20 years as president of the Jewish National Fund.
Consistent with his philosophy that agricultural settlement in Eretẓ Yisrael is the prime directive of Zionism in general and of the JNF in particular, he increased JNF property from 22,000 to 561,000 dunam, including large tracts of land in Emek Yizrael (1921), the Ḥefer Plain (1927), the Haifa Bay area (1928), and Bet She’an (1930). Always a Zionist pragmatist, he played a leading role in the first Zionist Congresses, including serving as Hebrew Secretary of the First Congress (Basle, 1897) and as president of the Twentieth Congress (Zurich, 1937).
Ussishkin was also a noted Hebraist for whom the revival of the Hebrew language became a guiding principle. He regularly published articles in Ha-Melitẓ, the first Hebrew newspaper in the Russian Empire; played a leading role in founding the modernized Hebrew-speaking cheder network; founded a modern Hebrew library; and was a board member of Achiasaf, an important publishing house. After his first visit to Eretz Yisrael in 1891, he described his journey in a popular booklet that launched him to the forefront of Zionist leadership. During the February Russian Revolution of 1917, he passionately opposed the “Yiddishists” who wished to substitute Yiddish for Hebrew as the recognized national language of the Jewish people.
At the eighth conference of Chovevei Tzion (1912), Ussishkin argued for the creation of a Hebrew university and he introduced a successful resolution to allocate 50,000 gold francs for the acquisition of land on Har Hatzofim for this purpose. An invitee to officially inaugurate Hebrew University (1925), he was elected to both its Board of Trustees and Executive Committee.
Ussishkin was a great admirer of Theodor Herzl, although his belief in “synthetic Zionism” – the immediate settlement of Eretz Yisrael with Jewish agronomy and labor – led him to oppose the Zionist leader. In his “London Program,” Herzl had defined the aim of Zionism as “the acquisition in accordance with the Law of Nations for those Jews who are unable or unwilling to assimilate” and, in his “Basle Program,” he defined the essence of Zionism as “establishing a home for the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael secured under public law.”
Ussishkin, who passionately believed that the ultimate Zionist raison d’etre was the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, opposed Herzl’s preoccupation with political activity. Moreover, he argued that the Basle Program – which included a detailed enumeration of the means to attain its ultimate goal – was too explicit a formulation of the Zionist idea and that, as such, it could provoke the Ottoman government to institute action against the entire Yishuv, which would have an adverse effect Jewish settlement.
At the Second Zionist Congress (1898), Ussishkin was elected to the Zionist General Council, a position he held for the rest of his life. At the Fifth Congress, he proposed the establishment of the Anglo-Palestine Company Limited in Eretz Yisrael as a branch of the Jewish Colonial Trust and, at the Minsk Conference of the Russian Zionists (1902), he became the first Zionist leader to call for the recruitment of Zionist youth for pioneer work in Eretz Yisrael.
After the Kishinev Pogrom (1903), a profoundly shocked Ussishkin, with Herzl’s blessing, went to Eretz Yisrael to organize the Jewish community there. He directed the Knesset HaGedolah (the Great Assembly) in Zichron Yaakov, which blew up over the news that Herzl was considering accepting an offer from the British government to establish a Jewish homeland in Uganda. Bitterly opposed to the Uganda Plan, Ussishkin was the prime mover behind the Kharkov Conference (1903), which called upon Herzl and the Zionist Congress to halt any consideration of Jewish nationhood outside the sacred soil of Eretz Yisrael.
In 1905, Ussishkin convened a conference of Tzionei Tzion (“The Zionists of Zion”), an assembly of anti-Uganda Zionists, credited by many authorities for the ultimate decision by the Seventh Zionist Congress (July 1905) – the first after Herzl’s death – to veto the Uganda Plan and to shift the emphasis of the Zionist Movement to settlement activities in Eretẓ Israel. It was during this battle over the Uganda Plan that Ussishkin published Our Program which, as discussed above, became the blueprint for the Zionist movement.
During the February Revolution (1917), Ussishkin waged a fierce struggle against those who argued that the granting of equal rights to Russian Jews had made Zionism obsolete. He organized a mass demonstration in Odessa attended by over 200,000 people to celebrate the Balfour Declaration (1917), and he attended the Paris Peace Conference (1919) as representative of the Jewish people, where he addressed the delegates in Hebrew.
The Kfar Ussishkin project was launched at the Eighteenth Zionist Congress (1933, Prague) with the adoption of a resolution that, in observance of his 70th birthday, “the whole of Jewry should take part in the establishment of Kfar Ussishkin.” The project called for the acquisition of a Jewish colony in Eretz Yisrael named for him. When it purchased land in Upper Galilee, north of the Ḥuleh Valley, in 1939, the JNF established a series of moshavei ovedim and kevutzot called Metzudot Ussishkin (“Ussishkin Forts”) there. A Beit Ussishkin Nature Museum was also built in the 1950s near Tel Dan in the Galilee, and many streets in Israel are named for him, including Ussishkin Street in Jerusalem.
Born in Poland and a student at the famous Kovno Yeshiva in Lithuania, Isaac Leib Goldberg (1860 -1935) was a Zionist leader best known for his philanthropy in Eretz Yisrael, particularly for his purchase of lands there for Jewish settlement. In 1903, he made the first gift of land to the JNF, which he designated for growing olives; in 1908, he purchased the first plot of land on Har Hatzofim for the future Hebrew University; and he was a founder of the Geulah Company, whose aim was to purchase land in Eretz Yisrael for private ownership. He is also known for his founding of, and financial support for, Zionist and Hebrew newspapers, including Haaretz, which, still in publication, is the longest-running newspaper in Israel’s history, and Ha-Am, and he supported various periodicals in Vilna, including Ha-Olam and Dos Yidishe Folke.
A founding member of Chibat Tzion, Goldberg represented the movement at the First Zionist Congress and his home in Vilna became the center of Zionist and Jewish national activities. He made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael in 1919, where he engaged in growing oranges and making important contributions to improving the packing and marketing of citrus products. As a founder of the famous Carmel Company, he helped it market and distribute its kosher wine throughout the settlements of Eretz Yisrael.
Exhibited here is a copy of Ussishkin’s The Voice of the Land, published by the JNF in Jerusalem in 1929 and inscribed by Goldberg “to the friends of building the land now more than 40 years. May they increase – Yitzchak Leib Goldberg, with love.” It is countersigned beneath by Ussishkin.
Echoing his Our Program, the comprehensive list of topics Ussishkin discusses in this booklet includes The Song of the Redemption; Love of the Homeland; the Pursuit of a Life of Justice and a Life of Justice in the Homeland; All Torah that Doesn’t Include a Component of Activism Will Ultimately Be in Vain; The Prime Directive of the JNF is Youth Education; National Justice and Social Justice; the Battle Between the Concepts of Individual Justice and National Ownership of Land; the Ultimate Victory of the Views of the JNF; Assurance that the Land of Israel will Forever Remain in Jewish Hands; Individual Ownership of Land as a Motivator for Social Action; National Ownership of Land as a Guarantee of Social Peace in the Land; the Necessity of Redeeming the Land Now; In Yehuda and Shomron; In Emek Yizrael; In the Jordan Valley; and Haifa Bay.
Goldberg bequeathed half his estate to the JNF – which amounted to a gift of $30 million in today’s dollars – for the promotion of Hebrew literature and Hebrew culture in Eretz Yisrael. However, as we see in the historic May 14, 1936, correspondence exhibited here in which Ussishkin writes to H.Z. Hoofien “in honor of the guardian board of Goldberg’s inheritance (may he rest in peace),” there were significant delays in the probate of Goldberg’s estate, which hindered the JNF’s financial ability to carry out important work in Eretz Yisrael:
It has already been eight months since Isaac Leib Goldberg’s day of death (may he rest in peace), who ordered in his will to hand over half his property to the Jewish National Fund with the idea of laying a foundation for the affairs of Hebrew culture. During all this time, almost nothing has been done from the legal guardian’s side to fulfill the decedent’s will. I know, very well, all the difficulties involved in liquidating the property, of which the most part is invested in real estate, (and) nonetheless I do not find this constitutes sufficient cause. It is not possible to continue at such a pace and delay the fulfillment of the will of the decedent. And I also do not envision any likelihood that the situation will soon change such that that it will be easier to execute the sale of these assets. Therefore, it is necessary, in my opinion, to arrange the division of the assets, half of which will be to the heirs and the other half of which will be transferred to the JNF.
The arrangement of the division can be done in two ways: A) as is customary in such cases, that one side – either the JNF or the heirs – divides the property into two equal parts, of which the other side then chooses which to be its own. B) if this method is not desirable to the (inheriting) family members, then there is only one way out: to hand over the whole property to the office of the estate books under the musha theory [Author’s note: an 1858 Ottoman land law of 1858 commonly used in Israel to describe ownership of real estate], half of which is registered in the name of the heirs, and the other half in the name of JNF or by an attorney. Over time when the property will be sold, whether at once or in parts, half of the money goes to JNF and the other half to the family.
JNF is obligated to demand, at all costs, from the board of the guardians to execute the will and not to neglect the matter for ages and ages. And who knows what a day will bring. Therefore, understand that JNF, as a public institution, must protect its affairs and has already been approached by all parties and asked about the fate of Goldberg’s will, may he rest in peace. The decedent was such an important man, a Zionist devoted to Eretz Yisrael and its building, and it is entirely proper that the guardians will honor his memory and hasten to fulfill his will. JNF is also interested to know, in detail, about the condition of other property: what has been done with this property, its worth, in whose hands it is, and what JNF’s part in these assets is.
I am well aware that each of the legal guardians is taking care of several matters, private and public. I am also aware that the situation that has taken shape in the land during these days does not facilitate the peace of mind necessary to take care of such matters. Nonetheless, I think that each one of the legal guardians, and all together, must take care of this important matter with greater enthusiasm and at a quicker pace than heretofore. If they agreed to the role of legal guardianship according to the demands of the decedent, it is after all not only their duty to bear the name legal guardian, but also the burden of the work itself until it is completed and the wishes of the decedent fulfilled in their entirety.
I request of Hoofien to arrange a guardianship meeting shortly, where he will he read this letter, and where a suitable decision will need be made.
The recipient of our letter, Eliezer Hoofien (1881-1957), was a Dutch-born accountant and Israeli banker best known for his role in directing the financial affairs of the Yishuv and for establishing Israel’s monetary system when it became a state. A Zionist from his youth, he accepted David Wolffsohn’s invitation to join the central Zionist Bureau in Cologne (1909) before Wolffsohn sent him to Eretẓ Yisrael three years later to serve as the deputy director general, and later director general, of the Anglo-Palestine Bank, which played a leading role in financing agricultural projects, small start-up businesses, and land purchases in Eretz Yisrael. During World War I, the Ottoman authorities ordered the dissolution of the Anglo-Palestine Bank, which Hoofien successfully prevented.
One of his significant accomplishments with the bank was financing the development of the young Jewish-controlled Tel Aviv port in the mid-1930s, which was built at a time when Arab-Jewish clashes led to worker protests which effectively ended Jewish access to the port. On August 16, 1948, PM Ben Gurion executed an agreement with Hoofien appointing the bank as Israel’s financial agent and allowing it to issue Anglo-Palestine Bank notes, which served as Israel’s official currency until the foundation of the Bank of Israel (1954). In Israel’s first years, Goldberg served as economic and financial adviser to the government.