America's Most Memorable Zionist Leaders

Louis Brandeis and Henrietta Szold are revered as two of America's most memorable Zionist leadersLouis Brandeis (above left in collage) and Henrietta Szold (above right) became role models for American Jews, says Professor Jonathan D. Sarna.

The Individual in History: Essays in Honor of Jehuda Reinharz

The question of what makes a successful Jewish leader has many answers, none of them simple.

Individual leaders develop within a complex context of socio-political circumstances of period and place. They are transformed by circumstances, responding and reacting in ways unique to the individual, and subsequently transforming those same circumstances in a process of change and development that is mutually reinforcing and non-linear.

The Individual in History: Essays in Honor of Jehuda ReinharzThe life journey of Jehuda Reinharz, president of Brandeis University for 17 consecutive years, provides an intriguing example of how effective Jewish leadership can develop.

The new book “The Individual in History: Essays in Honor of Jehuda Reinharz” (eds. ChaeRan Y. Freeze, Sylvia Fuks Fried and Eugene R. Sheppard; 2015) begins with an overview of Jehuda Reinharz’s life story and continues with essays on topics he held keen interest in and to which he devoted scholarly attention.

The book, organized into five parts and 39 essays, begins with the story of Reinharz as an Israeli teenager in his new home in Essen, Germany, where he and his family had just moved. It was at the Humboldt Gymnasium which Reinharz attended, like his father before him, where he “first experienced the sharp sting of antisemitism.”

The turning point came for Reinharz when he determined to refute the opinion of his “history teacher’s claim that the imputed criminality of the Nazis was overblown for, afterall, ‘only three and a half million Jews’ died during World War II.”

Refuting his teacher meant conducting research at a time in the late 1950s when little had yet been published on the subject of the Holocaust. Undaunted, Reinharz sought the advice of the cultural advisor to the Central Council of Jews in Germany who shared with him what he had, brochures and pamphlets, and “referred him to the work of a number of scholars in Israel.”

The dearth of material about the Holocaust and Reinharz’s determined position to counter his history teacher’s antisemitic statements propelled Reinharz into active participation in the Zionist youth movement in Germany and a lifelong course of academic scholarship.

Key themes in Reinharz’s extensive scholarship include Jewish emancipation, antisemitism and Zionism. As such, essays in the book are organized under the titles Ideology and Politics; Statecraft; Intellectual, Social and Cultural Spheres; Witnessing History; and In the Academy.

In conjunction with the Tauber Institute at Brandeis University’s September 2015 launch of the new book, the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program shares excerpts here of the ninth essay by Hornstein Professor Jonathan D. Sarna, “America’s Most Memorable Zionist Leaders.”

Excerpts from “America’s Most Memorable Zionist Leaders”

by Jonathan D. Sarna

Louis D. BrandeisLouis D. Brandeis, outstanding Harvard-trained Boston lawyer, leader of the American Zionist movement, and the first Jew to be nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States.

“HenriettaHenrietta Szold, exceptional Jewish thought-leader, writer and editor, co-founder of Hadassah and “Mother of Israel” for her dedication to service and social justice.


In his essay, Sarna continues to outline the lives and accomplishments of Louis Brandeis and Henrietta Szold: Brandeis as outstanding Harvard-trained Boston lawyer, leader of the American Zionist movement and the first Jew to be nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States; and Szold as exceptional Jewish thought-leader, writer and editor, co-founder of Hadassah and “Mother of Israel” for her dedication to service and social justice.

Sarna goes on to describe these five factors, and concludes:

Dr. Jonathan Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, chair of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History and president of the Association for Jewish Studies.


Last update: August 25, 2015