Thursday March 3, 1944
Zionism was important movement to my grandparents. Growing up in Eastern Europe, they had dreamed of a homeland where Jews could live and work freely. Every Passover Seder ended with the words “Next year in Jerusalem.” But now, with family and friends killed by the Nazis and thousands more fleeing for their lives, with America turning its back on Jewish refugees and other countries slamming the door shut, the dream of a Jewish homeland took on new urgency. Despite the urgency, there were questions and conflicts among even the most ardent supporters of a homeland. One problem was “where”? Ever since the signing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, many Jews looked to Palestine, where the British Mandate could provide the longed-for refuge. But the Balfour Declaration also was clear that the resulting state must be democratic, not religious, so Arabs and Jews could live equally as citizens. Arguments raged among supporters over whether such a state would then be a Jewish homeland (and, if so, what kind – Orthodox? Reform? Conservative?). As Socialists, my grandparents believed the state should be secular. One purpose of the conference they missed was to vote down a proposal that would have barred Jewish socialists from helping to found a Jewish homeland. Meanwhile, as Jews poured into Palestine, the Arab residents were becoming alarmed about their fate in a future state. An Arab uprising from 1936 to 1939 was met by an armed Jewish retaliation. Conflicts were rising just when Jews needed safety the most.