“Leibele’s Sermon: The Jewish Colonization Association and the Politics of Jewish Philanthropy”
In the 1890s, the Jewish banker, railroad entrepreneur, and philanthropist, Baron Maurice de Hirsch, embarked on a grand project to relocate large numbers of Russian Jews in agricultural colonies in Argentina. When Theodor Herzl wrote in 1896, the year of Hirsch’s death, that he envisioned the establishment of a Jewish national home in either Argentina or Palestine, many of his contemporaries would likely have considered the South American country to be the more plausible option. Much has changed, however, since one of Hirsch’s early colonists, a Russian Jew by the name of Leibele, celebrated Argentina as the new Zion in a sermon full of messianic imagery. Today Herzl is hailed as the visionary whose ideas laid the foundations of a Jewish nation state established in Palestine, whereas Hirsch’s legacy is largely forgotten. How do we assess the impact of Baron Hirsch and his philanthropic oeuvre? How do we account for its eventual failure? And what does the history of this failure tell us about the Jewish world of the late nineteenth century, and about the importance of studying failure in understanding the modern quest to solve the Jewish predicament?
Room 2022, 202 S. Thayer, Ann Arbor, MI 48104