Leon Pinsker, 1882
Leon’s Pinsker’s Auto Emancipation, written in response to the pogroms and persecution he witnessed in Russia, laid out what became some of the early arguments for Zionism. Because the Jews had no nation of their own, no “center of gravity” to provide national dignity, they were feared, hated, and would never be accepted into mainstream Russian society. So they had to establish their own independent national homeland, emancipating themselves, to ensure their survival. Auto Emancipation woke up the Jews of Eastern Europe to their profound vulnerability and to the sense that their situation in Russia was hopeless. The book put Zionism on the map as the central organizing principle of these persecuted communities, and turned Pinsker into the effective head of this nascent national movement.