The Manchester School

In comparison with the fragmented, opposing Zionist camps in London, Weizmann’s consolidation of a small, loyal, intelligent group of anglicised Jews was impressive. Harry Sacher, Leon Simon, Samuel Landman, and Norman Bentwich became captivated by the personality and policies of Weizmann, the authentic East European Jew, in the period 1905-07. The other members of the Manchester School, Israel Sieff and Simon Marks, got involved around 1913. Weizmann valued these associates not only for their moral support, which he depended heavily upon, but also for the influence they had - both through business contacts and through the large audiences reached through their newspaper and other publications.

The Manchester School represented a new generation who preferred to express their Jewishness in terms of Zionism rather than in the conventional terms of religion. For several of them, their political outlook belied their family backgrounds: Leon Simon was the son of Rabbi Isadore Simon of South Manchester Synagogue, Sydney St, and Harry Dagut was the son of Rabbi Mendel Dagutski of the Holy Law Beth Aaron Synagogue, Cheetham. Even Symon Massel’s grandfather had been a rabbi.

Propaganda was a priority for the group. Zionist education was at a low ebb at that time in England, and, in their opinion, what little material there was failed to properly root Zionist faith in Zionist philosophy and history. The result was their involvement in The Zionist Banner, which had been produced and printed by Joseph Massel since March 1910. Pamphlets were printed which discussed the main problems and gave essential information about Zionist history and activity, and propaganda work was also undertaken among the Jewish youth at the Universities. Later, in London, the same group (with a few additions) published a book of Zionist Essays and, following the establishment of the British-Palestine Committee in 1916, produced the periodical Palestine. This monthly was issued from the ‘Palestine Bureau’ in Piccadilly, London, where Weizmann had his office. It was financed by Israel Sieff and Simon Marks and edited by Harry Sacher with contributions from Herbert Sidebotham of the Manchester Guardian. The link to the Massel family was retained with Symon Massel recorded as the "business manager".

In his Memoirs, Israel Sieff recalls that during their first meeting in 1913, he had so wanted to impress Weizmann that he showed off. Having just raised £28,000 for the Jewish Hospital, he snubbed Weizmann’s talk of pennies from Europe. Weizmann was not impressed initially, but later changed his mind, explaining, "There is a great need of a good schnorrer" (Yiddish for professional beggar). Israel Sieff and Simon Marks proved to be amongst Weizmann’s most loyal friends and advisors, and with their business-like and optimistic attitudes they counter-balanced Weizmann, who was temperamental and often given to depression. In return, Weizmann can be said to have given them a Great Cause to work for in their lives. As Israel Sieff put it,

"Weizmann gave me, as he gave so many others, a vision and awareness, a sense of urgency and dedication, which made it seem in retrospect as though for me Zionism and Weizmann began in my life together."

As his assistants and confidants, they were present on many of the historic moments of Zionist history. Both went with Weizmann to the Peace Conference at Versailles (1919). Seiff accompanied him to a consultation in London with Balfour, just prior to the Declaration (1917), to Palestine for the Zionist Commission (1918), and to the San Remo Peace Conference in Italy (1920), which agreed to incorporate the Balfour Declaration into the British Mandate for Palestine.

In contrast to Sieff and Marks, Harry Sacher had been a committed Zionist before he came under Weizmann’s influence, and was present at the Sixth Zionist Congress (Basle, 1903).

"It was through the Zionist Society that I first met him. At the end of 1905 I joined the staff of the Manchester Guardian and I used to lecture occasionally at the Zionist Society. This brought us together in a friendship and a common service that have endured now some forty years."

He, too, became a close family friend, and was the godfather of Weizmann’s son, Benjamin. He also loaned Weizmann half a crown for the cab-fare when Mr and Mrs Weizmann returned from their honeymoon! Apart from everything else Sacher achieved for the movement, it was through his introduction that Weizmann met Sidebotham at the Guardian and thus gained an influential friend for Zionism.


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IMAGE AND DOCUMENT CREDITS: Harry Sacher (J Reinharz, The Making of a Zionist Leader), Leon Simon (J Reinharz, The Making of a Zionist Leader), Simon Marks and Israel Sieff (J Reinharz, The Making of a Zionist Leader) Full reference: Sources.