Bluestone, Joseph Isaac

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BLUESTONE, JOSEPH ISAAC (1860–1934), medical doctor and leading Zionist. Bluestone immigrated to the United States from Kalvarija, Lithuania, at the age of 19. He was a descendant of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann *Heller of Prague and Cracow, best known for his medieval commentary on the Mishnah (Tosefot Yom Tov). Bluestone's basic Jewish education was classically Lithuanian/talmudic.

Bluestone failed in his only attempt at business and so enrolled in medical school at New York University. He earned his degree in 1890 and opened his private medical practice on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He was affiliated with Beth Israel Hospital and served on its staff.

An ardent Zionist, and an American patriot, Bluestone supported settlement in Palestine and as early as 1882 urged the establishment of a Zionist society in New York. Within a year he was vice president of Hebra Hovovei Zion, urging economic, political, financial, and physical support of the Yishuv. In 1889, Bluestone became the editor of the first Zionist journal published in America, Schulamit.

When the Federation of American Zionists was established in 1897, Bluestone joined its ranks, but was disillusioned when the organization ignored the Orthodox members of Ḥovevei Zion. To fill the needs of religious Zionists, he and Rabbi Philip Hillel *Klein established the Federation of Zionist Organizations in the United States, an umbrella for Ḥovevei Zion groups. In 1901, he established the United Zionists of America, which essentially competed with the established community's Federation of American Zionists. The Federation served the West European, assimilated Jewish community, while Bluestone's group was occupied mostly with Yiddish-speaking East. Europeans. It was only after Judah *Magnes took over the leadership of the American Zionists that Bluestone agreed to support their work.

One of Bluestone's major roles was to serve as a delegate to several international Zionist Congresses, where he met with Theodore *Herzl, Max *Nordau, Shmarya *Levin, and Rabbi Jacob Isaac *Reines. When the Mizrachi Organization of America was founded in 1912, Bluestone was one of its key leaders and served on the executive committee for many years. He edited its Hebrew-language newsletter Mizaracha, was a Hebrew poet in his own right, published in Ha-Maggid, Ha-Ivri, and Ha-Pisgah, and translated works from English and Yiddish into Hebrew. He was a friend of *Shalom Aleichem, *Imber, and *Goldfaden, all outstanding cultural figures from the Lower East Side.

Bluestone was survived by four sons (all doctors) and three daughters. His self-written epitaph reads: "Here lies one who found a refuge at last – a Hebrew."


M. Sherman, Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook, (1996) 33–35; Letter to the Editor from David Bernard Ballin, in: The New York Times (Nov. 8, 1934), 22; Obituary, in: New York Times (Nov. 3, 1934); M. Feinstein, American Zionism 1881–1904 (1925), 20–21, 32–38, 126–27, 246–48; H. Grinstein: The Memoirs and Scrapbooks of the late Dr. Joseph Bluestone of New York City, publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 35 (1939), 53–64.

[Jeanette Friedman (2nd ed.)]