10 Things You Need to Know About… Dov Ber Borochov

Borochov1. He was born in the Poltava region of the Ukraine on July 4, 1881. His father had progressive views, and his parents’ home was a gathering place for Jewish intellectuals and writers, including Zionists. The town of Poltava was a place of exile for dissidents and revolutionaries. Ber Borochov met and was influenced by many of them.

2. Though he was educated in government schools and not in Hebrew, at the tender age of eleven, he tried to run away from home and make aliyah.

3. He was a Jewish Marxist. That is, he interpreted the “Jewish Problem” in class terms. He believed that because Jews were guests in any country, they could never have a normal class structure in the Diaspora; but in a Jewish state, a proletariat would come into being and take part in the class struggle. The emancipation of the Jewish people, he said, would be brought about by Jewish labor.

4. He believed that Arab workers and Jewish workers, having a common proletarian interest, would work together in this struggle.

5. In 1901 he joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (which later split into the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks); two years later he was expelled from it when he formed a Zionist Socialist Workers Union in Yekaterinoslav.

6. He helped form and develop the Zionist labor party Poale Zion (Workers of Zion) and subsequently promoted it across Russia and Europe. From 1907-10 he edited the party’s newspaper, “The Free Words.” From 1914-17, now in the United States, he wrote for the Yiddish press and founded the World Union of Poale Zion.

7. In 1917, when the Social Democrats came to power in Russia, Borochov returned there to lead Poale Zion. His theories were widely influential in Eastern Europe, and he was on a speaking tour when, in December of the same year, he died of pneumonia in Kiev.

8. Along with Nachman Syrkin, he is considered the founder of socialist Zionism. His thinking formed the basis of the kibbutz movement.

9.  9 already! – and I haven’t even yet mentioned that Ber Borochov was a self-taught philologist, pioneering in the study of Yiddish. Unlike most of his fellow Zionists, he promoted the importance of the mother tongue, calling it “a unique living organism, unbound in its creative freedom.” He is considered the founder of modern Yiddish studies.

10. Father of both Labor Zionism and Yiddish studies – not bad for a guy who died at age 36!  In 1963, his remains were transferred from Russia to Kibbutz Kinneret in Israel.


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