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The Origins of Zionism: 19th Century - World War I
Introduction Learning Activities Materials Bookmarks Standards
Learning Activities
Tarnow 1907, Socialist Zionists
Source: YIVO
Before You Begin
Teachers should be sure to explore all bookmarked pages of the DVD-ROM used in this lesson. Teachers may also want to consult the additional bookmarks provided as reference material.

Introductory Activity: The Homeland of the Jews

The Jewish people's connection to the land of Israel goes back thousands of years, to the time of the patriarch Abraham.

  1. The Torah describes how God commanded Abram (Abraham's original name) to take his family and move to the land of Canaan (the modern land of Israel). Have the class read the Heritage document Heritage Bookmark Abraham Migrates to Canaan.

  2. The map of the Near East in 1750 BCE will allow students to explore the borders and cities of ancient Canaan and compare them to those of Heritage Bookmark modern Israel.

    • Use the zoom feature and the navigation box to focus on the area called "Canaan."
    • Click on the "Modern View" tab to show students that most of what was once Canaan is now Israel, and note that the city of Jerusalem - and other cities, such as Hebron, Beersheva, Arad, and Ashkelon - remain where they were thousands of years ago.

  3. Abraham's descendants continued to live in Canaan (later called Israel), but during their history they were often exiled from the land. As a class, read and discuss the following two examples of Jewish diaspora literature that express longing for the Land of Israel:

    • Heritage Bookmark A Lament For Jerusalem: After the Babylonians conquered Judea in 586 BCE, the Judeans were forced into exile in Babylon. This poem - Psalm 137 in the Torah - describes the Judeans' longing for their holy city of Jerusalem.

    • Heritage Bookmark My Heart Is In The East: During the "Golden Age" of Hebrew literature in Islamic Spain (900s - 1100s CE), Jewish writers began composing poetry in the language of their ancestors. Judah HaLevi's "My Heart is in the East" expresses the idea that Jews are perpetually in exile, longing for their homeland.

    Discuss these poems as a class, using the following questions as a guide:

    • In what contexts were each of these pieces written?
    • What does each poem tell you about Jewish longing for Zion (another name for Jerusalem)?

Learning Activity 1: The Beginnings of Modern Zionism

In the mid-nineteenth century, several Jewish leaders and rabbis began to preach a return to Zion (another name for Jerusalem) for nationalist, religious, and practical reasons. This trend, coupled with anti-Semitic policies and violence, led to increased support for Zionism among the Jews of Europe.

Eastern Europe

  1. In 1848, the wave of nationalism that swept across Europe resulted in instances of anti-Semitic violence, leading some Jews to conclude that they would never be fully accepted into non-Jewish society. Read the historical document Heritage Bookmark Nationalists Attack Jews in Prague.

  2. The assassination of the Russian czar in 1881 led to pogroms, anti-Jewish laws, and deteriorating economic conditions for the country's Jews. Russian Jews responded by immigrating to America and supporting Zionist and Socialist ideas. The text in the Explore Topic segment titled Heritage Bookmark Assassination explains this situation.

  3. Young Russian and Eastern European Jews began immigrating to Palestine in the late 1800s. There they worked the land and founded Jewish settlements that would pave the way for future waves of Jewish immigration. View the video Heritage Bookmark Jewish Settlement, stopping when Abba Eban says, "They called themselves Zionists."

  4. Leo Pinsker, a Russian Jew, was one of the founders of the modern Zionist movement. His 1882 essay Heritage Bookmark Auto-Emancipation describes his views on the "Jewish problem" and his support of Zionism. Discuss, using the following questions as a guide:

    • According to Pinsker, what is "the Jewish problem"?
    • What is the solution to this problem?

Western Europe

  1. France's trial and conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army captain falsely accused of treason, led to increased anti-Jewish sentiment in Western Europe. Dreyfus was ultimately exonerated and reinstated in the military, but the Affair had a significant impact on the future of a Jewish national homeland. Students will view the Heritage Bookmark Dreyfus Affair video segment.

    Questions for post-video discussion:

    • What did the Dreyfus Affair reveal about the place of Jews in European society?
    • How do you think the Dreyfus Affair contributed to the longing for a Jewish national homeland?

Learning Activity 2: The Vision of Theodor Herzl

Faced with Dreyfus's exoneration, some Jews believed that they had defeated the anti-Semites; but others, including Theodor Herzl, concluded that even assimilated, patriotic Jews would never be fully accepted by the non-Jewish majority.

  1. A young journalist named Theodor Herzl was deeply affected by the Dreyfus Affair, and came to the conclusion that the Jews would never be completely secure or accepted in a land that was not their own. He therefore set out to create a Jewish state, leading others in the European community who supported the movement known as Zionism. Students view the video segment Heritage Bookmark Zionism.

    NOTE: End the segment when Abba Eban says, "Now with Herzl's inspiration, the Zionist idea became a political movement."

  2. "A Solution to the Jewish Question," an article written by Herzl in 1896, expresses his Zionist beliefs one year before he attended the first World Zionist Congress and emerged as the leader of the movement. Discuss the article as it appears in the historical document Heritage Bookmark A Call for Jewish Statehood, using the following questions as a guide:

    • What does Herzl imply as the reason why the Jews need a Jewish state?
    • What arguments does Herzl claim his opponents will use against his ideas?
    • What does Herzl mean when he says, "The Maccabeans will rise again"?

Learning Activity 3: Aspects of Early Zionism

The early Zionist movement contained many different streams of political and philosophical thought regarding the future Jewish state. The various groups did not have equal support among Zionists and some were fairly short-lived; however, ideas from many of these factions are present in the modern state of Israel.

  1. Zionism turned the long-standing religious yearning into a political movement, uniting all Jews who sought to establish a Jewish nation. Yet the early Zionists had differing ideas regarding the creation, structure, and international role of the Jewish state, as seen in the Heritage Bookmark Zionism multimedia presentation.

    After viewing the presentation, discuss the following:

    • How was the Jewish desire to return to their homeland often expressed?
    • Describe the early Zionist movement. Were the Zionists a cohesive group?

Culminating Activities:

  1. Have students view each of the seven panels about different streams of Zionism that appear after the multimedia presentation. Then, as a class, discuss the similarities and differences among these types of Zionism, and why some proved more successful than others.

  2. Have each student write an essay about why they do or do not believe the existence of the state of Israel is important for the Jewish people. You may encourage them to review the textual material and Heritage segments used in this lesson to help them write their essays.

Extension Activities

  1. Have students research and compose an essay about one of the following:

    • How Zionism differed from traditional expressions of Judaism
    • Why Orthodox and/or Reform Jews were initially opposed to Zionism

    Background: Zionism was in some ways a radical break with Judaism, in that it suggested that human beings could bring about an end to the Jews' exile from Israel rather than wait for the arrival of the Messiah. Because of this, it was opposed by many traditionalist Jews, who also disapproved of the Zionists' promotion of Hebrew (which for centuries had been used mainly for prayer and study of religious texts) as a language for modern literature and everyday life. Most Reform Jewish leaders also opposed Zionism, since it went against their position that Judaism was a religion and not a nation.


  2. Students may research the revival of Hebrew as a modern, spoken language; or they may choose to focus specifically on Eliezer Ben Yehuda's role in creating and promoting the modern Hebrew language.

    Heritage segments:


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