Hartford Celebrates Israel

On May 23, 1921, Chaim Weizmann, head of the World Zionist Organization, and scientist Albert Einstein came to Hartford as part of an American tour to demonstrate the power of a grassroots fundraising strategy for the new Keren Hayesod (Jewish National Fund) – which Hartford’s Zionists had already led the way in endorsing.

All the city’s rabbis “proclaimed a general holiday” in honor of the visit, and many Jewish businesses were closed. City leaders honored Weizmann with a proclamation, and flew the Zionist flag on the municipal building. A mass meeting held that evening at the Capitol Theater raised over $100,000 for the Zionist cause and inspired local leaders to launch a house-to-house fundraising campaign.

15,000 spectators lined the streets and a motorcade of 500 automobiles, headed by Colt’s brass band, escorted them to the Zionist headquarters across from Keney Tower. Hundreds of children greeted the visitors with the singing of “Hatikvah” and the “Star Spangled Banner.” The bells of the Catholic cathedral on Farmington Avenue and of Center Church on Main Street joined in ringing the melody of “Hatikvah” as well.

Chaim Weizman and Albert Einstein are seen here in the rear of a car parading through downtown Hartford, 1921.
The Hartford City Council honored Weizmann by giving him “freedom of the city.” He was the first Jewish person to be recognized in this way. 
A group of children gathered on the grounds of Keney Tower to celebrate “Weizmann Day” in 1921. 

“When I was very young […] Hartford had a great celebration. Chaim Weizmann and Einstein came to Hartford and the Jews of Hartford had a parade. And, of course, the celebration was because Weizmann had been instrumental in getting the British to publish the Balfour Declaration, and Einstein because as the greatest philosopher and mathematician of all time had declared that he was a Zionist and this gave Jews, I think, all over America the backbone not to be ashamed to be Jewish and do something about it.

From a 1971 oral history interview with Simon Bernstein. Click here to hear the audio in context.

When Israel declared its independence in May 1948, more than 3,000 people poured into North End synagogues to celebrate.

In 1978, Greater Hartford’s Jewish community celebrated Israel’s 30th Independence Day on a grand scale. Hundreds of people joined a “Walk for Peace” walk-a-thon which went from Bloomfield’s Beth Hillel Synagogue to the new Camp Shalom in Windsor where a picnic and celebration awaited. Exhibits, a film festival, concert, and other events made up a week-long celebration of three decades of statehood.

The Jewish Community Center’s Ohr Chadash folk dance group led dancing at the Walk for Peace in 1978. Photo by John Vignoli.

Walk-a-thons in celebration of Israel’s anniversary continued as important community events throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.