(March 9, 2018 / JNS) Living the American dream and following a path that would ultimately land him on the Supreme Court, Louis Brandeis had little time for Zionism in his early life and even held views that were antithetical to it.
But that changed in 1914, when Jacob de Haas, a former secretary to Theodore Herzl, came for what turned out to be an important visit. De Hass asked Brandeis if he was related to a prominent Kentucky Jew by the name of Lewis Dembitz, who was ardently and publicly both a Jew and a Zionist. This was indeed Brandeis’s uncle. Reflecting on this meeting and the noble conduct of his uncle, Brandeis began to recognize that there need not be a contradiction between Zionism and Americanism, and that Zionism and Americanism in fact ennobled one another.
From then on, Brandeis passionately devoted his intelligence and influence to Zionism. Over the course of World War I, he became an acknowledged leader of the American Zionist movement. Touring America and drumming up support for Zionism, he raised large sums of money for the yishuv. Perhaps Brandeis’s greatest achievement came in 1917, as the British Government was weighing whether to issue the Balfour Declaration. He helped persuade President Woodrow Wilson that America should be entirely behind the declaration—and, by extension, favorable to a Jewish homeland.
Nahum Goldman, who would become president of the World Zionist Organization, stressed the centrality of the Brandeis intervention. Without Brandeis, he wrote, “the Balfour Declaration would probably never have been issued.”
In the first part of the 20th century, many sectors of American Judaism had been skeptical of Zionism. Precisely because Brandeis had once held this view himself, he was able to break it down through a powerful conviction that America and Zionism shared a commitment to justice, righteousness and liberty.
The Galilee kibbutz of Ein Ha’Shofet (“Spring of the Judge”) was established in honor of Louis Brandeis and stands as a permanent testament to his devotion to the State of Israel.