TB Herwald’s Recollections (15 August 1948)

‘Zionism in Manchester 1891-1900’

B'nei Zion

My first acquaintance with Jewish nationalism in Manchester was in 1891. I was then a young emigrant who had some knowledge of the Chibath Zion Movement and although there was a Choveve Zion branch in Manchester, with Baron Belisha as president, their activities among the foreign element was practically nil and it was in the summer of 1891 when I noticed a small bill in Yiddish that a lecture on Chibath Zion will be held on Saturday afternoon in the Talmud Torah in Bent Street. The Talmud Torah in those days was not the present building but a large room with whitewashed walls. The furniture consisted of long plain tables with long forms without backs. In general it looked more like a Tailor’s workshop of those days. There were about twenty persons present. The lecturer spoke in a kind of Yiddish Deutsch and I must confess that I hardly understood him. When he finished another young man spoke in a plainer Yiddish. He was the Rev. Meinken the then Principal of the Talmud Torah who explained the object of the meeting and appealed to everyone present to attend a meeting in the house of Mr J Chazen in Exchange Street on the following day (Sunday) and join the Society which was under formation. I went to that meeting and enrolled as a member. The Society was called Bnei Zion and its object was to foster Chibath Zion ideal by lectures and debates, and also to establish a Jewish Library. After several meetings it was decided to rent a place in Bridon Street, Strangeways. The reason why we selected Bridon Street was because in the same street there was the Mission Hall for converting Jews to Christianity and they had an excellent Jewish library with books and papers in Hebrew and Yiddish and it used to be well attended by Jewish men who were anxious to read in the language they understood best. While the Jewish community did not much care for the educational side of the new emigrants, it was the missioners [sic] who sowed the seed for their propaganda to catch the Jewish soul and they may have succeeded with some. It was our object to create such a place to obviate Jews from the mission hall and to educate them to Jewish nationalism. We had a great struggle to obtain the necessary funds for the upkeep of the place. We appealed to the Choveve Zion of support but they did not see the necessity of such a place. The only connection between the two organisations was that two representatives of the Bnei Zion, Mr I Chazan and myself were elected on to their Committee. After struggling for over twelve months the Society was dissolved.

Agaduth Achim

In 1982, a small group of young men formed themselves under the name of Agudath Achim. The object was to settle themselves in Palestine as colonists. There were eighteen members in Manchester and about twelve in Dublin. The contribution was 2/6 per week and as there was no expense attached to the Group all contributions were banked. On the accumulation of funds it was decided to send two members to Palestine to buy land for all the members. We selected Mr Aaron Hovsna, representing Dublin and Mr J Yablonsky from Manchester. They stayed in Palestine a few months but under the Turkish rule in those days no one could buy land officially. Land was secured by back door methods and we, living in England, wanted contracts for our land which could not be obtained. Our delegates came back very disappointed and we had no alternative except to wind up the Society. All monies were distributed amongst the members.

Dorsho Zion

As a member of the Choveve Zion Committee I was disappointed with the whole work which consisted only of collecting small sums of money and forwarded to London Headquarters. There was strong criticism at the high expense of the upkeep of Head Office in London which left very little to help the Palestine colonists and did nothing to foster the national ideals.

On the 30th March 1894 I called together about fifteen young men, most of them members of the Agudath Achim. Mr M Michaelson was in the Chair and it was decided to form an organisation with the same objectives as the Bnei Zion but with more vigour. Our motto was "L’MANN ZION LO ECHESHEM OOLMAAN JERUSALEM LO ESHKOT" [Hebrew "So that Jerusalem will not be delayed, I will not remain silent"]. We had weekly meetings at different houses and at every meeting different Chairman. All members acted as Committee men and Mr Yablonsky was elected Secretary. On July 8th we had our first Public Meeting with Mr L Levenson in the Chair. Mr Michaelson, Mr Stern and myself addressed the meeting and we enrolled ten new members. We also decided to hold public debates and the first debate was held on August 5th. The speaker was Mr Stern and the subject discussed "Does Chibath Zion Answer the Jewish Problem?", a subject still open to debate even at present.

At the end of the year 1894 we already had about fifty members and we decided to take room for our activities and to open a library at 41 Cheetham Hill Road. In this house there was a large room on the ground floor and a smaller room and it was resolved to rent both rooms. I was instructed to negotiate with the tenant of the house. Here I feel I must mention a little incident I had with this tenant to show how ignorant Jews were in those days about Zionism. When I asked him if he would let us have the rooms, he asked me for what purpose did I require them. I told him for Zionist propaganda. His reply was "What Zozilist; clear out! I don’t want Zozilists in my house". I informed him that we were not Socialists but Zionists. His answer was "Zozilist, Zionist they are all the same", "I do not want them in my house." I then told him that Rabbi Dagutsky was one of our members. His reply to that was that if I could obtain a letter from the Rabbi and show it to him he would let me have the room. This I did, and with the necessary Hechshazwe were made Kosher to rent rooms in a Jewish house. We had a great struggle to fix up the place and to obtain the necessary papers and books. On many occasions we went on a house-to-house canvass collecting money. When we were asked for whom we were collecting our answer was "for a poor respectable Jewish family." I think we were not misrepresenting the facts, as the Jewish people are the poorest amongst nations. We at last managed to make the place suitable for a library and for meetings. It gradually became the centre where intelligent Jews congregated and the membership increased. In 1896 the "Juden State" [sic] was published and when in July of the same year Herzl appeared before the Maccabeans of London at the instigation of Israel Zangwill the whole Dorsha Zion was newly born and they immediately became the adherents of Herzl and proclaimed him their leader.

In 1897 before the first Zionist Congress we called a Conference of all Synagogues in Manchester. The Conference approved of sending a delegate to Congress and to defray all his expenses. At a public meeting addressed by Jacob de Haas, Mr Shuwalsky, the Editor of the Hebrew paper "Hayehudi", Mr Dalidansky, Editor of the Jewish Express, Mr Ish Kisher, Mr Halpern from Liverpool, Mr Joseph Massel was elected as a delegate to the first Zionist Congress held in Basle in August 1897. After the Congress, the Dorsho Zion became automatically adherents to the Basle Programme, and the idea of "a legally assured home in Palestine" gave solid ground for the Dreamers of Zion. Enthusiasm and energy of the young idealists were doubled and trebled and new supporters joined the Movement. In February 1898 a Committee was formed under the name of Vaad Hazionim for the purpose of selling Shekalim and for propaganda work. The contribution of 2/3 year was set low in order that rich and poor alike could join the Committee. From that small contribution 1/- was for a Shekel and the remaining 1/6 for organisational purposes. In a short time the Vaad Hazionim had 800 members. At the second Zionist Congress held in Basle on August 28th 1898, Manchester was represented by over 800 Shekel-holders. Later the Vaad Hazionim formed itself into a separate organisation and the first members meeting was held on May 13th 1898 when Mr Joseph Massel was elected as President. Also elected were two Vice-Presidents, three Treasurers, and sixteen members of the Committee. Some well-known personalities such as Dr Finkelstein, Rev Ernst, Rev Silverstone, IJ Loewy, Glaff, Goodman, Robinson and others served on this Committee.

English Zionist Federation

In March 1898 a Conference of the old Choveve Zion and the new Zionists who accepted the Basle Programme was called in London to form a united Organisation. The Conference could not come to a final decision as both parties differed on principle. The leader of the Choveve Zion, Colonel Goldsmid, who was President, Mr Prague, Mr B Belisha of Manchester and others were against the new idea of political Zionism, while Dr Gaster, Herbert Bentwich, Jacob de Haas and others were strong supporters of the Basle programme. At the conclusion the political Zionists decided to form the English Zionist Federation without the Choveve Zion.

In Manchester we had no faith in the English Zionist Federation and were not anxious to join until more information was forthcoming of the workings of the Organisation. It was not until January 1899 when the Dorsho Zion joined the English Zionist Federation.

Here is the report of the General Meeting held on January 8th with Mr Rubinstein, President, in the Chair, Mr Sortman, Hon. Secretary, submitted the Balance Sheet for the year 1898. Income was £61.14.4, Expenditure £60.16.4, leaving a balance in hand of 18/-.

After the Balance Sheet was passed a discussion followed as to whether we should join the Federation and it was decided unanimously to join. It was also reported that Rabbi Jaffe of the Central Synagogue had joined the Dorsho Zion. In February, Mr Rubinstein resigned and Mr Ben-Elial was elected President. Ben-Elial was a young man from the Spanish and Portuguese Jews. He had a fine personality was an excellent organiser and made a splendid Chairman. At his first meeting at which he presided, it was decided to enlarge the Committee from twelve to twenty-four and divide it into four sub-Committee, for propaganda, the sale of Shekalim, sale of shares in the Jewish Colonial Trust and Finance.

The Vaad Hazioni became inactive and the whole work fell on the Dorsho Zion.

At the first Conference of the English Zionist Federation held of June 8th 1898, the Dorsho Zion was represented by six delegates, Ben-Elial, Joseph Massel, L Levinson, A Gorden, J Chassen and myself. Dr Herzl and David Wolfson were in London on the formation of the Bank and they attended the Conference. It was the first time that I had the honour and pleasure to meet Herzl. His wonderful personality is still engraved in my memory. I became his follower and perhaps his slave from the first moment I set my eyes on him.

In the evening a Public meeting was arranged with Herzl as the principle speaker. The enthusiasm of that meeting is difficult to describe. When Herzl appeared on the platform, the mass gathering of several thousands stood on their feet and cheered. Some threw their hats in the air from enthusiasm. It lasted about ten minutes before Sir Frances Montefiore who was in the Chair was able to open the meeting. Herzl read his address in English and was followed by David Wolfson who spoke in German. Dr Gaster, Herbert Bentwich and Jacob de Hasse also spoke. After the meeting I met Mr Baron Belisha in the Hall and asked him for his opinion on Herzl. He told me that he was the greatest Jew he ever saw but his ideas were Utopian.

In August the third Zionist Congress was held in Basle and Manchester was represented by three delegates, Rabbi Dagutsky Rabbi J Jaffe and Mr Joseph Massel. In September a meeting was held in the Derby Street Jewish School. The three delegates gave a report of the Congress and the Appeal for shares in the Bank was answered by £500 worth of subscribers.

In 1900 the Dorsha Zion was known as the finest Zionist organisation in England. The room we had at 41, Cheetham Hill Road had become too small as had the library, for the great activities of the organisation and much larger premises were needed, but I must here close my chapter as I removed to Liverpool in the beginning of that year and lost the personal touch of the further development of Manchester Zionism. All the dates and facts I mention in this chapter is taking from Minutes and publications in my possession which I have cherished all these years. I have especially given the names of the first pioneers who should be remembered, as most of them have passed away, and if a few of them are still alive, "the new Kings do not know Joseph". When I look back on those first years and think of the sincerity and personal sacrifices of those young dreamers; the struggle we had with the then Jewish community; with the religious and assimilated Jews; with the socialist and anarchist with their atheist propaganda; we had a handful of young men overcame all difficulties and marched forward in Manchester for Jewish national aspirations. All honour is due to the first fifteen young men who formed the Dorsha Zion on March 30th 1894 of which the continuation is today, the Manchester Zionist Organisation.


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