Yehi’el Tschlenow

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Yehi'el (Jehiel) Tschlenow (1863-1918; some sources say 1869) was born Kremenchug, Ukraine, into a well-todo hasidic family. He studied medicine in Moscow where his family had settled in 1876. He graduated as a physician in 1888 and became a well-known practitioner. The pogroms of 1881 turned Tschlenow from a sympathizer with the revolutionary populists (Narodniki) into a Jewish nationalist. In 1883 he became active in the Moscow Hibbat Zion group, Benei Zion (to which Menaḥem Ussishkin, Jacob Mazeh, and Abraham Idelson belonged). After some hesitation, he joined Herzl's Zionist Organization and attended Zionist Congresses. Tschlenow presided at the all-Russian Zionist Conference in Minsk in 1902. During the Uganda controversy at the Sixth Zionist Congress (1903), Tschlenow left the hall after the vote in favor of Herzl's proposal and 128 other opposition delegates followed him. He published a series of articles in the Zionist press against the Uganda scheme entitled "Zion and Africa." At the Helsingfors Conference (1906), he was an articulate promoter of the idea that the political goal of Zionism must be closely associated with immediate settlement work in Palestine and particularly with large-scale purchases of land.

He was leader of the Russian Zionist movement and a member of the Zionist Executive (1910-18). He participated in all the Zionist Congresses and was the author of important pamphlets on Jewish problems. He was added as a 6th member to the Engeres Aktions-Comitee at the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna, September 1913.

A visit to Palestine in 1907 and the revolution of the Young Turks in 1908 strengthened his conviction. From 1908 he was head of the Zionist Movement in the Moscow district and developed extensive activities, including the arrangement of meetings and conferences, opening of information offices on questions of Jewish education, publication of programs for the study of Jewish history, and preparation of catalogues for Jewish libraries. In 1909 he organized a group of Russian Jewish investors that established the farm Migdal on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He also actively supported the settlement work of the Odessa Committee. Since the general trend in the Zionist Movement was in this direction, Tschlenow's role steadily increased. He was a member of the board of the Jewish Colonial Trust. At the Tenth Zionist Congress he was elected to the Zionist Executive, and at the 11th Congress (1911) he was elected vice president of the Executive (under Otto Warburg). He moved to Berlin and directed Zionist activities from there. In 1912 he again visited Palestine. During this visit he laid the cornerstone of the Haifa Technion, as a member of its governing board, and purchased the plot of land on which the Hadassah Hospital in Tel Aviv was later located. Forced to leave Berlin at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, Tschlenow returned to Russia (1915). By the end of that year he was in London for consultations with Naḥum Sokolow and Chaim Weizmann on the political situation and the program of the movement. During the war he was active in aiding Jewish refugees expelled from the front area by the Russian army command. After the February Revolution in Russia (1917) Tschlenow headed the all-Russian Zionist Convention in Petrograd. In July 1917 he left for London, where he participated in the negotiations that led to the Balfour Declaration. He died in London. In 1961 his remains were reinterred in the old cemetery in Tel Aviv. His Zionist writings included The Second Zionist Congress, Zion and Africa (in J. Tschlenow, Pirkei Hayyav (1937), 101302; on the Uganda project); Five Years of Work in Palestine (1913); The World and Our Prospects (1917).

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