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August 14, 1964 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1964-08-14

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Ben-Gurion's Ref le etions on Berl Katznelson on 20t1i Anniversary of His Death

Berl KatznelSon was the greatest
intellectual force produced by the
Second Aliya, which was the prod-
uct of disillusionment wth Zionism
and Socialism. With the death of
Herzl, many feared that the move-
ment was at an end. But there were
those who realized that Zionism
would only have a meaning if they
devoted their lives to working on
the land.
These men also were disillu-
sioned with the Russian Revolution
and Socialism — by 1906 they had
little hope for this cause. These
two factors produced the Second
Aliya — they believed that Zionism
meant working on the land and in
labor as the soul and spirit of the
national revival. They were Social-
ists but not the preaching kind; for
them it meant evolving a way of
living for a free working commun-
Their ideas emerged from
their experiences, they learned
by their mistakes, by constantly
searching for improvements. And
the man who gave the fullest
expression to their searchings
and thinking was Bea Before he
came here, he was less of a Zion-
ist than many others. The Social-
ist vision was part of him from
his youth. He was, however, dis-
illusioned by the Socialism in
Berl came here in 1909, prefer-
ring not to join either of the two
existing workers' parties, not agree-
ing with either of them in full. In
those early years I hardly knew
him, I met him once or twice at
meetings of agricultural workers. I
really got to know him after I re-
turned from America with Ben-Zvi
in the Jewish Legion, and met him
in the desert, at Tel-el-Kabir. I had
come across an article of his, "To-
wards the Future," in an anthology
called "Work." On reading it, I
said to myself — this is what I be-
lieve, too . . . So I went to see him.
Berl wrote of the workers' mission
to create a free Jewish society of
men living by their own labor, of
the resolve to redeem the nation
and of the desire to free the work-
ers — both aims being part and
parcel of the same cause; that the
message of the Jewish worker
could not be put across by routine
methods but through his life and


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his work; he called for mass immi-
gration, creation of farming and in-
dustry with the full cooperation of
science and cultural work.
No one said those things before
him. The ideas had a tremendous
impact. Above all, he had a brilliant
style. In his day there was no one
like him. What Bialik was to poetry,
he was to prose. I know of no
writer who bettered him in the
form and richness of expression.
He outlined the path to future
Unity was important to Berl, be-
cause he did not regard the work-
ers as a separate class, in opposi-
tion to Left Poalei Zion, but as
part of the nation and as respon-
sible for its fate. -
Berl always lived with the idea
that what we were doing was not
just for the sake of a party but for
the common good.
He opposed me about Partition
in 1937. He dreamed of the integ-
rity of the land. But he did agree
finally to the formula that if the
Mandatory Government would keep
to the Partition scheme, with cer-
tain improvements — Jerusalem
and the borders — we would dis-
cuss it. Then came his article, dur-
ing World War II, in a pamphlet
entitled "The Crucible," where he
wrote of the immediate need for a
Jewish State, arguing that the Man-
date would not last and that the
State would not cover all parts of
the land. That was his strength—
he realized that conditions change
and that we must adjust our poli-
tical thinking accordingly.
Berl was a teacher. He would
certainly object to the title of
leader. Not just out of modesty,
but because the concept of "lead-
ership" was foreign to him. He
was a teacher who understood
that his pupil might differ.
Berl was no Rabbi, for a Rabbi
requires disciples. Berl sought
pupils, not disciples. He was
capable of admitting that he had
no solution to a problem. One
of his great qualities was his de-
termination that his pupils should
think for themselves. He wished
to convey his mode of thought,
his view of things, and that his
pupils should then reach their
own conclusions,
He died before his time. He could
have given so much to the State—
but not in an official position. I
doubt whether he would have
wanted to be a Cabinet Minister.
. . . If he had lived, he would have
witnessed the great change in the
Jewish people. For some time he
feared that the Holocaust had des-
troyed our people. He was very pes-
simistic. If he could have lived he
would have seen, not only the ca-
tastrophe, but also the State. He
would have seen the Oriental im-
migration which hardly existed be-
fore. He would have seen how
things change, that there are re-
quirements of State, that there is
a need for the Army, that there
are Government services—and that
all these require pioneering as well
—it seems to me that I know what
his attitude would have been.
Berl definitely envisaged a Jew-
ish State. The idea was raised as
far back as 1919. I recall that, when
I came back from one of my trips
abroad in 1940, I was told that Berl
had come round to recognize the
immediate necessity of Statehood.
Ever since I got to know him we
worked in unison. He was more ac-
tive in the educational and ideo-
logical spheres and I in political
I do not regard myself as his suc-
cesor or his pupil. We came from
different ends of the line. He was
not always a Zionist. I was born a
Zionist, my father was a member of
the Hovevei Zion before the Zionist
Movement. Berl came here with a
considerable knowledge of Hebrew
literature. He was profound and
without platitudes. There is no man
who can fill his place. On his level
there is no one.
* * *

Katznelson the Teacher

Berl Katznelson was only 58
when he died 20 years ago, on the
23rd of Ab which in 1944 fell on

August 12.
He was a great leader because
he was a great human being. He
occupied few official positions; he
wanted no publicity. In the 20
years he edited "Davar" his pic-
ture did not appear once in that
newspaper. He was a leader sim-
ply because people followed him;
and they followed him because of
his qualities.
Those who remember him from
his first days at Petah Tikva —
where he had joined the shmen-
drikim, as the old settlers referred
to what was to become known as
the Second Aliya — cannot tell
exactly when he arrived; but they
remember well the day Berl left
for Kinneret in 1910. He was only
23 years old then.
It is difficult to understand the
Second or Third Aliya without
understanding their heart-aches.
Unmarried youngsters in their
late teens or early twenties, they
often longed desperately for the
homes they had left behind, often
against their parents' wishes.
Starving and ill, these boys and
girls toiled in a different cli-
mate to which they were not
used. In this society, notwith-
standing his young age, Berl
filled the empty space in the
hearts of the halutzim.
When he disembarked in Jaffa in
1909, the Yishuv was on the verge
of disaster. The Zionist movement
had been split by Herzl's desperate
acceptance of the Uganda plan in
1903. Zionist leaders in Europe,
engaged in debate and speechmak-
ing, thought it madness for adoles-
cents to go to Palestine without
training, without funds and with-
out Turkey's recognition of the
right to colonize their country.
Aliya was something for the luna-
tic fringe. Hunger, disease, unem-
ployment, Arab attacks and Turk-
ish corruption had driven the Jews
of this country to the depths of
It would be an oversimplifica-
tion to say that Berl saved the
Second Aliya from collapse single-
handed. A. D. Gordon and Yosef
Hayyim Brenner, whose cry, "We
shall be the last on the ramparts,"
resounded in Berl's mind, were al-
ready in Petah Tikva when he ar-
rived. And among the halutzim
there were youngsters who were
later to show qualities of leader-
ship, like Ben-Gurion, Sprinzak,
Remez, Ben-Zvi and others. But
they were very young, they lacked
experience, and despite their de-
bates and their dedication they
lacked an idea of what society they
wanted to build in their homeland.
He took a room at the workers'
quarter of Ein Gannim. He was not
a very good worker at first; but
neither were the other youngsters.
A friend from Petah Tikva days re-
calls how he complained about his
two left hands. Later, at Kinneret,
Ben Shemen and Jerusalem, he was
to become an accomplished vege-
table gardner.
Berl's restless soul made him
leave Kinneret and move on to
Ben Shemen, which was a kind of
vocational center. It was here
that he made the speech that was
to become a milestone in his car-
eer. Delivered at a meeting of the
Union of Agricultural Workers of
Judea, it formulated the prin-
ciples of the new society that
was going to be built in this
country: Jewish labor, mutual
aid, workers' cooperative settle-
ments, national land. Today this
may sound trival, but before the
First World War it was a daring
speech and a clarion call.
Viewed by his own standards,
Berl's life was tragic. He longed
to go back to the land, but his de-
sire to fight, to improve and to
revolutionize was always the strong-
er, and he always answered the
call to lead. He forged the ideals
of labor movement; he inspired the
formation of a host of its institu-
tions. He realized what was needed
each time and, not a gifted admin-
istrator himself, he found men to
carry out his project.

Friday, August 14, 1964 27

But he failed in what he consid-
ered the supreme task: education.
He failed to educate a class of
leaders living according to the
ideals that were his; and he failed
to educate a national working class
that would be different from other
industrial working classes in the
world. He wanted a society whose
institutions would be more than
tools to further happiness; he was
defeated by politics and the decline
of his ideals. He left many adinir-
ers, but all too few pupils. The so-
cial rebel was turned into a nation-
al symbol; his warning and critical
voice were drowned out in the ful-
some speeches praising him.

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