Treasure Trove revisits an early Zionist meeting that was truly a slap in the face for one participant

The newly opened Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts was featured on this official postcard of the Ninth Zionist Congress that was held in Hamburg, Germany in 1909. The school was founded by Boris Schatz (1867-1932), a Lithuanian-born professor of sculpture, and named after Bezalel Ben-Uri who was the chief artisan of the Tabernacle and was in charge of building the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus, chapters 31, and 36 to 39).

The Bezalel school set out to create a visual language to express the Jewish people’s aspirations for renewal in the Land of Israel. Instruction was offered in painting, sculpture and other art forms, as well as folk crafts such as metalworking, woodcarving and carpet-making.

The Ninth Zionist Congress featured heated debates between advocates of political Zionism, which called for the Jewish state to be created through international law, supported by Theodor Herzl and his successor David Wolffsohn and practical Zionism which argued for increased settlement in the Land of Israel and support for the workers living there and was favoured by Chaim Weizmann.

There was another heated conflict at the Ninth Congress. The Congress chair, Max Nordau, dispatched a greeting to the German Kaiser, in whose country the event was taking place. Dr. Nachman Syrkin, founder of the Zionist-Socialist movement Poalei Zion, protested violently against the Congress paying tribute to a monarch. After a heated verbal exchange, Syrkin slapped Nordau’s face, resulting in great excitement and commotion at the meeting.

In our day, there are many emotional debates about what is best for Israel, our Jewish community and the world in general. Thankfully, face-slapping is no longer a feature of these discussions.