Berl Katznelson was a leader of the Zionist labor movement and a central figure of the Second
Born in Bobrinsk, Belorussia, Katznelson was the son
of a member of Hovevei
Zion, and from childhood grew up with dreams of aliyah (moving to
Israel). While in Belorussia, he was a librarian in a Hebrew- Yiddish
library as well as a teacher of Hebrew literature and Jewish history.
In both capacities he influenced many young people with his Zionist
In addition to his desire to settle in Israel, Katznelson
was strongly imbued with the ideal of physical labor and when he arrived
in Israel in 1909, he worked on farms and served on several labour councils.
Together with Meir Rotberg, Katznelson helped found the consumer cooperatives
for the sale of food, known as "Hamashbir." To meet with the
health problems of workers, he helped initiate Kuppat Holim, the Sick
Fund. (Both Hamashbir and Kuppat Holim are well-established institutions
in Israel today.) After the founding of the Histadrut,
the General Federation of Jewish Labour, Katznelson became the editor
of the Histadrut's newspaper Davar. In this position, he made
the newspaper a spiritual guide for the labour class and attracted many
Katznelson was deeply committed to maintaining the
influence of Jewish values, even though among his fellow labour idealists
he often stood alone in his views. He was one of the few voices in non-religious
labor circles to press for the observance
of the Sabbath and festivals, dietary
laws in Histadrut kitchens, and the circumcision
of children in the kibbutzim.
In 1939, when Great Britain became increasingly hostile
to Jewish immigration to
Palestine, Katznelson was instrumental in pressing for "illegal"
immigration. Moreover, under his guidance, his disciples parachuted
into Nazi-held territory
to try to aid Jewish survivors. Interestingly, during World War II,
Katznelson prophesied that the Jews would have to emerge from the war
with a Jewish state. However, he died in 1944 before he could see his
prophecy realized. Monuments to his memory were established at Bet Berl
in Zofit, Oholo on Lake
Kinneret and Kibbutz Be'eri.