The First President as a Child

BY
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Chaim Weizmann
24 Aug 2007
History

Land of My Birth – Chaim Weizmann was born in 5634 (1874) in the town of Motol in Belarus, the third son in a family of twelve children. As a child he studied in “cheder,” where he was very interested in everything connected to Eretz Yisrael. At the age of twelve he joined the “Chibat Tzion” movement, and he was well acquainted with the triple concept of the Jewish nation, the land, and the language. As a youth he demonstrated his leadership skills by organizing children into youth groups, while they looked at him with great admiration. He would enthusiastically describe the land and those who love it, as later described by his sister Chaya:

“He would talk in a beautiful and enticing way about Chibat Tzion – the love for Zion – the people who led the organization, the names of the first settlements which had already been built, and some of his friends already living in the land. His stories reminded us of idyllic descriptions in novels based on the Tanach written by the author Mapu in “Ahavat Tzion” and “Ashmat Shomron.” We would sometimes feel that we were united with the heroes of these stories, and we would think about them while awake and in our dreams…”

As a result of Chaim`s influence the youth of Motol established the “Association for Clear Speech.” Many young people joined this organization, but in the end most of the members moved to the United States. Only one child moved to Eretz Yisrael. The older population laughed at the children and mocked them for playing a game called “Chibat Tzion.” The young members therefore moved their activities underground, which helped make the group even more interesting than before.

Thus, we can see that Chaim Weizmann was interested in Zion when he was very young, and even at this young age he had developed a solid nationalistic outlook. One of his teachers received a letter from him before he had reached the age of bar mitzva. It is amazing to see the child’s vision of what might happen in the future, including many things that older people could not imagine. He complains about the wretched situation of the Jews in exile and laments the fate of those who suffered pogroms in Russia. Almost fifty years before the Holocaust, the young boy warned not to be fooled by the liberal attitude of the cultured nations towards the Jews, not even the enlightened Germans, among whom he already detected dangerous anti-Semitic tendencies. For example, he wrote:

“How wonderful is the idea of our brothers from Bnei Yisrael to establish the organization ‘Chovevei Tzion!’ Through this organization we will be able to rescue our oppressed and wretched brethren, who are distributed all over the earth without any place where they can settle… And this organization can serve as ‘the beginning of the redemption’ … We have an obligation to establish a place where we can flee… We will raise the banners of Zion and return to our first mother, who gave birth to us. Why should we look for pity from the kings of Europe, asking them to give us a place to rest? It is in vain, for they have declared: A Hebrew is one who should be put to death! … The end of the matter is: Hebrews to Zion – Let us go to Zion!”

Weizmann studied in the scientific high school in Pinsk, and he was very successful. He continued in universities in Germany and Switzerland, with chemistry as his major. At first, he dedicated his time to his scientific work, but he never abandoned the ideas of the return to Zion. On the eve of the first Zionist Congress in the summer of 5657 (1897), at the age of twenty-three, Weizmann came home for a visit. Here is what his sister wrote:

“Chaim enthusiastically told us about Dr. Herzl and his small booklet, ‘The Jewish State,’ which gave a breath of life and new hope to the youth of Chovevei Tzion and in the hearts of all those who love Zion… He predicted that this Congress would completely change all the plans, would give a great push leading to comprehensive labor and political achievements, and it would lead to a large number of immigrants and to rebuilding the land…”


Source: Chaya Weizmann-Lichtenstein, “Under Our Protection”. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat B’Shabbato please write to dan@zomet.org.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.