Helsingfors Program

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HELSINGFORS PROGRAM , a system of Zionist policy and activities in Russia and other Diaspora countries adopted at the third conference of Russian Zionists, which took place in Helsingfors (Helsinki) on Dec. 4–10, 1906. The Finnish capital was chosen as the site of the conference because conditions in Russia proper restricted meetings and the exercise of free speech. The conference dealt with fundamental problems of Zionism in general, and Russian Zionism in particular, as they appeared after *Herzl's death and the fading of his "diplomatic" Zionism and in view of the upheavals and constitutional changes in czarist Russia after the 1905 Revolution. The conference, which was meticulously prepared by meetings of Russian Zionist editors and journalists, formulated the idea of "synthetic Zionism," which stood for the simultaneous integration of parallel political and practical work in Zionism. It postulated the principle that the achievement of international recognition for a Jewish Ereẓ Israel would be the end, not the precondition, of systematic aliyah and settlement work. It was, however, the conference's resolution on "work in the present," i.e., among the Jewish masses in the Diaspora, that became famous both because of the innovation that it represented in Zionism and its practical consequences, particularly in Eastern Europe. The principal speaker on this subject was Isaac *Gruenbaum, who, with the experience of Jewish and Zionist work in Poland behind him, submitted the following formulation: Zionism opposes the Exile (galut), but does not oppose the Diaspora (golah). This principle was of particular importance for the Jews of Russia, who were then exposed to a variety of ideological influences besides Zionism. Other speakers on this subject included Vladimir *Jabotinsky and Leo *Motzkin. The "work in the present" resolution was based on Paragraph Two of the *Basle Program ("The organization and binding together of the whole of Jewry by means of appropriate institutions, both local and international, in accordance with laws of each country"), interpreting it as a directive to Zionists to organize the Jewish masses in the Diaspora as a national minority and lead them, in the Zionist spirit, in their daily life. The conference felt that such activity would "strengthen Diaspora Jewry and provide it with new cultural, material, and political means in its struggle for the creation of a sound national life in Ereẓ Israel." It envisaged a liberalized, democratic Russia with wide, autonomous rights for its non-Russian peoples, including the Jewish nation, which, through a comprehensive organizational framework, would exercise its political rights and its cultural, educational, and, in certain respects, even administrative autonomy both in Hebrew and Yiddish. The implementation of this program would transform Zionism from an activity remote from the Jewish masses – confined in the "diplomatic" and pioneering sphere – into a dynamic movement concerned with the actual needs of the Jews, particularly in Russia, as one national-cultural entity among many others. The spirit of the Helsingfors Program engendered and fostered new forms of Zionist activity, as, e.g., the wide network of modernized ḥadarim and secular Hebrew schools, active participation in the political life of the country wherever possible, etc.

In Russia, the Zionist movement was able to apply the political aspect of the new program only after the overthrow of the czar (1917), and then only for a short period, until the Soviet regime liquidated the Russian Zionist movement. Unsuccessful attempts were made to apply this program in Galicia in the parliamentary elections during the period 1907–11. It was, however, implemented in Poland and the Baltic states after World War i. "Work in the present" remained a controversial program in Zionism. Its opponents contended that it caused a waste of effort in the Zionist movement, and that instead of being a means to an end – the creation of a Jewish nation in Ereẓ Israel – it could, in the course of time, become an end in itself.


B. Halpern, The Idea of the Jewish State (1961), index; N.M. Gelber, in: Gesher, 2 no. 4 (1956), 33–41; A. Boehm, Die zionistische Bewegung, 1 (1935), index; Sefer Tchlenow (1937), 339–53; Sefer Motzkin (1939), 74–81; Gepstein, in: Sefer Idelsohn (1946), 31–39; Jabotinsky, ibid., 83–88; idem, Ne'umim 19051926 (1958), 23–53; Y. Gruenbaum, in: He-Avar, 5 (1957), 11–17; A. Zenziper, in: Kaẓir (1964), 67–102.

[Getzel Kressel]