With the activation of the movement to settle the Land of Israel in the early 1880's, and the establishment of Hibbat Zion societies in various countries, the need to create a unifying and coordinating center for the early Zionist activities was expressed. The only country in which a central committee functioned at the time was Romania. An attempt to found a central committee for Russia, made at a small conference in Bialystok in 1883, produced no results; other attempts also failed.
Leon Pinsker, M.L. Lilienblum, M. Mandelstamm and others took the initiative to convene a conference. Following the suggestion of David Gordon, Katowice - then in Germany - was selected as the site for the conference. Its date was fixed for October 27, 1884, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Moses Montefiore, at the suggestion of the Warsaw society. The conference was intended primarily for the Ḥibbat Zion societies in Russia, as the movement in Romania had greatly weakened and there were very few such societies in other countries. As delegates from Russia encountered difficulties in arriving at the appointed time, the opening of the conference was postponed until November 6.
Twenty-two delegates came to the conference from Russia and ten from other countries (one from France, one from Romania, two from England, and the rest from Germany). At the request of the Warsaw society, many other groups submitted proposals for organization and action. Schapira, who could not attend, sent a telegram to point out the importance of establishing financial institutions, including a general Jewish fund, whose primary task would be to redeem land in Eretz Israel. In his newspaper, Ha-Ẓefirah, Nahum Sokolow published concrete proposals for activities and stressed the necessity to develop not only agriculture, but commerce, the trades, and industry in Eretz Israel. Pinsker was elected chairman of the conference; S. Mohilewer, honorary chairman; A. Zederbaum, the editor of Ha-Meliẓ, deputy chairman; S.P. Rabbinowitz, Hebrew secretary.
In his opening address, Pinsker stressed the necessity for the Jews to return to work on the land, but he did not mention the striving for national renascence and political independence, with a view to winning over the Jews of Western Europe, who opposed the concept of Jewish nationalism. At the proposal of Pinsker the conference established an institution named Agudat Montefiore to promote farming among the Jews and support Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel. A decision was reached to send immediately 10,000 francs to Petach Tikvah and 2,000 rubles for Yesud ha-Ma'alah. It was also decided to send a reliable emissary to Eretz Israel to investigate the standing of the colonies there. Nineteen members were elected to the central committee, including Pinsker, Mohilewer, K.Z. Wissotzky, J.L. Kalischer (the son of Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer), M. Mandelstamm, Ch. Wollrauch, and others. At the first meeting of the central committee, which took place at the time of the conference, it was decided that two committees, one in Odessa and the other in Warsaw, should temporarily manage the affairs of the organization. The central committee, to be headed by Pinsker, was to reside temporarily in Odessa, and a subcommittee was to be established in Warsaw, subject to the authority of Pinsker. Kalischer announced his presentation of land acquired by his father near Rachel's Tomb to the central committee.
Incomplete versions of the proceedings were published in German and in Hebrew. S.P. Rabbinowitz, who was responsible for the Hebrew text, permitted himself to add from memory or to alter the text out of his desire to bestow a nationalistic flavor on the proceedings. The press that was opposed to the movement found discrepancies between the two sessions and Pinsker made Rabbinowitz publish an apology in Ha-Meliẓ (no. 13, 1885). The Kattowitz Conference laid the foundations for the organization of the Ḥibbat Zion societies, especially in Russia. The few Ḥibbat Zion societies outside Russia, especially in Serbia, London, Germany, Paris and New York, considered the leadership chosen in Kattowitz the center of the movement and maintained steady contact with it.
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