Nathan Straus (founder of Macy’s Department store), Louis Brandeis, and Rabbi Stephen Wise
The Parushim: A Secret Episode in American Zionist History
Horace M. Kallen, the social philosopher best known in American intellectual history for his theory of cultural pluralism, adopted Zionism in 1903 as a secular mode of retaining Jewish identity, an alternative to the Jewish religious tradition which seemed to him to be incompatible with twentieth century America. He had come to Zionism primarily through the influence of two of his Harvard professors, literary historian Barrett Wendell, who interpreted the Hebraic spirit of prophetic social justice as the inspiration for the American founding fathers, and William James, whose philosophy of Pragmatism emphasized the reality of meanness.
Kallen extended Wendell’s identification of Hebraic tradition with American idealism; he defined Zionism, the movement to renationalize the Jewish people, as an opportunity to found a model democracy based on the same concepts of liberty and equality, which, for him, symbolized America. At the same time he applied James’s concept of pluralism to the ethnic group; among them the Jews, who were beginning to become prominent in the United States, and argued that preservation of differences constituted the true measure of equality the Declaration of Independence had set forth. Zionism, thus, was able to fulfill two functions for Kallen- it allowed him to retain his Jewish identity and to become, thereby, a better American.
In 1911 Kallen became an instructor of philosophy and psychology at the University of Wisconsin. When he moved to the Middle West, he left his familiar environment. Lonely, and somewhat out of place in Madison; he felt the need to assert his Jewish identity more strongly and stepped up his pace of Zionist involvement. Finding little understanding within the official Federation of American Zionists for an expression of his own, philosophically oriented, ideas on Zionism, and quite some antagonism for his demand that the Zionist organization concentrate its activities on obtaining statehood for the Jewish nation in line with the 1896 Basle Platform which had sought “a home in Palestine secured by public law,” Kallen decided to form an organizational instrument through which he could effectively channel his own Zionist activity. On August 18,1913, therefore, Kallen founded a secret Zionist society which he called The Parushim, the Hebrew word which means both “the Pharisees” and “separate”.
The Pharisees had flourished as a separate sect during the time of the second Jewish Temple, goading the Jewish Establishment into making the traditional “written law” more relevant to the times by adding to it the interpretations of the “oral law.” Kallen saw much the same role for his group of Parushim, whose purpose he defined as “advancement by deed and word of the cause of autonomous Jewish nationality in the interest of Hebraism.” As Kallen recalled, “The Parushim was a group much like the Peace Corps, young men and women who saw the Utopian opportunity that existed for the Jewish people in Palestine and who were willing to devote themselves to an ideal.”
The Parushim was a very unusual Zionist group, organized both as a secret fraternity and as a reform movement. Unlike other social groups at the time, both men and women were eligible; “there was ascertain definite interest on desegregation of the sexes.” Enrollment was by an oath of initiation, and there was a probationary period for up to three years, during which time the initiate was to give exclusive and specific service to the cause.” Kallen invited no one to become a member until the candidate had given specific assurances regarding devotion and resolution to the Zionist cause, and each initiate had to undergo a rigorous analysis of his qualifications, loyalty, and willingness to take orders from the Order’s Executive Council. The motto of the group was the response traditionally attributed to the Jewish people on receipt of the Ten Commandments-“Nasseh V’Nishmah”-“we will do and we will hear.”
A member swearing allegiance to the Parushim felt something of the spirit of commitment to a secret military fellowship. At the initiation ceremony the head of the Order informed him:
The initiate responded by swearing:
It is clear both from the wording of these vows, which paralleled Kallen’s published phrases on Zionism, and from the handwriting on the original copy of this induction ceremony, that Kallen was its author. For him, the organization of the Parushim had many implications. It demonstrated his overriding commitment towards working for the realization of the Zionist ideal, and his need to create, if necessary, an educated militant group that would join him in the cause. It was indicative of his desire to stimulate Zionist activity beyond that of the official Zionist organization, which tended to devote its time to polemic and debate, rather than towards effecting substantial productive achievement. It showed Kallen’s trust in an elite Zionist cadre, a vanguard for the Zionist army that was to come. Most important, perhaps, it reflected his own need for a Zionist community with which he could feel comfortable, a substitute both for his own family, and for the Harvard fellowship of congenial minds that he had left behind when he moved to the Mid-West.
The kind of people Kallen considered worthy of invitation to the Parushim is indicated in a memorandum he prepared on “Signatories to the Zionist Pledge.” The list includes, among others, Alexander Dushkin, an authority on Jewish education; Dr. I. L. Kandel, an educator then with the Carnegie Foundation and Teacher’s College of Columbia University; Israel Thurman, a lawyer and “Harvard man,” who would be used to propagandize among young lawyers; and Nathan C. House, a “Columbia man” and high school teacher, who could work out plans for training Jewish high school boys “along the lines of Zionist sentiment coupled to physical development and Boy Scout discipline.”
It seems from the replies to Kallen’s invitations to join the Parushim that he had hit on the kind of organization that would meet thee needs of others besides himself. The few people he invited to join the Order, all well educated, all Zionist leaders in their own communities, answered enthusiastically. I. J. Biskind, a doctor in Cleveland, who during World War I was to go to Palestine as a medical missionary, responded:
Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization, was another early member of the Parushim. She wrote Kallen, “If … I may state the difficulties we [Hadassah] are encountering in our educational work, and so secure instructive advice from the hidden source, it will cause an increase not only in the results but also in the strength and zeal of the workers.” Her reference to “the hidden source” was, no doubt, tongue in cheek, for she continued, “If ever I emerge from under the … routine work in which I am now enveloped, I am going to devote myself to the reading you have prescribed for such as I am, and attempt to make myself more effective than I have been.”
In 1913 Kallen, aware of the moribund condition of the Zionist organization, felt that the way in which he and the Parushim would-be most influential was through a program of education. His focus. was on “the play of ideas-it had to be more theoretical than practical, imaging a program or an action without doing it.” One of his first requests to Henrietta Szold, for instance, was that she provide literature for Zionist courses to be given in Temples and Sunday Schools, a request to which she readily acquiesced. Within a few months, however, Kallen was looking further afield, and by April1914 was writing to Max Nordau, a political Zionist who had been Herzl’s first and most loyal colleague and closest adviser, of his desire to internationalize his secret order.
There is no written record of Nordau’s reply to Kallen, nor of his evaluation of a world-wide Zionist brotherhood, bent on secret activity and influence. Kallen recalls that Nordau “wouldn’t cotton to it. He didn’t think … a vow would be of any use.” The matter was shortly to become moot, however, for four months later war broke out in Europe, forcing the dislocation of the World Zionist headquarters from Berlin. From 1914 until1920, European Zionists lost their influence as the center of Zionist activity shifted first to the United States, then to England. Kallen’s plan for a secret world-wide Zionist society became one of the war’s casualties. But as the United States became more prominent on the Zionist stage, Kallen and his vision of Jewish renationalization were to receive an opportunity for expression wider in scope and more vast in influence than anything he had ever imagined.
On August 30, 1914, an “Extraordinary Conference of representatives of American Zionists” met in New York and organized a “Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs” with Louis D. Brandeis, the famous “People’s Attorney,” as its Chairman. Kallen had played an important part in persuading Brandeis to become a Zionist and to take an active role in Zionist affairs, by applying the reasoning of his cultural pluralist argument to the then prevalent contention that Zionist membership implied the unpatriotic condition of “dual loyalty.” Just prior to the August 30 conference, Kallen had presented Brandeis with his own plans for a Jewish State based on the same ideals of liberty and justice for all, which the American Declaration of Independence had enunciated.
Kallen then argued that a commitment to Zionism, instead of being detrimental to American loyalty, actually increased it, for Zionists and Americans shared the same values and traditions, and, therefore, were working towards the same ends. Brandeis, who late in life had felt a sudden emotional pull to the Jewish people, found that Kallen’s reasoning provided him with an intellectual rationale for Zionist activism. Thereafter he looked to Kallen as one of his most trusted advisers, and used him as his right-hand man both in formulating ideas and proposals and in carrying out schemes of an intricate or delicate nature.
Soon after Brandeis assumed the active leadership of the Provisional Executive Committee Kallen invited him to become an honorary member of the Parushim. Brandeis accepted, and began to assign the Parushim to carry out special “missions” for him. In particular the Parushim were to serve as a school for leaders, and under Kallen’s direction its members initially became the leading activists of the reorganized American Zionist movement. Excerpts from several letters to and from Kallen in late 1914 show clearly that new energies were flowing through the Zionist movement; they show, also, the roles Kallen’s Parushim were assuming in leading the way.
1. To Stephen S. Wise; Prominent Reform Rabbi and leader in the Jewish Community:
September 25, 1914
Dear Mr. Wise,
. . . I hope you will bear in mind what I told you about the Order [the Parushim]. We want most of all disciplined and well-trained young men and young women who have vision as well as executive ability, and spirituality, as well as force. In New York there are a good many who might be trained for leadership under proper direction, and I feel that you could play a very powerful and ideal part in the making of such leaders .
. . . As for your feeling about the secrecy of the work, it is, after all, no more secret than any important work has to be … (A)n organization which has the aims which we have must be anonymous, must work silently, and through education and infection rather than through force and noise, and can gain results only insofar as its standards are made to live in the lives of the people to whom they’re brought. But no thing could be more suicidal than the announcement of such an object, so that the secrecy is inevitable. I hope that you will join with us and take your place in our executive committee together with Mr. Brandeis.
2. From Henry Hurwitz, President of the Intercollegiate Menorah Association:
October 5, 1914
Dear Harry [Kallen’s favorite nickname for “Horace”],
I got your letter the other day while I was in New York. I went chiefly to attend a meeting of the Provisional Committee. The meeting was rather routine. Chiefly on how to raise the fund. Coming very slow. Brandeis anxious to have done with it in order to have energies free for the bigger problems-also before general appeal for relief floods us. Brandeis put it up to [Judah] Magnes and [Stephen] Wise to raise money among their people [rich congregants].
So far, the mass meetings seem to be little successful, except the Boston meeting…. That was really an extraordinary night for Boston Jews. Surging mob at Symphony Hall when doors opened at 7.At 7:10 necessary to open Jordan Hall for overflow meeting. Still a couple of thousand turned away from both halls. … Brookline [established well-to-do Jews] came down as well as Roxbury and West End [Jewish immigrant communities], to hear and to join. Brandeis spoke over an hour, simply but with suppressed emotion; seemed to hook the subject and reluctant to leave it. Got great ovation both before and after speech. Tremendously different attitude towards Zionism in Boston now along all classes.
I saw Oscar Straus … on a Menorah matter. Incidentally, we talked Zionism. He declared himself strongly in favor of Jewish colonization in Palestine … but only under political guarantees of one or more powers…. He is greatly impressed with Brandeis as leader; expressed a desire to meet him and talk over the problems of Zionism with him…. Wise will arrange a meeting between them.
3. To Richard Gottheil, former President of the Federation of American Zionists:
Oct. 14, 1914
Dear Prof. Gottheil:
… My reports from New York are disquieting. I hear of a good deal of restlessness on the part of Federation [of American Zionist] officials, who think they are being displaced…. I hope that, insofar as possible, [Louis] Lipsky, [Shemaryahu] Levin al).d Co. will be given as much kouad [honor] as possible. I am told that they feel “snuffed out”; and I fear very much that they may develop obstructionist tactics which will disgust Mr. Brandeis, and perhaps lead him to cut himself off from the organization. I am particularly concerned about the movement of the I.A.C. [World Zionist Inner Actions Committee] toward the re-opening of offices in Berlin, and the meeting in Stockholm. The situation seems to me to be very delicate, and I hope that you, Wise, Miss Szold, Brandeis and Hurwitz can find some way of suppressing what I feel will be-knowing the character of the Federation [of American Zionists] as I do-very unwise action.
Finally, there is this matter, which seems to me now to be of prime importance. I do not find in any of the foreign periodicals any recognition of the significance of Brandeis’ leadership. I think that it is necessary to make this very clear by a statement of Brandeis’ position and importance in this country, written by a number of people, e.g., you, Wise, Oscar Straus. . and sent to such papers as the Jewish Chronicle of London, the Zionist, etc. The Chronicle is ominously silent about the activities in America, and I regard that as a dangerous thing. Will you kindly put this matter also to our group [Parushim]? We shall have to depend upon ourselves, I forsee almost exclusively, if we are to save Brandeis for the -great work of the movement, without being involved in much unnecessary quarreling and personalities.
4. From I.J. Biskind, a Cleveland surgeon:
Oct. 19, 1914
Dear Dr. Kallen,
Your letter received . . .
We have done all in our power to make the Brandeis meeting a success. Mr. Brandeis arrived here [Cleveland] at about noon. Several of our people and one of the Uptown Jews (as you call them) met him at the station. After a few introductions we turned him over to the Germans [“uptown” German Jews] who had a luncheon waiting for him. He spoke at the luncheon and made a very good impression. None of our people was present, as our uptown Jews did not want to have a Zionist luncheon. … Towards evening 30-40 of our people had Mr. Brandeis to a luncheon of our own, where he gave us a nice talk . . .
I think, that now is the time for us to start to round public opinion and influence it in our favor. People like Mr. Brandeis, youself and Dr. Gottheil should come out openly in the big newspapers and magazines and tell the world what we want and demand…
5. To Henrietta Szold: My dear Miss Szold:
October 28, 1914
I am glad to hear from you at last. I have been wondering what turn matters were taking in New York . . ..
I have been in communication with Maurice Browne of The Little Theater of Chicago. He has enthusiastically agreed to organize a company of Jewish players who will present nationalistic plays all over the country…. I have undertaken the writing of one play, but we need two more, one of which must be a comedy…. If you know of any mss. already in existence or of any persons who have real dramatic power, will you kindly put them into immediate communication with me . . ..
As for the status of the Provisional Committee, I do not despair. The chief good of its organization lies not in whether its authority is forthcoming from the [World Zionist] Central Actions Committee or not, but in the fact that it has placed Brandeis definitely at the head of the movement in this country and as a member of the movement, and that has brought out the enthusiasm and practical cooperation of the student bodies everywhere-in short, that it has injected into the movement a new spirit and a new personnel, and promises, I hope, to put an end forever to Ghetto methods and petty Ghetto ideas and personalities that has marked the history of the Federation.
6. To Stephen S. Wise:
Oct. 25, 1914
Dear Dr. Wise:
I am writing from Indianapolis. Last night I spoke in the local reformed synagogue here-naturally on Zionism. Today I am to meet a number of members of the congregation and to urge upon them a practical allegiance to the cause. I am told … that you are to occupy the same pulpit next Friday, and I am venturing to suggest that it would be very advantageous to the cause here if you also spoke on Zionism and urged practical allegiance. The community here, impressed me all in all as being unconscious Jews and rather materialistic, but they have their possibilities and if awakened, may become potent for much good….
7. To Henry Hurwitz:
Nov. 7th, 1914
Dear Henry: Madison,
… We have now the difficult problem of suggesting that the Jews as a whole are rather pro-Allies, but that there is a distinct anti-Russian feeling among them that must not be confused with a pro-German sentiment. . . It becomes necessary, therefore, to write to the daily and weekly press stating why and how it is natural for the Jews to be anti-Russian and still for the Allies. I have asked [Marvin] Lowenthal and [Alexander] Sachs [two members of the Parushim] to write to the Nation. Will you get a couple of your men to write to the Times and the Sun, and write yourself, if possible. Now that Turkey is in [World War I], it is very necessary … to consider the possible alternatives before us . . .. It is absolutely necessary that we should have a dossier containing plans for meeting each of [the]. . possible emergencies, and that practical steps be taken to safeguard our own interests as nearly as possible from all sides at once .
. .. When Brandeis will be in Chicago … we could then have a meeting of “פ” [Parushim] and consider the problems of national organization in this country and many other things. Brandeis writes that he feels this to be most important, and I am feeling pleased as Punch that he realizes its importance so soon.
8. To Alexander Sachs, a graduate student in economics at Columbia University:
Nov. 7, 1914
Dear Mr. Sachs:
I have yours of the 3rd inst. You will take note of these two things.
1. Let me know as fully as possible just what the situation is in the P.C. [Provisional Committee) office.
2. Please report on the progress you have made with the list of candidates for “פּ ” [Parushim] which you had sent for approval to the Executive Committee.
3. In order to show that the Jews are not unanimously against the allies, it has become necessary to publish letters stating the Jewish position from the Zionist point of view. This letter should cover the following points:
(a) That the Jews are engaged equally on all sides (b) That in the order of their treatment, their sympathies are as follows: England, France, Austria, Germany, Russia (c) That they have suffered terribly at the hands of Russia, and that they are naturally anti-Russian rather than pro-German (d) That their stake in the war is perhaps as great as that of Belgium, and that. . the great mass of them are suffering just as much (e) That the way out would lie in nationalization … (f) That. .. the attitude and feeling of the Jews independent entirely on the kind of treatment that.. . is being accorded to their helpless brethren in that region, so that their sympathies are divided between the love of England and France and the hatred of Russia.
You are directed to write such a letter and to submit it through me to the [Parushim] Council before offering it for publication. Many thanks for your personal appreciation, and please regard it as reciprocated.
9. To Stephen S. Wise:
November 18, 1914
.. . I have been wondering since Turkey has gone into the war whether we could not through Mr. Crane [former U.S. Senator, interested in the rights of small nations] and other Americans and Gentiles get options, or perhaps buy outright, all the… government land in Palestine. In this respect, Turkey’s need is distinctly our opportunity, and action at this moment may save us a great deal of embarrassment and difficulty later on. The thing, if it is done at all, will of course have to be done through Gentiles, and would involve a double transfer, as I am quite sure the Turks would not be willing to sell to the Jews. There are many other things that ought to be talked through; and I imagine that sooner or later our particular group [the Parushim] will need to meet and canvass the whole actual situation with its possibilities, and form plans to meet them all.
10. To Mrs. Maurice Leon, Richard Gottheil’s daughter:
Oct. 28th, 1914
Dear Miss [sic] Leon:
I have to acknowledge the receipt of the additional documents ….I shall have abstracts made of them and filed ….
. . . [D]o not despair. We have been badly off many times before, but we have always managed to come clear. What we need most is loyalty and discipline; and so long as we work together like true soldiers, I have no fear for the result-no matter what may stand in the way …
As these excerpts make clear, Kallen, though in Wisconsin, half a continent removed from New York, was, as head of the Parushim, in reality at the center of all Zionist activity. His Parushim wrote him faithfully of all that was going on; sometimes several people wrote him of the same event, giving him a unique multifaceted perspective. Kallen’s Wisconsin address was the terminal of a wide-spread communications system and, as the leader of an intimate inner circle, he sifted, channeled, and commented on his information in ways that he felt would produce the most effective results.
The image that emerges of the Parushim is that of a secret underground guerilla force determined to influence the course of events in a quiet, anonymous way. Indeed, the repetition of military terminology in these letters is striking. “We [must] work together like true soldiers,” Kallen wrote Mrs. Leon, and he deployed his Parushim like members of an army. Like any underground leader he demanded of his followers discipline, obedience, and whole-hearted devotion to the cause; the inefficient and slipshod Federation received only his scorn and approbation. Surprisingly, perhaps, the members of the Parushim, each of whom was a leader of the highest caliber in his own right, consented to Kallen’s demands. No doubt, the secret organization dramatized the potential for effective Zionist actions. Additionally, Kallen provided constant encouragement to flagging spirits, and held out the promise, through concrete action, of tangible Zionist accomplishment.
Kallen’s constant use of military terminology was no accident. Seeking, in the words of his mentor, William James, “a moral equivalent for war,” Kallen had found one in the possibilities for action within the Zionist movement, possibilities that had become viable by Brandeis’ assumption of leadership. As leader of the Parushim, Kallen was commanding his army in the ways he felt would do the most good. A good Pragmatist, he was putting his insights about Zionism to the test of experience.
The commitment to, and insistence on, a well-run organization colored all of Kallen’s directives to the Parushim. Even more important, however, were the plans he suggested and the actions he initiated. Letter writing campaigns, both here and abroad, a Zionist Theatre group, plans for purchase of land in Palestine, the insistence on political action contingency plans, schemes-for influence of foreign diplomats- Kallen was overflowing with ideas to hasten the achievement of the Zionist goal. These were not the schemes of a dreamer, however; always practical, Kallen outlined each plan in all its details, and assigned it to the most suitable person. As leader of the Parushim Kallen was the very model of the “Messianic pragmatist”; first he defined a goal in theory, and then he proceeded to suggest its means of implementation. His followers did carry out his directions-Henrietta Szold, for instance, procured the manuscript she requested-and the Zionist organization began to function more efficiently, to receive attention, and to attract more widespread support. In turn the members of the Parushim began to experience a sense of behind-the-scenes power and influence.
Kallen’s correspondents, it is clear, ascribed to him a special relationship with, and influence on, Brandeis. He had more intimate access to the new Chairman than they and, therefore, the opportunity for recognition as one of Brandeis’ principal advisers. Kallen, however, apparently did not wish to advance his own personal interests or career through Brandeis. The letters show his concern with protecting Brandeis and with providing for him an optimal climate in which to become a successful leader. Certainly Kallen wished to “instruct” Brandeis; perhaps, covertly, even to manipulate him. But Kallen’s preference was for the role of anonymous string-puller. He knew that Brandeis could accomplish for the Zionist cause things of which he and the Parushim only dreamed, and was content to channel all his insights and energies through Brandeis. This is one of the reasons that, to now, little has been known about the Parushim.
One of the more interesting projects that the Parushim considered was the establishment of a Parushim College which would give supplementary training in leadership for members of the Order, collect data and material to be used especially for propaganda, and provide for research into Zionist problems. Students would take courses in economics, psychology, philosophy, Jewish history, Zionism, Hebrew language and literature, and read certain prescribed books. Their activity would be both leadership training and a means to keep the Parushim interested and motivated towards Zionist activity.
A prototype for the Parushim College had been the School of Zionism run by Jesse Sampter, a colleague of Henrietta Szold and one of the first members of the Parushim. Various members of the Parushim taught courses in Jewish history, Zionism and Bible interpretation at the New York Young Women’s Hebrew Association and also conducted a “correspondence school” for groups and individuals unable to attend the formal classes. Miss Sampter, a writer and poetess, compiled an original syllabus (published in 1920 as Guide to Zionism) which was used extensively in education programs of groups like Hadassah.
Unlike the successful New York school, however, plans for the national college never went much beyond the outline stage. Particularly disappointed were Parushim members outside of New York, like David Shapiro, an agricultural student at the University of California, who felt isolated from mainstream Zionist activity. Shapiro’s note of regret to Kallen is of special interest, for it provides succinct description of the goals Kallen and his followers had: “If our Jewish State is to be founded on justice, elimination of crushing competition, and abolishment of human exploitation,” Shapiro wrote, “these principles should become a part and parcel of the consciousness of our men…. Discipline will work much better when the men are not only trained in the habit of obedience but also to be conscious of their work.”
Kallen’s inability to successfully organize the Parushim College is symptomatic of the problems he began to have with his organization by late 1915. Though he continued to receive reports from his followers, they were becoming less frequent and less detailed as the Zionist workers concentrated on projects of their own and scattered to other commitments. Henrietta Szold, for example, was the moving force, through the Hadassah women’s organization, which she had founded, behind a plan to send to Palestine a completely equipped medical ship and to recruit doctors and nurses for work in Palestine. Stephen Wise concentrated on developing his own “Free Synagogue,” and on cultivating a role as Jewish liaison with the Wilson administration.
Kallen’s leadership, particularly his neglect of Jewish tradition, irritated some members of the Parushim; they resented, instance, his calling meetings for the Jewish Sabbath. “Since I understand that ours is not a separatist Order in the sense that it does not exclude any Jew who has proved his complete devotion to the Zionist cause,” wrote Jesse Sampter, “it would be unkind, unfair• and unjust to call a meeting at this particular time [Friday evening].” Henrietta Szold concurred, “I entered into an engagement about thirty-five hundred years ago on Mount Sinai upon which the Jewish ages have put a certain interpretation. The rule of my life is to accept this interpretation and that prevents me from making my way [to the Parushim meeting].”
In addition, there developed a conflict between Brandeis’ moderate position in approaching non-Zionists and Kallen’s more radical stance. Brandeis, showing the same talents for organization that had earned him his reputation as a leading lawyer and reform leader, had begun by late 1915 to make contacts and judgments of his own. Interested in broadening support for the Zionist movement, Brandeis preferred to back away from confrontations, which might upset established Jewish communities and interests. Kallen, however, despite Brandeis’ disapproval, continued to define the policy of the Parushim as “militant and aggressive”; “we must constantly, with pen and tongue, attack that part of Reform Judaism which …attacks Zionism and the leaders of Zionism,” he directed new recruits.
When Kallen instructed economist Alexander Sachs, one of the original Parushim, to “counter-attack” speeches of two prominent Reform Rabbis, Sachs consulted Brandeis, who advised against it. Sachs began to feel that the separatism of the Parushim questioned the sovereignty of Brandeis, and declined to follow Kallen’s instructions. Further, he implied that his work for the New England Zionist Bureau super ceded his commitment to the Parushim, thus questioning his oath of discipline and obedience.
Brandeis confirmed his difficulty in working through the Parushim. By November 1915 he was writing to Kallen of his disappointment in the group’s performance. At the same time other Zionist factions scorned the Parushim. “I understand that [Louis]Lipsky and some others call the Group פרושי�? thinking that it is a term of opprobrium, in the sense of snobs, separatists or highbrows,” reported one of the Parushim, Alexander Dushkin, to Kallen.
Elisha Friedman, President of the Collegiate Zionist League, though loyal to Kallen’s leadership, was another member of the Parushim who began to question the group’s validity. Though acknowledging that members of his group were engaged in studying educational, industrial and economic conditions in Palestine, and that this would provide the basis for useful planning for the future, Friedman felt that the non-secret University Zionist Society (which Kallen had also helped to found) could just as effectively perform this research.
Kallen was unyielding in his demands for secrecy, and, despite these signs of unrest, stood firm. He replied to Friedman,
And he reassured Dushkin, “I am delighted that Lipsky and others call the group ‘Parushim‘ in scorn. The thing for us to do now is to turn that scorn into astonished admiration by the highest degree possible of effectiveness.”
The correspondence with the Parushim, however, dropped off sharply after early 1916, though there are random letters dated1917 and 1918, confirming that the group continued to exist. Indeed, its greatest achievement was to come in 1918, when the Parushim helped to formulate the principles of the famous “Pittsburgh Program.” Yet there is no doubt that despite the fact that Kallen felt that the need for a close-knit “community” like the Parushim hadn’t diminished, the difficulty inherent in sustaining, long-distance, the loyalty and discipline of a group of intelligent individuals with minds and leadership qualities of their own, became too great an obstacle. As Kallen wrote shortly before his death,
But the “teaming up” became impossible with a leader so geographically removed from the center of power, a leader so dependent upon the cooperation of his followers, both for news and for self-sustained activity.
Though Kallen felt some disappointment that his dream of a vanguard army for Zionism was not to be, he seemed never to have lost hope. In early 1918, shortly after the publication of the Balfour Declaration, Kallen called his Parushim together once again to confront the problem of how Palestine might be developed into a Jewish State, grounded on the principles of economic and social justice, which Kallen and his followers so highly valued. According to Kallen’s account in his 1921 Zionism and World Politics, the eight or nine men and women who participated in the discussion were of all shades of opinion and of all schools of economic thought. By common consent, however, “they determined to leave doctrine as nearly as possible to the doctrinaires” and to face the realistic problem of developing Palestine into a free Jewish commonwealth. On the basis of their discussions Kallen formulated “A Memorandum on the Principles of Organization of the Jewish Commonwealth in Palestine”; the core of this memorandum, somewhat refined, became the seven statements of the so-called “Pittsburgh Program.”
The Pittsburgh Program was a series of basic principles that the delegates to the 1918 Convention of the Zionist Organization of America adopted as their credo. It represented the crowning achievement by Kallen, and by the “Americanized” Zionists like Brandeis whom he had influenced, to express their faith and vision in reordering Palestine as a model democratic Jewish nationality. Like other of Kallen’s ideas, however, it was a formulation for the elite; the Zionist masses never really understood it and the American Yiddish press of the period ignored it.
Nevertheless its contents reflected well the kinds of emphases that Kallen and the Parushim envisioned for Palestine. Included in the Pittsburgh Program were provisions for political and civic equality for all of Palestine’s inhabitants, including women and Arabs; ownership and control of the land and national resources by “the whole people”; the use of “the cooperative principle” in all agricultural, industrial, commercial and financial undertakings; and a system of universal public education using Hebrew as the language of instruction.
These principles appear rather commonplace today, and, as a matter of fact, the State of Israel has incorporated most of them. In 1918, however, when the Parushim presented them, the majority of Zionists considered these proposals to be the expressions of a radical group. English Zionist theoretician Leon Simon, for example, wrote Kallen criticizing his principles for being “far off; . .. in relation to the present and the future the Program simply doesn’t face facts.”
The discrepancy lay primarily in Kallen’s assumption that the purpose of Zionism, and the goal of his Parushim, was to work for the immediate establishment of a Jewish Commonwealth rather than to concentrate efforts, as the European Zionists were doing, on the stimulation of a Diaspora Zionist consciousness. As he wrote to one of his Parushim, the General Secretary of the Associated Jewish Charities of Omaha, Nebraska, “The English declaration has made it important for us … to make every preparation to meet the responsibility of administration and development of Palestine that the end of the war will put upon us.”
The Pittsburgh Program seems to have been the last of the projects of the Parushim. By the end of World War I, its early members had scattered-several of them to Palestine-and the American Zionist organization had grown so large, mostly with the addition of the newly arrived immigrant masses, that a small elite cadre could no longer make much impact. Perhaps it was unrealistic from the start to expect a small group devoted to anonymous activity to exert much influence on a disorganized movement of many parts, movement growing rapidly, with new leaders and new problems. Certainly Kallen’s demand for separatism did not make it easy to bead member of the Parushim, once the initial drama wore off. As Kallen recalled in 1964, “The thing didn’t function very well. …What you could do with young Italy [in the days of the nationalist leader Mazzini] you couldn’t do with young Jewry, or old …. “
Yet, though the Parushim failed, its organization stands as an interesting chapter in early American Zionist history for what it attempted to do-for its ideals of disciplined leadership, for its plans for a just, perhaps Utopian state, for its implied criticism of the methods and priorities of the formal Zionist movement. Had it succeeded, the course of the development of American Zionism, and of the Palestinian Jewish community, might have been different. That it did not is a comment not only on the gap between Kallen’s ideals and those of the rest of the Zionist movement, but also on the readiness of the Zionist membership to accept the discipline implicit in assuming responsibility for nationhood. It was to take another generation, after the tragic events of the 1930’s and 1940’s in Europe, before that: American Jewish community was willing to face up to the challenge of helping to create a living embodiment of the Jewish nationality. By then Kallen and the other Parushim had long forgotten their secret organization; today the story of the Parushim remains a fascinating footnote in the annals of “what might have been.”