Wolffsohn, David

(1856–1914)
   Second president of the World Zionist Organization. Wolffsohn had a traditional Russian-Jewish upbringing and background in Lithuania. He later became a successful businessman in Cologne. At an early age, he came under the influence of the Chovevei Zion (‘Lovers of Zion’) movement. From the publication of Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) in 1896, he became HERZL’S disciple and intimate colleague. It was Wolffsohn’s background of traditional Judaism that led him at the first Zionist Congress in 1897 to suggest two potent symbols: the blue-and-white Zionist flag based on the talith (‘prayer shawl’); and the shekel for membership fee, named after an ancient Hebrew coin.
   Wolffsohn maintained a businesslike control over the financial and economic affairs of the organization, and played an active part in setting up the Jewish Colonial Trust, the ‘Zionist bank’ that started operating in 1901. In spite of his reverence for Herzl, Wolffsohn was quite capable of firm resistance to Herzl’s disregard of financial restraints.
   Herzl came to rely on Wolffsohn’s commonsense and balance, and insisted on his accompanying him on important missions. In 1898 Wolffsohn went with Herzl to Constantinople, and then on to Palestine, where Herzl was received by the kaiser in Jerusalem. Herzl’s diaries constantly refer to Wolffsohn by the affectionate diminutive of ‘Daada’ (David). In Herzl’s novel Altneuland, depicting the idyllic Jewish state of the future, the character of the president was modelled on Wolffsohn and named David Litvak (Litvak means Lithuanian). In his will, Herzl made Wolffsohn his literary executor and the guardian of his children.
   On Herzl’s premature death in 1905, Wolffsohn’s election was regarded as a stop-gap appointment. He was an unassuming man who lacked Herzl’s charisma, force of personality, bold vision and intellectual training. But the Zionist movement in the post-Herzl years did not really call for dramatic leadership. These were lean years. Herzl’s great dream of a political charter for settlement in Palestine faded with his death. Wolffsohn’s task was to keep intact a small and struggling movement, and to make such modest progress as circumstances allowed. He shifted the headquarters to Cologne, under his direct supervision; appointed the young writer Nahum SOKOLOW as general secretary; and started an official periodical, HaOlam. An Inner Actions Committee of seven had been elected, but its members were scattered in various countries and seldom met.
   There was a conflict between two trends in the movement. The ‘political Zionists’ remained faithful to Herzl’s view that a charter of some kind was a precondition for serious immigration and settlement in Palestine. Wolffsohn himself was of this view, as was NORDAU. The ‘practical Zionists’ were sceptical about such a charter, and put the emphasis on local activity in Palestine. Most of the Russian Zionists were in the latter camp. In Herzl’s time they had formed themselves into an opposition group called the Democratic Fraction. Wolffsohn also ran the gauntlet of their criticism. He stuck stubbornly to a middle road, and had the congress approve a compromise formula, by which political efforts and practical colonization would be carried on at the same time. Wolffsohn engaged in several diplomatic missions. He was received by the Russian prime minister and foreign minister, and tried unsuccessfully to get permission for the Jewish Colonial Trust to operate in Russia. He saw the Hungarian leaders about easing repression of Zionist work. He resumed negotiation in Constantinople with Turkish officials, offering to raise a loan for the chronically bankrupt Ottoman empire in exchange for a Jewish immigration quota for Palestine. After the Young Turk revolution of 1908, in which the sultan was deposed, some Zionists believed that a fresh political opening had been created, but Wolffsohn was reserved about it, and was proved right. His critics pointed out that these contacts with government leaders had been barren of results. All the same, they served the purpose of keeping the Zionist movement on the international map.
   On the practical side, the Wolffsohn regime made some quiet advances. In 1907 an office was opened in Jaffa to foster agricultural settlement. It was put under the direction of Dr Arthur RUPPIN, a German lawyer with a knowledge of economics and sociology. Assistance was given to a small group of Jaffa Jews who moved out to the sand-dunes north of the city and started their own suburb there - the beginnings of Tel Aviv. The finances of the organization were improved, and new branches opened of the Colonial Trust. The Jewish National Fund started to grow under the direction of Max BODENHEIMER. The yishuv was taking root.
   In 1911 Wolffsohn resigned as president for health reasons, but continued to be active in the conduct of the Movement’s financial institutions. He died in 1914 soon after the outbreak of World War I. A bequest in his will was later used for the library building of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a room of which was named in his honour. In 1952 his remains were brought from Cologne and interred next to those of his friend and leader Herzl, on Mount Herzl overlooking Jerusalem.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • WOLFFSOHN, DAVID — (1856–1914), second president of the World Zionist Organization. Born in Dorbiany, Russian Lithuania, Wolffsohn received a religious education. In 1873 his parents sent him to live with his brother in Memel (now Klaipeda) in order to avoid… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Wolffsohn, David — (1856 1914)    German Zionist leader. He was born in Dorbiany, Lithuania, and lived in Cologne, where he was a timber merchant. An active Zionist, he was a co founder of a society to promote Jewish agricultural work and handi crafts in Palestine …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • David Wolffsohn — (* 9. Oktober 1856 in Darbenai /Dorbiany, Gouvernement Kowno; † 15. September 1914 in Homburg v. d. H.) war eine führende Persönlichkeit aus der Anfangszeit des politischen Zionismus und als Nachfolger Theodor Herzls zweiter Präsident der …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • David Wolffssohn — David Wolffsohn (* 9. Oktober 1856 in Darbenai / Dorbiany, Gouvernement Kowno; † 15. September 1914 in Homburg v. d. H.) war eine führende Persönlichkeit aus der Anfangszeit des politischen Zionismus und als Nachfolger Theodor Herzls zweiter… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • David Wolffsohn — For other people with the same name, see David Wolfson (disambiguation). David Wolffsohn Born 9 October 1856(1856 10 09) Darbėnai, Russian Empire …   Wikipedia

  • David Wolffsohn — (deuxième en partant de la gauche). David Wolffsohn (1856 1914) est le second président du Congrès sioniste. Il est l un des plus proches de Théodore Herzl. Il naît en Lituanie en 1856 et émigre en Allemagne. Wolffsohn fait figure de p …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Wolffsohn — ist der Name von: David Wolffsohn (1856–1914), Unternehmer und Zionistenführer Karl Wolffsohn (1881–1957), Verleger, Unternehmer und Kinopionier Michael Wolffsohn (* 1947), Historiker Siehe auch: Wolfsohn Wolfson …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • David Wolfson — may refer to: David Wolfson, Baron Wolfson of Sunningdale (born 1935), British politician and businessman David Wolffsohn, (1856 1914) Lithuanian born Jewish businessman and Zionist who settled in Germany This disambiguation page lists articles… …   Wikipedia

  • Nir-david — Pour les articles homonymes, voir David. Nir David est un kibboutz fondé en 1936. Nom du kibboutz À sa fondation il est nommé Tel Amal, puis remplacé par Nir David en souvenir de David Wolffsohn, second président du Congrès sioniste. Création du… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Nir David — Pour les articles homonymes, voir David. Nir David est un kibboutz fondé en 1936. Nom du kibboutz À sa fondation il est nommé Tel Amal, puis remplacé par Nir David en souvenir de David Wolffsohn, second président du Congrès sioniste. Création du… …   Wikipédia en Français

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