On the 120th Anniversary of the First Zionist Congress

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An Introduction to Researching the First Zionist Congress at the Center for Jewish History

120 years ago, on August 29, 1987, Theodor Herzl convened the first
Zionist Congress in the city of Basel with 200 participants from 17 countries.

“If I were to sum up the Basel Congress in a single phrase—which I
would not dare to make public—I would say: In Basel I created the Jewish State.
Were I to say this aloud I would be greeted by universal laughter. But perhaps
five years hence, certainly fifty years hence, everybody will perceive it.”

Theodor Herzl, Vienna, September 3rd,
1897, quoted in The Jubilee of the First
Zionist Congress, 1897-1947 (see below)


Image of the Basel Program

During the First Zionist Congress, the Basel program was adopted, which

Zionism seeks to
establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz­Israel secured under public law.
The Congress contemplates the following means to the attainment of this end:

1. The promotion by appropriate means of the
settlement in Eretz-Israel of Jewish farmers, artisans, and manufacturers.

2. The organization and uniting of the whole of
Jewry by means of appropriate institutions, both local and international, in
accordance with the laws of each country.

The strengthening and fostering of Jewish
national sentiment and national consciousness.

4. Preparatory steps toward obtaining the consent
of governments, where necessary, in order to reach the goals of Zionism.

To learn more about the First Zionist Congress and the origins of
Zionism, you can turn to the collections of our partners here at the Center for
Jewish History. The record is marked with (Digitized) if you can access the
material online.

Some highlights …

Herzl Collection 1888-1912


Call/Accession Number: AR 185

Leo Baeck Institute

Biographical/Historical Note: Born in Budapest in 1860, Theodor Herzl was the founder of
modern political Zionism and the World Zionist Organization. He came from a
family of German-speaking assimilated Jews. He moved with his family to Vienna
in 1878. Here he studied law and eventually became a journalist, writing for
the Neue Freie Presse in Paris. In 1896, he published “Der
Judenstaat,” which outlined his proposal for the establishment of a Jewish
state. In 1897; he organized the First
Zionist Congress in Basel.
The rest of his life was devoted to the Zionist
movement, and he met with multiple heads of state with the hope of advancing
negotiations for a territory. He died in 1904 in Austria and is buried in

of the four-page program and rules of procedure of first Zionist Congress

Call/Accession Number: 1997.140

Yeshiva University Museum

Jubilee of the First Zionist Congress, 1897-1947 (Jerusalem: Executive of the
Zionist Organization, 1947)

Call/Accession Number: 000026354

YIVO Institute for Jewish

“The Zionist Congress at Basle marked the start of the organized
Zionist movement, and it was there that the World Zionist Organization was
established. It is a milestone in the history of the Jewish people which
deserves to be remembered and celebrated on its fiftieth anniversary.”

of the Zionist Congress held at Basle, Switzerland, August 29, 30 and 31, 1897
(Basel, Switzerland: Zionist Congress, 1897)

Call/Accession Number: DS149 .A4a

American Jewish Historical

First Zionist Congress in 1987: Causes, Significance, Topicality (New York:
Karger, 1997)

Call/Accession Number: 000090514

YIVO Institute for Jewish

Nordau Collection. 1892-1992.


Call/Accession Number: AR 441

Leo Baeck Institute

Letters written in French and German (1892-1910); essay entitled
“Zeitfragen;” two newspaper articles written by Nordau entitled
“Jeanne d’Arc;” program from conference honoring Max Nordau

of the Zionist Congress: with summary of proceedings and details of the
composition of the Congress (Jerusalem: Executive of the Zionist Organization)

Call/Accession Number: DS149.A4 Z5a

American Sephardi Federation

Manuscripts on David Zwi Farbstein and Betty Ostersetzer

By Hannah Zweig-Strauss (circa 1999)

Call/Accession Number: AR 11045 

Leo Baeck Institute

David Zwi Farbstein
(1868-1953), born in Warsaw, trained as a lawyer and settled in Zürich, where
he was active in the Zionist movement and in the Social Democratic Party. He
helped organize the first Zionist Congress.
Betty Ostersetzer (1873-1938)
was born as Beile Chaje in Czortkow (Galicia) and married to David Zwi
Farbstein from 1895-1908. She was active both in the Social Democratic Party
and in feminist activism.  

commemorating centennial of First Zionist Congress

Call/Accession Number: 1997.164

Yeshiva University Museum

First Zionist Congress Souvenir

By Ephraim Moses Lilien

Yeshiva University Museum

of Nokhen Shtif (1879-1933) 1910-1933

Call/Accession Number: RG 57

YIVO Institute for Jewish

Biographical/Historical Note: Nokhem
Shtif was born in Rovno, Volhynia (today Rivne, Ukraine) on September 29, 1879
to a prosperous family. Until the age of his bar mitzvah he learned with
various melamdim (Jewish Studies teachers). He later attended a real-gymnasium
(university preparatory secondary school) and the Kiev Polytechnic University,
where he was enrolled between 1899 and 1903, while still continuing to study
religious and modern Hebrew literature. Following
the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, he became an ardent Zionist and
helped establish the radical student Zionist organization, Molodoy
Izrail (Young Israel), and also participated in the 1902
Minsk Zionist Conference. 

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