Reviving the Jewish Spirit

Stand for Israel  |  November 18, 2019

Louis Brandeis, 1915
Louis Brandeis, 1915

In recent days, those of us who stand for Israel have been disturbed when politicians make the historically anti-Semitic claims of “dual loyalty,” arguing that American Jews cannot be patriotic to the United States and support Israel, the Jewish state, at the same time. Such anti-Semitic thinking, though, was already being disputed more than a century ago by one of the leading Americans — Jew or Gentile — of the early 20th century, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

Born on this day in 1856 in Louisville, Kentucky, to Jewish parents who had immigrated from Bohemia to escape the violent and vicious anti-Semitism there, Brandeis was raised with the values of both his family’s faith, as well as those of his homeland. His mother recalled of how she raised her children:

“I believe that only goodness and truth and conduct that is humane and self-sacrificing toward those who need us can bring God nearer to us…I wanted to give my children the purest spirit and the highest ideals as to morals and love. God has blessed my endeavors.”

With such morals in mind, Brandeis first made his name as an attorney, valiantly battling big banks, the robber barons’ monopolies, and the rampant consumerism that plagued America even then. Then, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson nominated Brandeis to the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite unusual resistance, much of it based on the anti-Semitism of the time, Brandeis was confirmed to the nation’s highest court by a 47-22 Senate vote. On the court, Brandeis became one of the most influential justices in American history, continuing his legacy of looking out for the American people by defending the constitutional freedom of speech and right to privacy.

But for those of us who stand for Israel, it was a speech Brandeis made the year before he was named to the Supreme Court that is especially meaningful. Speaking to a conference of rabbis, Brandeis stood with Zionists, arguing for the need for Jews to escape anti-Semitism, much as his parents had done when they came to America. The establishment of a Jewish state, Brandeis said, would do just that and would “revive the Jewish spirit”:

“The Zionists seek to establish this home in Palestine because they are convinced that the undying longing of Jews for Palestine is a fact of deepest significance; that it is a manifestation in the struggle for existence by an ancient people which has established its right to live, a people whose three thousand years of civilization has produced a faith, culture and individuality which enable it to contribute largely in the future, as it has in the past, to the advance of civilization; and that it is not a right merely but a duty of the Jewish nationality to survive and develop. They believe that only in Palestine can Jewish life be fully protected from the forces of disintegration; that there alone can the Jewish spirit reach its full and natural development; and that by securing for those Jews who wish to settle there the opportunity to do so, not only those Jews, but all other Jews will be benefited…”

That very suggestion, that even American Jews would benefit from the creation of a Jewish state, had led anti-Semites to question the patriotism of Zionists who felt this way. To which Brandeis retorted:

“Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with Patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent. A man is a better citizen of the United States for being also a loyal citizen of his state…Every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement in Palestine, though he feels that neither he nor his descendants will ever live there, will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so. There is no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry.”

Stand for Israel could not have explained the love of both America and Israel any better. So birthday wishes to Louis Brandeis, a true American and Zionist. May his memory be a blessing.

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