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An Early Council Leader’s Previously Unpublished Work: “Why I Was a Zionist and Why Now I Am Not”

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2010

Rabbi Morris Lazaron, an early leader of the American Council for Judaism, served from 1915 until 1946 as rabbi of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. Originally a supporter of what he viewed as cultural Zionism, he later altered his views, An essay, “Why I Was A Zionist and Why Now I Am Not,” excerpted from his unpublished autobiography, appears in Generations (2007/2008), the journal of the Jewish Museum of Maryland (www.jewishmuseummd.org).  
Historian Thomas A. Kolsky summarizes Rabbi Lazaron’s Zionist journey this way: “Until the early l930s, convinced of the peaceful and spiritual nature of Zionism, Lazaron was captivated by the romantic vision of the movement. But his enthusiasm for Zionism waned at the very time that its general appeal was rising. In the l930s, he detected a lack of candor in Zionist activities. He felt Zionists were exploiting the Jewish tragedy in Europe for narrow political purposes. Moreover, after visiting Nazi Germany and seeing the effects of its nationalism, Lazaron became convinced that nationalism, a force leading the world to destruction, could not serve as an instrument for Jewish salvation.”  
From his days as a student at Hebrew Union College, Lazaron adhered to the traditional philosophy of American Reform Judaism: “We are Jews by religion and America is our home, our Zion.” Shortly after the adoption of the Balfour Declaration after World War I, Lazaron noted that among Zionists, ‘Politics were minimized; philanthropy and resettlement emphasized. It was a technique which was to prove completely successful. Zionism insinuated itself into American Jewish life in the guise of philanthropy, and now in these later years it is even more necessary to oppose vigorously its nationalist philosophy expressed in this country under the guise of promoting ‘Jewishness,’ ‘Jewish unity,’ ‘Jewish education,’ and ‘Democracy in community life.’”  
In a sermon from his pulpit, Lazaron defined his own conception of Jewish nationalism: “The concept of Jewish people-hood ... has no political or material purpose. It is but the means through which we may perhaps with greater surety fulfill our obligation to be a blessing to the peoples.” He looked forward to a Jewish cultural center in Palestine which would “send out its inspiration to scattered Israel ... strengthening ... him the world over in his consecrated cause to struggle against the forces of injustice and unrighteousness ... Local autonomy is all that is desired, This is not in conflict with national loyalty or international comity, nor is it opposed to good citizenship here in America or any other country.”  
At that time, he believed that, “Our present-day world conceives of nationalism, in political terms, in terms of empire and sovereignty. The Jewish conception of nationalism is different.”  
Slowly, he discovered that Zionist nationalism was not far different from other forms of nation-alism: “The Jewish nationalist philosophy of separateness as a people who would always and inevitably be rejected because they were Jews, boldly asserted itself. The idea seems to have been to break down the self-confidence of opposition to Jewish political nationalism ... Behind the mask of Jewish sentiment, one can see the specter of the foul thing which moves Germany and Italy. Behind the camouflage of its unquestioned appeal to Jewish feeling, one can hear a chorus of ‘Hei1.’ This is not for Jews — Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.”  
Speaking at the January 1937 annual convention of the Union of American Hebrew Congrega-tions in New Orleans, Lazaron declared: “Judaism cannot accept as the instrument of its salvation the very philosophy of nationalism which is leading the world to destruction. Shall we condemn it as Italian or German, but accept it as Jewish.”

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.