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June 14, 1985 - Image 2

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Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-06-14

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2' y Friday, June 14)1985

c THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

PURELY COMMENTARY

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Chaim Weizmann In The Critical Century: Reinharz's High Level Historiography

Biography is most vital to history. The
personalities who make history emerge as
the creators of ideas and the pursuers of
them can also become the destroyers of
others' ideals.
The Zionist movement from the pre-
Herzlian period, is marked both by the
creativity of a nation-building purpose as
well as by the many conflicts that have
divided the propagators as well as the dis-
putants, the activists and the opponents.
Chaim Weizmann: The Making of a
Zionist Leader (Oxford University Press)
contains all of these factors. It delves into
so many aspects of Jewish life, its aspira-
tions and agonies, that it covers the vast
field both of Jewish activities in the cen-
tury commencing with the Weizmann era,
his early years in the last century and his
role, positive as well as negative in the
course of many conflicts, and the great men
in Jewry during his lifetime.
Jehuda Reinharz, the author of this
immense work, the first volume of the
two-volume biography of the first
president of Israel, covers the life of Chaim
Weizmann with great skill. Covering the
events leading up to the Balfour Declara-
tion, the first portion of the biography, is,
without challenge, historiography on the
highest level.
Reinharz is Richard Koret Professor of
MOdern Jewish History and director of the
Tauber Institute for the Study of European
Jewry at Brandeis University. Among the
books he has edited is the Letters and Pap-
ers of Chaim Weizmann, 1918-1920. A task
to which he devoted nearly a decade, gave
him a background that lends not only his-
toricity but also authoritativeness to a sub-
ject that covers both the life of the great
leader as well as the era under review and
the many important personalities in the
Zionist movement.
It is understandable that all studies of
history, all researched human experiences,
must be personified, must contain the re-
cords of the people who created or were
affected by them. In the Reinharz biog-
raphy of Weizmann, the most important
figures in Jewish life are treated with so
much intimacy, with such immense
scutiny, that the thoroughness of treat-
ment is most impressive.
Weizmann is presented here in all the
conflicts that involved his associates in the
early years of the Zionist movement. He
had close contacts with Theodor Herzl and
the latter gained deep respect for him, de-
spite the differences that arose over the
Uganda proposal by Great Britain and
other aspects of Zionist leadership.
It should be understood that Weiz-
mann is presented here in his activism be-
fore World War I. Therefore, his role as the
chief advocate of the moment which se-
cured the Balfour Declaration for the
Jewish people must await the appearance
of the second volume of the Reinharz biog-
raphy for explanations and evaluations of
that historic chapter in Jewish history.
Nevertheless, a quotation about
Weizmann's first meeting with Arthur
James Balfour in 1906, taken from Weiz-
mann's Trial and Error, merits attention.
As Reinharz records the Weizmann-
Balfour conversation:
It was during the closing days
of the election campaign, on Jan. 9,
1906, that Weizmann met with Bal-
four, who was now fighting as
leader of the opposition to retain
the seat he had held in the East
Division of Manchester since 1885.
Weizmann's account of the meet-
ing in his memoirs has about it all
the ingredients of a good story and
it is only natural that it has been
widely quoted in Zionist and gen-
eral historiography. The meeting
took place in the Queen's Hotel,

Chaim Weizmann

Balfour's campaign headquarters.
Balfour inquired as to why some
Zionists were so bitterly opposed
to the Uganda offer, upon which
Weizmann launched into a long
explanation:
"I added that if Moses had
come into the Sixth Zionist Con-
gress when it was adopting the
resolution in favor of the Commis-
sion for Uganda, he would surely
have broken the tablets once again
...the Jewish people would never
produce either the money or the
energy required in order to build
up a wasteland and make it habit-
able, unless that land were Pales-
tine. Palestine has this magic and
romantic appeal for the Jews; our
history has been what it is because
of our tenacious hold on Palestine

"I remember that I was sweat-
ing blood and I tried to find some
less ponderous way of expressing
myself ...
"Then suddenly I said, 'Mr.
Balfour, supposing I were to offer
you Paris instead of London,
would you take it?'
"He sat up, looked at me, and
answered: 'But Dr. Weizmann, we
have London.'
" 'That is true,' I said, 'Butwe
had Jerusalem when London was
a marsh.'
`He leaned back, continued to
stare at me, and said two things
which I remember vividly. The
first was: 'Are there many Jews
who think like you?'
"I answered: 'I believe I speak
the minds of millions of Jews
whom you will never see and who
cannot speak for themselves, but
with whom I could pave the streets
of the country I came from.'
"To this he said: 'If that is so,
you will one day be a force.'
"Shortly before I withdrew,
Balfour said: 'It is curious. The
Jews I meet are quite different.'
"I answered: 'Mr Balfour, you
meet the wrong kind of Jews ...'
"I was drawn again into
Zionist activity ... The conversa-
tion with Balfour . . . was like a toc-
sin or alarm ..."
Weizmann aimed at a "practicalism"
in his early years of Zionist leadership. It
was evident, inter alia, during his activi-
ties at the third conference of Russian
Zionists, held Sept. 4-10, 1906, in Helsinki.
It was among the first occasions when he
met Vladimir Jabotinsky, who later was to
become one of his chief antagonists.
Weizmann was often treated as the
secularist and he had had his conflicts with
the Orthodox element. It is important to
indicate that he had his serious differences
with Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines of Lida, pre-
sently of Lithuania, the founder of Miz-

racgi. There was some bitterness, yet the
devotion to the Zionist ideal led to coopera-
tion.
Among the important historically sig-
nificant aspects of Weizmann's life were
his disputes with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
Students from Russia who enrolled in uni-
versities in Switzerland had their ideologi-
cal disputes, when those in Lenin's ranks
referred to the Bern (Switzerland) Zionist
Society as "Zionist reactionaries" Reinharz
states about the two leaders' of the opposite
camps:
"The two met in Lenin's favorite Pari-
sian cafe on the Boulevard d'Orleans.
Their discussion ran the gamut from
Czarist Russia to physics and chemistry.
For the most part, it seems that Weizmann
explained scientific terminology to Lenin
while the latter held forth on Machists,
. Russian Emprio-monists, Empirio-
symbolists, and other backward groups
and theories.
"He also did not refrain from making
disparaging remarks about the Zionists,
especially the Zionist-Socialists of the
Borochov school. Lenin did not spare the
Bund either.
"Nevertheless they seem to have
parted on friendly terms, because a few
days later Lenin sent Weizmann his re-
cently published book Materialism and
Empirio-Criticism, which included the fol-
lowing hand-written dedication: 'Compli-
ments of the author.' "
Encyclopedic as a compilation of the
most prominent personalities of the gener-
ation under review in the first volume of
the story of Chaim Weizmann, the current
settings, those that followed World War I
and the depressing recollections of the
Nazi era, must await the second volume.
Yet, biographer Reinharz introduces a
major character who will assuredly figure
in the yet to continue biographical data.
Reinharz draws for an assessment of
Weizmann upon one of the most distin-
guished American Zionist leaders, Louis
Lipsky, who served as president of the
Zionist Organization of America, had a
part in the formation of the American
Jewish Congress and had other important
roles in American Jewish life. Reinharz
thus commences the conclusion to his first
Weizmann volume:
Louis Lipsky's well-known
remarks about Weizmann as he
appeared to the former in 1913
provide a useful starting point for
an assessment of Weizmann on the
eve of World War I:
"When I first met Dr. Weiz-
mann at the Vienna Congress in
1913, he seemed, on the surface, to
be an easygoing young man, play-
ing a modest part in its proceed-
ings. He made the impression of
indifference and fatigue. He was
seen sauntering through the
streets of old Vienna, chatting with
companions, visiting the cafes,
drinking tea. He was still the prom-
ising young man who had crossed
swords with Theodor Herzl in the
first Congresses.
"Only his mournful eyes belied
the superficial effect of the Bohe-
mian. He had settled in England,
but was alien to the conventional
life of British Jewry and was al-
ready estranged from the disputes
of the continental Zionist world .. .
"He was chairman of a com-
mittee called upon to settle inter-
nal problems. I sat in that commit-
tee and observed him for days. His
rulings were a study in tempera-
ment. He was impatient with
equivocations by delegates trained
as lawyers and Talmudists. But he
was meticulous and sharp in pro-

Vladimir Lenin

Louis Lipsky

cedure. He had a penchant for
Yiddish jests and made generous
contributions to off-the-record ob-
servations. He was a partisan of
the Russian group, but did not
seem to be very much involved ...
"In the meetings of the Rus-
sians the older men dominated. Dr.
Weizmann stood in the rear of the
hall where the caucuses were held,
his eyes half closed, listening,
rarely speaking. He was a shrewd
debater, good at repartee; but
there was no drive to him in Vie-
nna. He seemed to be listening and
waiting ..."
There is also an inglorious episode in
Weizmann's early career, involving the
courting of his favorites before his love af-
fair with Vera Khatzman.
The love affair prior to it that figures
prominently in the Reinharz biography
was with Sophia Getzova. It lasted for four
years.
They lived together and it was viewed
with great seriousness by his associateĀ§.
As Reinharz describes it, when he broke
the engagement, the break infuriated
Weizmann's associates. They even formed
a "Court of Honor" which included
Sharyahu Levin among them and was
headed by Leon Motzkin. Its task was to
rule on Weizmann's love life.
The members decreed that Weizmann
must marry Sophia to do her justice; then if
he wished he could immediately divorce
her and marry Vera. It is not surprising
that Weizmann refused, much to the dis-
gust of Motzkin and his friends. Motzkin in
particular never forgave Weizmann for his
behavior.
Why did Weizmann prefer Vera, who
came from a semi-assimilated Jewish
home? Reinharz offers an explanation:
"One can only assume that Vera's un-
Jewish looks and bearing were more appe-
aling to Weizmann than the more Jewish
and active party comrade Sophia Getzova.
It is also an indication of Weizmann's
ever-growing ties to Central and West
European culture; thus, Weizmann's break
with Sophia Getzova symbolizes a certain c'
break with his own East European back-
ground. Though in his very person he had
merged the East European culture with
that of the West, he always leaned toward
the latter."
In its totality, the Reinhartz account of
the early years of Weizmann is fascinat-
ingly portrayed, introducing the founding
fathers of Zionism, the contrasting
ideologies, the era of challenge. It is to be
said about the Jehuda Reinharz biography
that it is a veritable classic. Its readers will
surely impatiently await the appearance of
the second volume of this great literary
effort.

.

Melchior Family Eminence
Noted on Anniversary

The 40th anniversary of the crushing
of the Nazi power was taken into account at
multiple events in all civilized areas of the

Continued on. Page 8

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