The Zionist Congress in Focshani and the first settlers in Palestine
”The Jews from Romania have deep roots in the history of their native country and in Israel. They laid the foundations of the new Jewish country, they were the first to work the earth, they increased the borders of the country through their emigration and settlements. Among all the Jewish tribes that came to Israel, the Jewish tribe in Romania has managed to fit in all areas: culture, economy, defense, and the second and third generation have made great progress. ”
1. Premises of the Romanian Zionism
The first emigrant from Romania into Israel was certified by Jewish historiography as Rabbi Shlomo ibn Aroyo who was the Rabbi of Iași. In 1629, after pasturing the Moldavian capital for about 40 years, at the age of 80 years old Ibn Aroyo left the country and went to Palestine. (Rabbi Shlomo ibn Aroyo was the Professor of Yosef Shlomo Delmedigo, a Cretan Rabbi, Kabbalist philosopher, mathematician and late Renaissance physician, in the years 1618-1628, when he visited Iași ). In the years 1806-1815, many Rabbis and mosaic clergymen decided to leave Romania and to emigrate to Eretz Israel.
The interest of the Romanian Jews for the Aliyah into Eretz Israel has increased enormously in the second half of the nineteenth century. Acad. Carol lancu revealed from a French archive the letter of Dr. Wertheimer, a Jew from Giurgiu, sent to the Rabbi Josef Natonek, a pioneer of the European Zionism, who in 1861 had published a pathetic appeal to the Palestinian nations to restore Palestinian land to the Jewish people.
At the end of 1880, Dr. Karpel Lippe, a fiery Zionist, convinced Eliazar Rokeah to move to the capital of Moldova. Here, Rokeah founded the “Eretz Colonization Association of Israel” (established in Bucharest) and prints in Hebrew the Zionist publication “Israel.” The public association and a newspaper in Yiddish, “Der Kolonist” insisted to organize a Zionist congress in Romania. The idea of the congress was also supported by the “Association of Jews who want to do Aliyah in Eretz Israel”. It was set up in the summer of 1881 by a group of Zionist enthusiasts headed by Dr. Karpel Lippe (chairman), Iofes Horowitz (casier) Leibovici (secretary), Moshe Mattes, I. Orenstein and David Horowitz. Four months before, in April 1881, a group of Zionists from Râmnicu Sarat wrote to Rokeah that they were preparing to emigrate to Eretz Israel.
Young Jews from Bacău, Brăila, Tecuci, Bârlad, Iveşti, Botoşani, Tulcea, Moineşti, Focșani and Galaţi expressed their desire to become farmers in the Holy Land.
“The Alliance Israelite” had an important role to play in organizing the Aliyah from Romania to Eretz Israel, but also to America.
In this atmosphere full of hope, in 1876, Naftali Herzl Imber composed the poem “Hatikva” (in Hebrew = hope) which will become the national Jewish hymn. In 1875, a Zionist society called “Ishuv Eretz Israel” promoted the idea of Aliyah. The most active of these societies was in Galaţi, where Samuel Pineles lived. In the Moldovan and Muntenian Staedtle, inhabited by Jews, were more than 50 associations – or societies who contributed to the agricultural colonization in Palestine. In agreement with the Alliance, Rokeach initiated the money collections for the purchase of agricultural land. Three hundred families were ready to leave. Another about ten thousand Jews were waiting to go. Pineles and Rokeach printed the journal “Der Emigrant” in Galati.
2. Focshani: “The center of the Romanian Zionism”
The first Zionist Congress in the world (31 december 1881-1 january 1882)
The world must know that our Romanian Jews ancestors have plenary contributed to the history of Zionism and to the rebirth of Israel. In December 1881-January 1882, one year before the Zionist Congress of the Hoveva Zion Movement in Katowice (Poland) and 15 years before the first Zionist Congress in Basel (Switzerland), the Zionists in Romania assembled in a Congress in Focshani. At the end of December 1881, the town of Focshani became the capital of Romanian Zionism. The Focshani Congress in fact surpassed the Zionist Conference in Katowitz and the Basel Zionist Congress, underlines the Israeli historian, Professor Dr. Rafael Vago. There, in Focshani, pragmatic people decided to build the Jewish settlements in Palestine. Scheduled on November 30, 1881, the organizers of Bucharest found two days before Congress that they did not have an official authorization from the Interior Ministry. So they postponed the Congress for the end of December 1881. Many organizations received the telegram of cancellation when the delegates arrived already in Focshani. They decided to meet in “the small congress” in Focshani. Participants elected a “Provisional Committee” to organize the “great Congress”.
Finally, the inauguration of the Zionist Congress in Focshani took place on the afternoon of 31 December 1881. 56 delegates from 29 localities participated, comprising 31 sections and 50 colonization societies, representing about 70,000 members. There were three newspaper reporters, three writers, Eliezer Rokeah, editor of the newspaper Israel, as well as other guests. Among these was Sir Lawrence Oliphant, a Christian supporter of the Jewish people. Among the participants were Naftali Popper, the director of an Israeli school in Bucharest, the father of Iuliu Popper, the famous explorer of the Land of Fire. The city of Galati was represented at the meeting in Focshani by Samuel Pineles.
The Tribune was adorned with the portrait of Adolphe Crémieux(painted by Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Nouÿ)
and a map of Eretz Israel.
At the opening of the First Zionist Congress in Focshani, the hymn Hatikva, which today is the official anthem of the State of Israel, was sung for the first time. The music of the hymn was composed by Samuel Cohn in 1880 inspired by a popular Romanian song. The poem was created in 1876 by Naftali Imber from Iași.
The main resolution of the Congress concludes that the solution to the Jewish problem in Romania is the immediate emigration to Palestine to establish agricultural colonies. Many ideas and proposals have been debated by the delegates at the first Zionist Congress in Focshani, and finally the following have crystallized: 1. Emigration in Eretz Israel is the first and most important task of the Zionist Movement. 2. Two delegates will be immediately sent to Palestine to purchase land suitable for agriculture. 3. To build a hotel in Iaffo or in Haifa to temporarily host Jewish emigrants from Romania. 4. To establish a permanent representation of Romanian Jews who will receive the emigrants upon their arrival in Eretz Israel. 5. A school, a public bath, a hospital and a synagogue will be build in all the established agricultural settlements. 6. Each group of emigrants will include a doctor, a Hebrew teacher, a midwife and a rabbi. 7. Craftsmen and young people (20 to 40 years old) will be first on the list of emigrants. There is also a preferential order of craftsmen: farmers, stonemasons, blacksmiths, bricklayers, carpenters, then shoemakers, tailors, tanners. The Congress of Focshani has appointed a Central Committee, headquartered in Galaţi. The prominent historian Carol Iancu wrote that in Focshani there was “the real first Zionist Congress of History.”
The main result of the 1881 Congress was that even the following year the Jews in Romania, especially Moinesti and Focshani, were the first to set up agricultural colonies in Rosh Pina and Zichron Iaakov. As president of the Focshani Congress, was elected Samuel Pineles of Galati. He was the enlightener of the Israeli colonization movement. (Pineles will be elected to be one of three vice presidents and a member of the action committee at the Congress of Basel.)
The Congress of Focshani decided the establishment of the two major colonies: Rosh Pina and Zikhron Ya’akov and the construction of settlements inhabited today mostly by Romanian Jews: Naţeret Ilit, Petah-Tikva, Ariel, Rishon Lezion, Aşdod, Aşkelon, Givat-Şmuel (Pineles), Tirat Hacarmel, Kfar-Tabor, Nesher, Karmiel, Kiriat Ata, Matula. Romanian Jews are also at first in kibbutz: Kfar Giladi, Dan, Dafna, Shamir, Hokuk, Hahaţrim, Yoguf, Alonim, Asdod- Ya’akov, Ein Dor, Gesher, Reşafim, Avuka, Mişmarat, Hefţi-ka, Barkai, Givat-Haim, Hulra, Mişmar Droid, Maale-Hahamişa, Zuha, Nitzanim, Zikim, Erez, Gavim, Darot, Beeri, Nirim, Şuval, Mistinar Haneghev, Hanita etc. şi în colonii – sate: Ben Ami, Alonei Aba, Tzipori, Kfar-Baruch, Haariel, Nordia, Adanim, Haioghev, Newe-Yerek, Netaini, Sataria, Ben-Nun, Tal-Shabar, MesgavDov, Kidron, Sheresch, Arugot, Komenint, Talmei-Yape etc.
3. Post congressional actions
Immediately after the Congress in Focshani, the Romanian Zionism, with dozens of associations named “Hoveva Zion” became impetuous. Hovevei-Zionists met in Galati on 7 and 8 January 1895 at the First Congress of “Hoveva Zion” in Romania. A year later, in 1896, the Second Congress took place in Braila, and in 1897, on the occasion of the Third Congress held in Galati, the “Hoveva Zion” Movement in Romania decides to join the political program of Theodor Herzl. The decision was unanimously confirmed by all the delegates at the Fourth Congress of the Movement “Hovevei Zion” (Galaţi, April 5-6, 1898.) In March 1882, the delegate of the Jews from Moinesti, Moses David Iancovici-Shub (1892-1938), went to Palestine to verify the conditions of the land purchased by the Ottoman authorities. Several months later on August 6, 1882, 30 Jewish families from Moinesti and 20 families from Galaţi, Bârlad and Focshani, with a total of 228 people, made their luggage and went to Palestine. It was the first victory of political Zionism preached by Pineles and Lippe, close friends of Theodor Herzl.
Herzl’s Zionist ideas were embraced by all the Romanian Jews. Three of them, Dr. Karpel Lippe (1830-1915), Samuel Pineles (1843-1928) and Rabbi lehuda Leib Ţirelsohn (1860-1940) went to Basel to the first big Zionist World Congress led by Theodore Herzl (29 August 1887).
Before the First World war, in Romania they functioned – legally or illegally – all the nuances of the Zionist movement, starting with the extreme right-wing “Betar” until the Zionist religious organization “Mizrachi” or “Haşomer Haţair” of social-democratic orientation.
To the question “what were the Theodor Herzl’s connections with the Jews in Romania? “, the historian Lucian Zeev Herşcovici replies: ”Apart from the partial origin of his family in the city of Timişoara and the assumption of the term Zionism by Nathan Birenbaum (the publisher of the Yiddish newspaper in Chernivtsi), we can mention the great influence exerted by Herzl in ancient Romania. Pineles participated in the first big Zionist Congress and continued this way. Another Zionist in Romania who was profoundly influenced by Herzl was Doctor Karpel (Nathan Pethahyah) Lippe (1830-1915). Lippe was known as a philanthropist, physician of the poor of Iași, offering even free consultations to the needy, regardless of ethnicity and religion. Doctor in medicine, but also a publicist influenced by the Haskala Movement and a community activist, Karpel Lippe was also a good political journalist. Lippe participated in the first Zionist Congress in Basel and was chairman of the first meeting. Later, he took part in the following Zionist congresses. Lippe was not only an adept of Herzl, but also a good friend of his. For a long time, Lippe held the post of president of the Federation of Zionists in Romania.
For Herzl, it had become clear that the Zionist idea of the return of the Jews in their ancestral country could not gain historical legitimacy if one of the world powers or a leading political personality of European life had not embraced it. This happened in England, where the Lord Alfred James Balfour managed to convince the British Government of the importance of Palestine’s reconstruction as a national Jewish State. This miracle took place on November 2, 1917. At that time, the British Foreign Minister Sir Arthur James Balfour made a statement on behalf of his government, which provided for the founding of a Jewish “home” in Palestine. (The Romanian-British scholar, Hakham of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish congregation, Hebrew and Romanian linguist Moses Gaster reports in his “Memoirs” that the “Balfour Declaration” was written in his home in London.) The declaration was inserted into the Peace Treaty with Turkey from Sèvres (August 10, 1920), and into the decision of the League of Nations (July 24, 1922) through the United Kingdom received a mandate over Palestine.
4. Romanian roots in Zikhron Ya’akov and Rosh Pina
4.1 The patron of the settlement: Baron Edmond James de Rothschild
Zikhron Ya’akov (Hebrew: “Jacob’s Memorial”) is located at the southern end of the Carmel mountain range overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, near the coastal highway. It was founded in December 1882 when 100 Jewish pioneers from Romania, members of the Hibbat Zion movement, purchased land in Zammarin. The families came from Moineşti (Moldavia) and a central merit in organising the move belongs to Moses Gaster, scholar and early Zionist. The difficulty of working the rocky soil and an outbreak of malaria led many of the settlers to leave before the year was up. In 1883, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild became the patron of the settlement named in honor of his father, James Mayer de Rothschild. He drew up plans for its residential layout and agricultural economy. To accomplish his first objective, Baron de Rothschild brought in planners who designed and allotted housing lots along the main road for the use of settlement farmers. The French-inspired architecture included tiled roofs and painted wooden windows. Each farmer was given a salary and placed under the direction of Elijah Shaid, the Baron’s clerk. The Baron also commissioned the construction of the Ohel Ya’akov Synagogue, named after his father, to serve the town. In 1885 Rothschild helped to establish the first winery in Israel, Carmel Winery, together with a bottling factory, in Zikhron Ya’akov.
4.2 The double role of Aaron Aaronsohn and the importance of the NILIꞌs network
Aaron Aaronsohn was born in Bacău, Romania, and brought to Palestine, then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, at the age of six, when his parents were among the founders of Zikhron Ya’akov, the pioneer of the Jewish agricultural settlements of the First Aliyah.
After studying agriculture in France, sponsored by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Aaron Aaronsohn botanically mapped Palestine and its surroundings and became a leading expert on the subject. On his 1906 field trip to Mount Hermon, while trekking around the Upper Galilee in the area of Rosh Pinna, he discovered Triticum dicoccoides, whom he considered to be the “mother of wheat”, an important find for agronomists and historians of human civilization.
During World War I, the Ottomans had joined sides with the Germans, and Aaronsohn feared the Jews would suffer the same fate as the Armenians under the Turks. Together with his assistant, Avshalom Feinberg, his sister and a few others, Aaronsohn organized Nili, a ring of Jewish residents of Palestine who spied for Britain during World War I. He recommended the plan of attack through Beersheva that General Edmund Allenby ultimately used to take Jerusalem in December 1917 as part of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. Owing to information supplied by Nili to the British Army concerning the locations of oases in the desert, General Allenby was able to mount a surprise attack on Beersheba, bypassing strong Ottoman defenses in Gaza.
In 1917, Chaim Weizman sent Aaronsohn on a political campaign to the USA. While there, Aaronsohn learned that the Ottoman authorities had intercepted a NILI carrier pigeon, which led to the arrest and torture of his sister Sarah and other NILI members.
Rosh Pina (Hebrew: lit. Cornerstone) is a town in the Upper Galilee on the eastern slopes of Mount Kna’an in the Northern District of Israel. The town with the current name was founded in 1882 by thirty families who immigrated from Romania, making it one of the oldest Zionist settlements in Israel. Botanist Aaron Aaronsohn, while trekking around Rosh Pina during his 1906 field trip, discovered wild-growing emmer (Triticum dicoccoides), whom he considered to be the “mother of wheat”, an important find for agronomists and historians of human civilization. Geneticists have proven that wild emmer is indeed the ancestor of most domesticated wheat strands cultivated on a large scale today with the exception of durum wheat; einkorn, a different ancient species, is currently just a relict crop.
Before the Second World War, the Jewish population in Romania was close to 800000. Outside Hungary, Poland and Russia, here was the largest Jewish population in Europe. The work of Zionist organizations in Europe was focused on these countries.
Who could imagine the Holocaust tragedy? One of humanity’s greatest nightmares. Let’s never forget! The fatalities of history and the force of destiny appear to be elements of continuity until nowadays. The renewed fascism forces us to be vigilant and proactive!