Model Zionist Conference – 1903

  • Flexible
  • Grades: 9-12
  • Lesson Plan

Students participate in an imaginary Zionist conference which brings together Zionist and anti-Zionist leaders from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

This unit was written for the Torah High School Network Student Seminar held in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania in 1988. It was sponsored in cooperation with the Torah Education Department of the World Zionist Organization. This unit was written and compiled by Stanley Peerless and adapted in 2008 by the Lookstein Center.


The materials contained here are designed to enable students to participate in a simulated debate on issues facing the Jewish world in the year 1903. It is important to clarify that the debate is imaginary in the sense that it brings together proponents of various ideologies prevalent in the Jewish community during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, even though many of the personalities lived at different times and in different places (i.e. some personalities and movements mentioned in the unit became active only after 1903). The overall goal of the activity is for students to clarify their understanding of the forces within Judaism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, particularly as they relate to Zionism.

This unit was originally written for the Torah High School Network Student Seminar held in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania in 1988. It was sponsored in cooperation with the Torah Education Department of The World Zionist Organization. This unit was written and compiled by Stanley Peerless and adapted in 2008 by The Lookstein Center.

Lesson objectives

1) To familiarize students with the major players and movements in Zionism.

2) To familiarize students with the variety of motivations in early Zionism (i.e. anti-Semitism, messianism, religion, cultural renaissance, socialism) and the ramifications of those differences.

3) To familiarize students with Jewish opposition to Zionism.

4) To demonstrate to the students that Jews with a variety of viewpoints could work together toward the fulfillment of a common goal.

5) To clarify the foundations of Jewish nationalism.

6) To clarify the issue of bitachon (trust in God) vs. hishtaldut (personal effort).


Bitachon – lit. trust. In this case, trusting in God that all will be good.

Hishtaldut – effort or striving.

Resources & Equipment needed

Material packets (see appendix).


The materials (see appendix) are divided into nine packets. Each packet represents a different ideological or religious group:


1) Political Zionism

2) Religious Zionism

3) Cultural Zionism

4) Socialist Zionism

5) Revisionist Zionism

6) Conservative Judaism


1) Reform Judaism

2) Agudat Yisrael

3) Universalistic Socialism (Bund)

Because some religious groups did not have formal positions on Zionism, the source sheets make use of the perspectives of leading personalities. Each packet contains a brief description of the group’s ideological position, short biographies of main proponents, and where possible, citations. The citations were for the most part originally written in German, Hebrew or Yiddish and this unit relies heavily on the translations by Arthur Hertzberg found in his book, The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader. Others were taken from The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History by Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz. The materialscan be used in a variety of ways within a school setting or an informal Jewish educational setting. Here are two suggestions, based on cooperative learning models:

Activity I: Students will be divided into groups representing the various schools of thought prevalent in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Each student will be given an identity and will be provided with brief biographical information and, in most cases, some primary sources. Following a brief introduction, each group will be asked to produce a short skit which manifests their ideology and its development. Each skit will be presented to the entire group. This activity serves to familiarize all of the students with the variety of ideologies which were active of that time and to give each student a deeper understanding of the ideology that they will be representing in the debate.

Activity II: This activity is conducted as a jigsaw activity. The basic premise of the jigsaw approach is to divide a problem or a body of knowledge into sections. Each student receives resources to complete only his/her part. The students who are responsible for the same section join together in a temporary expert group so that they master the concepts of their section. In our case, there are nine expert groups, each representing a different ideology from the Jewish world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (assuming a class of 27 students, there will be nine groups numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, each with three students – Students A, B, and C). Each student will be given an identity, biographical information, and in most cases, primary sources. They will study the ideology of their group together. Then they will be divided into collaborative learning groups, where the students will debate some of the issues that Zionist grappled with in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In these collaborative groups, students will share their identity’s position and incorporate the knowledge gained from members of other expert groups.

The collaborative learning groups will be organized as follows:

Debate Group A: Student 1A, Student 2A, Student 3A, Student 4A, Student 5A, Student 6A, Student 7A, Student 8A, and Student 9A.

Debate Group B: Student 1B, Student 2B, Student 3B, Student 4B, Student 5B, Student 6B, Student 7B, Student 8B, and, Student 9B.

Debate Group C: Student 1C, Student 2C, Student 3C, Student 4C, Student 5C, Student 6C, Student 7C, Student 8C, and Student 9C.

Each debate group will debate the following issues (depending on time constraints):

1) The creation of a Jewish state

2) The Uganda Proposal (location)

3) Language

4) Method of settlement

5) The role of Jewish religion in the affairs of state

Alternatively, if the activity is done in combined classes totaling 54 students, the nine expert groups could reassemble into 6 collaborative learning groups, or they could remain in 3 collaborative learning groups with 2 representatives from each expert group in each debate. In groups with an odd number of students, more than one representative of a particular expert group can be placed in the collaborative learning group.

Final Activity: Once the students are familiar with the leading personalities and their positions,stage a model Zionist conference. The year is 1903. After the breakdown of the ghetto walls and the hope of a better life, the Jewish community has been shocked by massive pogroms in the east and the Dreyfus Affair in the West. You have been brought together with other Jewish leaders from different times and geographical locations, representing a variety of ideological positions, to discuss solutions to the problem. The issues to be debated are the following:

1) Should steps be taken toward the creation of a Jewish state? If so,

2) The British government has offered Uganda as a location for a Jewish state. Should this be accepted or should the state only be in the land of Israel?

3) What should be the language of the state?

4) Should gradual settlement take place, or should mass settlement take place after a political settlement?

5) What should be the role of Jewish religion in the affairs of the state?

Learn more:

Herzl Museum

Zionist Philosophies

Israel and Zionism

Zionist Congress

Fathers of Zionism – Vision and Practice (Hebrew)