ESRA , organization founded January 26, 1884, with its headquarters in Berlin and its major objective to support Jewish agricultural settlers in Ereẓ Israel and Syria without the traditional *Ẓalukkah system. At the end of 1886 a group of young Berlin Jews produced a manifesto prompted by the movement of Russian Jews to Ereẓ Israel to establish agricultural settlements, proclaiming: "These Russian Jews, who have been continually tortured and persecuted, were able to initiate this excellent project out of their intense need. Shall German Jewry, which enjoys the full protection of an impartial government, stand idly by and merely watch their efforts? We, who have had intellectual hegemony since the days of Mendelssohn, stand ashamed before Russian Jewry." The founding assembly of the Verein zur Unterstuetzung ackerbautreibender Juden in Palaestina und Syrien ("Association for the Support of Jewish Farmers in Palestine and Syria") took place in Berlin in 1884. Its early leaders were Willy *Bambus and Hirsch *Hildesheimer, the son of Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer, who coopted the Orthodox camp into the organization. At its peak, the leaders of the organization included Otto *Warburg and Eugen *Mittwoch. The association, which had branches throughout Germany, published the newspapers Serubabel and *Selbstemanzipation, pamphlets about agricultural settlement by Bambus, and the periodical, Zion. In 1891, the association succeeded in forming an umbrella organization for all European associations supporting settlement in Ereẓ Israel. Esra supported individual settlers in almost all agricultural villages, devoting special attention to the Qastina settlement (later Be'er Toviyyah), the Benei Yehudah colony in the Golan, Yemenite immigrants, and educational projects. When political Zionism gained momentum, the association emphasized the value of practical settlement in Palestine, while opposing Zionist political activity. Even at the end of World War i, it stated firmly that despite the "Charter" (i.e, the Balfour Declaration, to which they would not refer by name), supreme value must still be attached to settlement, without which there is no real basis for "national rights." Since the Zionist organization now began its large-scale settlement projects (inter alia, in the Jezreel Valley), the activities of Esra became superfluous. The association disappeared in the early 1920s.
Esra, Festschrift zum 25-jaehrigen Jubilaeum (1909); 35 Jahre Verein Esra (1919). add. bibliography: J. Reinharz, "The Esra Verein and Jewish Colonization in Palestine," in: lbiyb, 24 (1979), 261–90.
[Getzel Kressel /
Bjoern Siegel (2nd ed.)]