Photo Credit: Saul Jay Singer

Specially produced beautiful and deeply poignant official postcards were issued for all of the pre-Israel Zionist Congresses (all Congresses after 1948 were held in Jerusalem). In a previous Jewish Press article, I displayed and discussed the cards issued for the first seven Congresses, and I present here the official cards from the Eighth Zionist Congress through the Thirteenth Congress along with a brief discussion of the highlights of each.





The Hague (August 14-21, 1907)


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The decision to hold the Zionist Congress in The Hague was based on the knowledge that the Second International Peace Conference was to be held there at the same time. The leadership hoped that the attention of the Peace Conference would be drawn to the Zionist movement and that Conference delegates would take substantive action to bring some peace to the Jews. David Wolffsohn and Max Nordau served as co-presidents of the Congress, which was attended by a significantly greater number of delegates.

The major debate at the Eighth Congress concerned the conflicting approaches of the practical and political Zionists; the political Zionists demanded that a charter be secured before practical work began in Eretz Yisrael, while the practical Zionists argued that without substantial settlement, there was little hope of gaining legal sanction from one or more of the Great Powers.

The adoption of “synthetic Zionism” – a synthesis of the two positions – became the clarion call of many delegates, with Chaim Weizmann as their principal spokesman.

Synthetic Zionism advocated concurrent action on both tracks: political activity coupled with practical endeavor in Eretz Yisrael. It also stressed Zionist activity in the Diaspora, including modernized education; collecting money for the JNF; and active participation, on separate Jewish tickets, in national and local elections. Although it had its genesis in the Eighth Congress, synthetic Zionism, with its guidelines of political realism, flexibility and the quest for a common denominator among the partners in the Zionist idea, later came to dominate the Zionist movement from the Tenth Congress (1911) onward.

The Eighth Congress supported several practical efforts and established a branch of the WZO in Eretz Yisrael at Jaffa, to be headed by Arthur Ruppin; thus, the delegates voted to both proceed with international efforts to obtain a Charter for the Jews of Eretz Yisrael and to establish settlements there. The delegates also authorized a change to the charter for the Jewish Colonial Trust to restrict its activities to Eretz Yisrael.

This Congress was the first to deal with cultural and educational issues as central themes, and the delegates accepted a resolution making Hebrew the official language of the Zionist movement and reached an official decision regarding the adoption of what is today recognized as the Israeli flag.




Hamburg (December 26-30, 1909)


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Zionism had only very slowly established itself in Hamburg alongside Orthodox Judaism and liberal Reform Judaism as the third power group within the Jewish community and, even in 1909, the Hamburg Community refused an invitation to attend, or even to acknowledge, non-local delegates to the Ninth Congress. As such, the Ninth Congress was the first and last Congress held on German soil.

Showpiece: Scarce JNF card mailed December 28, 1909, from the Ninth Congress to Theodor Schatz in Bonn; originally signed by Max Nordau and David Wolffsohn.

With Nordau and Wolffsohn again serving as co-presidents (see exhibit), the Congress had over 400 delegates – including, for the first time, official representatives of workers in Eretz Yisrael – strengthening the idea that the Zionist movement was an inevitable, irresistible force. Intense conflicts between political and practical Zionists remained, as the “practical” Zionists generally accused the Executive of judging projects only by their commercial value and accused Wolffsohn of improperly focusing on political activity. This rival leadership included Menachem Ussishkin, Chaim Weizmann and Nahum Sokolow, who gained support from the representatives of the workers’ movement in Eretz Yisrael. Nonetheless, these disputes evidenced growing interest, devotion, and enthusiasm for the Zionist cause.

The Congress endorsed the commencement of a program of cooperative agricultural settlements in Eretz Yisrael. Ussishkin, perhaps the greatest advocate of co-operative settlements, argued that the principle of “self-labor” must reign and that hiring inexpensive Arab laborers to work for Jewish farmers would corrupt the entire enterprise of re-creating the Jews as a nation. The first such cooperative was soon established at Merchavya.

Although Eretz Yisrael had come under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Nordau argued that it would be a serious mistake for the Congress to blindly follow the young Turks, who were merely a political party of the Ottoman Empire, and for Zionists to mix into Turkish internal affairs. He believed – correctly, as it turned out – that the Jews would never accept privileges from Turkey if the price of those privileges was assimilation with the Turks and expulsion from Eretz Yisrael.




Basle (August 9-15, 1911)


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Nicknamed the “Peace Conference,” the Tenth Zionist Congress suppressed the political aspect of Zionism in favor of cultural and economic policy, marking the end of the friction between the practical and the political Zionists and the emergence of Chaim Weizmann’s synthetic approach. However, there was ironically not much “peace” with, and within, an Orthodox Mizrachi camp made bitter by the adoption by the Congress of the “cultural program” pursuant to which the Zionist Actions Committee was charged with carrying out educational activities in Eretz Yisrael and Eastern Europe. This program was anathema to many of the Orthodox leaders, who believed that religious Judaism could not coexist with a secular Jewish culture.

Seeing the writing on the wall – i.e., that the cultural Zionists were about to take command of the Zionist movement – the Orthodox Zionists held a meeting in Berlin prior to the commencement of the Tenth Congress and drafted a resolution that “nothing that is contrary to the Jewish religion should be undertaken by any institution for cultural activity by the Zionist Organization.” When the Congress defeated the proposal and adopted the cultural program, many Mizrachi delegates and leaders withdrew from the WZO and, a year later, joined German Orthodox separatist leaders and Eastern European traditionalist opponents of Zionism to form Agudat Yisrael. (The Agudah did not drop its anti-Zionist position until after World War II.) Primarily due to the efforts of Rav Yitzchak Yaakov Reines (see exhibit), head of the Mizrachi Movement, most Mizrachi members remained with WZO.

Additional highlights of the Congress included addressing the Arab question in Eretz Yisrael for the first time (including a ridiculous attempt to paint Muslim Arabs as potential allies to Zionism); the screening of a film on the Land of Israel, possibly to be used for propaganda purposes, shot by Murray Rosenberg, an English Jew; the adoption of a new Zionist Constitution drafted by Max Bodenheimer; and the establishment – ironically, in Berlin – of an immigration office to divert Jewish immigration to Eretz Yisrael. Perhaps most significantly, the Congress elevated Hebrew as the language of the Yishuv and of the Zionist Movement, as entire debates were conducted in Hebrew during official proceedings, and Sokolow testified to the great success of Hebrew in inculcating a Zionist national consciousness.

In his opening remarks, WZO president Wolffsohn proudly declared that “fourteen years ago, Zionism was a sensation; today it is a reality.” Max Nordau followed with an address depicting in darkest terms the contemporary spread of antisemitism through world and the dire situation of the Jews of Eastern Europe. When Wolffsohn announced his retirement, a new leadership was elected with Dr. Otto Warburg, a German Jew and a distinguished scientist who was identified with the practical Zionist camp, elected WZO chairman.

Warburg immediately had to deal with the heated debate regarding a Mizrachi complaint about workers on JNF property in Eretz Yisrael failing to follow Jewish law, including Shabbat observance. Mizrachi was outraged when Bodenheimer replied that it was not the function of the WZO to serve as “religious police” and that, in any case, laws such as Shabbat and shemittah were meticulously observed. In response, Herman Struck read a letter from Chief Rabbi Kook making clear that Jewish practices were not being followed. At the end of the day, various factions at least paid lip service to the importance of Torah observance on JNF land, and Mizrachi withdrew its complaint.




Vienna (September 2-9, 1913)


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In his inaugural address at the Eleventh Congress, Warburg paid tribute to Herzl and the Congress paid a visit to Herzl’s grave (his remains were disinterred and reburied on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem after the birth of Israel). The five Official Eleventh Congress cards exhibited here all relate to Herzl. From top to bottom: (1) Herzl’s grave in Vienna; (2) Tel-Aviv Herzl Street and the Herzliya Gymnasium; (3) Herzl portrait; (4) Herzl depicted within a Magen David; (5) Showpiece: Official Eleventh Congress Card originally signed in Hebrew by Zev Jabotinsky.

In the handwritten August 20, 1913, correspondence to Zionist architect, theoretician, orator, builder and writer Louis Lipsky, Henrietta Szold writes:

Szold’s correspondence to Louis Lipsky regarding the Eleventh Congress.

I wish to extend to you, Mr. Katzman, Mr. Segal, and all delegates to the [Eleventh] Congress who are sailing with you my sincerest wishes for a happy journey thither and hither, and for the prosperity of your main errand. The latter is in reality a wish for all of us, the stay-at-homes as well – all of them who believe with a profound faith growing more and more [overmastering?] day by day that our hope, Jewish and human, lies in a free, noble, great Zion. May you and this Congress be instrumental in establishing it. Carry my good wishes to the whole American delegation. With Zionist greetings.

The Eleventh Zionist Congress was marked by strategies for purchasing land for settlement in Eretz Yisrael, which resulted in a massive international fund-raising effort and launched a powerful Jewish nationalism. The questions connected with the work in Eretz Yisrael were becoming more numerous and complicated, including acquisition of land and its preparation and cultivation for European settlers; training of townsfolk in agriculture; investigation of methods of farming and labor to create the preliminary conditions for the settlement of the moneyless masses; questions of credit and law connected with hereditary leases; and the housing problems in town and country. These issues induced the Congress to entrust JNF directors with the task of devising a system of labor for the JNF.

Leaders at the Congress argued for both cultural and demographic domination in Eretz Yisrael, and Arthur Ruppin, in his address before the Congress, carefully laid out the principles for the continuation of Jewish settlement there. Though Ruppin stressed the importance of rapprochement with the Arabs, he failed to formulate an acceptable plan for doing so. Another important decision by the Congress was to establish a Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the foremost proponent of which was Weizmann, who also joined Menachem Ussishkin and Heinrich Loewe in supporting the project to establish a National Jewish Library in Holy City.

The Congress boasted 550 delegates, but did not include a seriously very ill David Wolffsohn, who passed away shortly after the conclusion of the Congress, but new delegates attending for the first time included David Ben Gurion, Yitzchak Ben-Zvi and Louis Brandeis. Other attendees included Franz Kafka, who read reports of Jewish agricultural colonies in Eretz Yisrael and seriously considered making aliyah, and Joseph Trumpeldor.

Habimah, the Hebrew theatre company, staged Osip Dymov’s Shma Yisrael before the entire Eleventh Congress, and an early 1900 film was shown, which included footage of BILU (an important movement dedicated to agricultural settlement in Eretz Yisrael) celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first Jewish pioneers in Eretz Yisrael.




Carlsbad (September 1–14, 1921)


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Exhibited here are five Official Twelfth Congress cards. From top to bottom: (1) Sorrow and Hope, by Joseph Budko; famous verse from Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might nor by power but by my spirit, says Hashem;” (2) Old Jew with Torah Scroll, by Jacob Steinhardt; (3) Joseph Taken by the Ishmaelites, by Lesser Ury; (4) From Jerusalem, by Hermann Struck; (5) The Orpheum on the Grand Hotel in Carlsbad.


The first Congress after World War I, it convened in the aftermath of the Balfour Declaration, the British occupation of Eretz Yisrael, the Bolshevik Revolution, and numerous deadly Ukrainian pogroms. The Congress began with high expectations of Eretz Yisrael under the British Mandate, but it was soon disrupted by many disagreements on matters of finance and organization. For the first time, the Polish delegates constituted the strongest group, and Mizrachi, the religious party, was the largest single faction. The Congress elected a new Executive and ended with an emotional speech by Chaim Nachman Bialik, who predicted that once substantive work got underway, the unending quarrels and theoretical disputations amongst the delegates would cease. England became the epicenter of the Zionist Movement, Weizmann was elected president, and the Congress marked the emergence of a dynamic American contingent of Zionists led by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

Main events included the authorization of the Balfour Declaration; adoption of a new Zionist Constitution; approval of the resolution of the London Zionist Conference in 1920 to found Keren Hayesod and the purchase large tracts of land in the Jezreel Valley; and the founding of Nahalal, the first moshav. The Congress also addressed the question of Zionism’s relations with the Arabs, an issue that had become serious in the wake of the Arab riots in Jerusalem of May 1920 and, as antisemitism fueled the development of separate Jewish gymnastics clubs in Constantinople and Bulgaria, these clubs formed a loose association that eventually became the Maccabi World Union at the Twelfth Congress. Finally, the Congress screened Shivat Tzion, a film by Yaacov Ben-Dov, who was one of the founders of the film industry in Eretz Yisrael and was among the first to identify the potential propaganda value of film in promoting Zionism to the masses.




Carlsbad (August 5-16, 1923)


Exhibited here is the Official Card for the Thirteenth Zionist Congress, Jeremiah Comforts Mother Rachel by Josef Budko, which includes the famous and agonizingly beautiful verse from Jeremiah 31:15-16:

Official Thirteenth Congress card.

So says Hashem: Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and the Jews will return from the land of their enemy. And there is hope for your future, says Hashem, and the children shall return to their borders.


The agenda for the 13th Congress included settlement activity in Eretz Yisrael, the activities of Keren Hayesod, the opening of a university in Jerusalem, and the plan to establish the Jewish Agency.

This was the first Congress to convene after League of Nations sanctioned the British Palestinian Mandate. Article IV of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine called for the creation of a Jewish Agency “to secure the cooperation of all Jews who are willing to assist in the establishment of the Jewish National Home” (emphasis added) and, accordingly, the Zionist Organization was renamed the Jewish Agency for Palestine. However, the proposal to include non-Zionists in the Jewish Agency aroused considerable opposition and was defeated by the Congress. (However, Weizmann, who was reelected WZO president by the Congress, succeeded in reversing this policy six years later.)

The idea of forming Jewish sports clubs in Europe was inextricably linked to the growth of political Zionism and represented a conscious effort to promote the idea that Jews were different only in terms of their religion. As a result of the spread of Jewish gymnastics clubs throughout Europe, the 13th Congress also formed the World Maccabi Union with the aim to “foster physical education, the belief in the Jewish heritage and the Jewish nation, and to work actively for the rebuilding of our country and for the preservation of our people.”

In an important territorial resolution with important future repercussions, the Congress resolved:

Recognizing that eastern and western Palestine are in reality and de facto one unit historically, geographically, and economically, the Congress expresses its expectation that the future of Transjordan shall be determined in accordance with the legitimate demands of the Jewish people.


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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at [email protected].