Petrograd Conference

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PETROGRAD CONFERENCE , seventh national conference of the Russian Zionists and the first after the February 1917 Revolution. It opened on June 6, 1917. Five hundred and fifty-two delegates, representing 140,000 shekel holders from 680 cities and towns, took part in the conference. In the new Russia, the conference demonstrated the growing power of Zionism among Jewry and defined the Russian Zionists' attitude toward the problems of the World Zionist movement and the upbuilding of Ereẓ Israel. It discussed the specific problems of the Russian Jews under the democratic regime with the hope of expanding the movement, which up to that time had acted mainly illegally. Jehiel *Tschlenow and Menahem *Ussishkin were elected as presidents of the conference. In his programmatic address, Tschlenow said that the main task of the conference was to lay the foundations for Jewish national autonomy in Russia, as well as to emphasize the Jewish people's aspiration to return to Ereẓ Israel. Ussishkin spoke of the need to immediately mobilize Jewish capital for settlement work, especially for the purchase of land, and to train pioneer workers. Alexander *Goldstein proposed the holding of a referendum in order to prove to the world that Ereẓ Israel was the desired country of every Jew. The proposal was enthusiastically accepted. Isaac *Gruenbaum and Julius Brutzkus delivered speeches based on the *Helsingsfors Program for Zionist Diaspora activities in light of the new situation in Russia. There was a trenchant debate about the authority and character of the Jewish community as the nucleus of self-government. When the conference rejected Gruenbaum's proposal to exclude religious matters from the control of the communal boards, a 40-delegate group of his followers declared that none of them would enter the movement's executive bodies. According to one resolution a Zionist was allowed to be a member of another political party, as long as it was not Jewish and provided that it was approved by the local branch of the Zionist movement. Another resolution read that the Zionist Organization would participate in the elections as an independent party. The conference agreed that educational and cultural actions should be recognized as one of the main tasks of Zionist work, and the Tarbut society should be recognized as the only institution to do this work. This seven-day conference was the last free countrywide expression of the Russian Zionist movement before the October Revolution of the same year became the starting point of its persecution and liquidation.


Y. Gruenbaum, Ha-Tenu'ah ha-Ẓiyyonit, 4 (1954), 98–108; B. Dinaburg (Dinur), in: Sefer Tschlenow (1937), 46–48; J. Tschlenow, ibid., 363–74; A. Raphaeli (Ẓenẓiper), Ba-Ma'avak li-Ge'ullah (1956), 19–24.

[Arie Rafaeli-Zenziper]