Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Short Introduction to Betar North America 1927-1939

Despite visits by Ze'ev Jabotinsky to the United States in 1921-22 and 1926 (his only other subsequent visits were in 1935 and 1940), the formal organizational framework of a Revisionist movement branch only began in 1929.

Betar's beginnings were bound up with the efforts of Joseph Beder, a Betari from Eretz-Yisrael, who relocated to New York in 1927.  In November 1927, at a meeting of friends, which included Haim Messer and Willy Katz, it was decided to reach out to the Betar centers in Riga, Paris and Tel Aviv. These attempts were unsuccessful although there were some members recruited from within the ranks of the Revisionists which led to the age range from 18-60.

The next real attempt was in February 1929 but only in October that year, after Bader's return from a trip to Eretz-Yisrael, was the first Ken established and the impetus was the August riots in Mandate Palestine.  Most of the first recruits came from Lower Manhattan.  Within a short time, one hundred Betarim joined and after a Chanukah party in December 1929, the next big activity was the halting of a Communist rally of 2000 in support of the Arabs of Palestine.  The Manhattan Ken fell apart however, and branches were formed in The Bronx (led by Messer, Mogilinsky, Mirsky, Gibner, Greenberg) and Brooklyn (Zweibon).  Detroit was led by Aryeh Panuch and Dr. Aryeh Altman.

In the summer of 1930, a camp was conducted led by Bader, Zvi Stock, B. Modavsky, David Mogilinsky and A. Zweibon.  It was reported by the Revisionist party on December 30, 1930 that "meetings together with the Brith Trumpeldor were carried forward. By March 1931, 500 Betarim were registered.

Canadian Betar was founded on May 27, 1929 in Toronto by seven former Polish Betar members, followed by a branch in Vancouver established by a Betari from Harbin and then in Montreal.  The executive (mifkada) included Asher Shainhouse, Yoel Rubin, H. Frimmerman, Y. Steiger and Chaim Abeleh.

The first issue of Betar Canada's publication was in March 1932.

In May 1931, the Betar Monthly began to appear and articles of Jabotinsky, Yehoshua Yeivin, Gabriel Preil and others were published.  A general council meeting was held in the YMHA of The Bronx on August 28, 1931 with 23 delegates attending.  Camp in 1932 had 150 attendees after branches were established also in Chicago, Detroit and in New York: Brownsville, Flatbush and Brocksberry.

The first Kenes was held over August 20-21, 1932 with 50 delegates representing 600 members from nine cities (New York, Chicago, New Jersey, Detroit, St. Louis, Bridgeport, Chelsea, Roxbury and Newark).  Prof. Johann Smertenko was appointed Netziv (item: "a series of articles [were] written by Johan J. Smertenko and published in the New York Herald-Tribune sometime during the 1920s. His column was titled “Twice-Told Tales,” and it focused on newly published editions of classic books".)

Correspondence from 1932 indicating internal disputes regarding finances 
between Betar and the Revisionists.
Joseph Beder was Betar leader at the time and
Israel Baratz was then Chairman of the New York Executive 
and member of the national executive of the U.S. Revisionist Movement

Various mentions of Betar as well as names of Revisionists involved in Betar's development in the reports published in the Minutes of the World Executive of the Revisionist Movement:

September 9, 1930

September 26, 1930

October 20, 1930

September 26, 1930

November 20, 1930

January 1931

February 26, 1932

Betar found itself 'inheriting' disillusioned breakaways from the Bund and Communist parties but found it difficult to attract American-born Jewish youth on the basis of self-defense training and pioneering although assimilationist youth did express interest. University-aged youth were not attratced.  Some of the other names from that period include Judd Teller and Y. Sammler.  In the fall of 1933, Eliyahu Ginzburg, a Jewish Legion veteran, served as Netziv.

Aaron Propes visited shortly thereafter and his conclusion was that the term "Jewish youth" really didn't exist.  He made a radio broadcast on July 31, 1934 and met with journalists from Der Tag and the Morgen Journal.  As the August 1934 issue of Our Voice noted, Betar was accused of fascist tendencies. The Arlosoroff murder contributed to the negative attitude expressed in the Jewish press as did the claims in relation to the outbreak of the 1929 riots, as detailed in the Schechtman/Ben-Ari history of the Revisionist Movement:

Betar held a street parade on the occasion of Herzl's death on 20 Tammuz 1934. In 1935, several Betarim participated in the American government's summer camp program to gain experience and administrative training.  A madrich training camp for the Nesharim group was held at a 120-acre camp.  The Revisionist by this time had their own youth group, YZROA.

As for aliyah, on September 27, 1933, Betar Eretz-Yisrael saw fit to complain that one of the first olim from Betar USA, Tova Rosen, refused to enlist in the plugot giyus, claiming she was told by Bader that only if she was unemployed was she to do so:

To be continued.


A section of Jabotinsky's March 19, 1940 speech delivered at 
the Manhattan Center with notations in his own hand.

P.S.  There may be spelling errors of names for which I apologize.  And if anyone has relevant information to the period as well as corrections, please comment.

The material for this review was culled from:

Joseph Schechtman and Yehuda Benari, History of the Revisionist Movement
the Online Archives of the Jabotinsky Institute


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