Z.O.A. Convention Opens; Kennedy Lauds ‘experience of Zionism’
Menu JTA Search

Z.O.A. Convention Opens; Kennedy Lauds ‘experience of Zionism’

Download PDF for this date

The 65th annual convention of the Zionist Organization of America opened here tonight with a message from President Kennedy lauding “the experience of Zionism” and emphasizing that the United States “has established and continued a tradition of friendship with Israel” since the time of President Wilson.

“When the first Zionist conference met before the present century began, ” President Kennedy said in his message, “Israel was a wasteland worn with the bitterness of many centuries of strife and warfare. Today it is the dynamic and fruitful land inhabited by free and democratic people that Theodor Herzl and other great Zionist leaders prophesied it would become.

“This nation, from the time of President Woodrow Wilson, has established and continued a tradition of friendship with Israel because we are committed to all free societies that seek a path to peace and honor individual right. We seek peace and prosperity for all of the Middle East, firm in our belief that a new spirit of comity in that important part of the world would serve the highest aspirations and interests of all nations.

“In the prophetic spirit of Zionism all free men today look to a better world and in the experience of Zionism we know that it takes courage and perseverance and dedication to achieve it. Toward this larger and greater adventure for all of mankind, your energies are now summoned,” President Kennedy concluded.


Max Bressler, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told the 1,200 delegates from all parts of the country that “great dangers threaten important sections of the Jewish people in various parts of the world.”

“Amidst all of the perils facing our people, American Jewry itself is confronted by a great danger threatening its continuity as a vibrant creative Jewish community,” he said in his opening address. This menace, he stated, was “voluntarily assimilation” rather than anti-Semitism. He expressed regret that while much was spent on defense against anti-Semitism, little was allocated to combat cultural assimilation and disintegration. He termed Zionism “the most vital force in combatting cultural assimilation.”

“It is incumbent upon those of us whom fate has placed in leadership to reject definitions of Zionism being offered by men who deal with Zionism as though it were a commodity to be moved from one shelf to another or to be discarded when, to their way of thinking, it served its purpose. He alluded to critics of the Zionist movement in Israel and America.

“Zionism,” he continued, “must be evaluated for what it is–the greatest cause and the most stirring movement in the history of our people throughout centuries of our dispersion and homelessness. It is not a question whether we need a Zionist movement but rather what can we do to make it a stronger and greater force.”

He urged that American Zionists, acting through the ZOA, carry on Jewish communal tasks both on national and local levels and through leadership on Jewish community councils. He stressed that action was required to avert “isolation between the ZOA and other organizations within the American Jewish community as well as avoiding a situation where individual Zionists have kept themselves integrated, assuming their share in the burdens.”

He said it was time for the ZOA to assume “leadership with a strong voice in American Jewry, to awaken it, to arouse it, to make it sensitive to the perils facing our people. ” He attacked what he termed “the lack of leadership in the American Jewish community.” He called for a movement to establish a central authoritative Jewish representation in America from the grass roots of Jewish communities.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund