Members of Gordonia saying farewell to a comrade, Jakov Miler, at the railroad station, upon his departure to Palestine, Kaunas, 1938. As the Hebrew inscription notes, the photograph was taken “on the seventh day of Adar, on Thursday morning, 9:40 am.” Photograph by Judelio Milero. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)

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A Zionist youth movement, Gordonia was established in 1923 in Galicia. By 1925, local youth organizations merged to form a regional movement. From the time of its founding, its acknowledged leader and ideologue was Pinḥas Lubianniker (Lavon; 1904–1976), who established Gordonia after he left Ha-Shomer Ha-Tsa‘ir in disagreement with its ideological developments.

The roots of Gordonia’s ideology were manifold and eclectic, reflecting philosophical tendencies of the fin-de-siècle as they were filtered through the milieu in which educated East European Jews lived. Its main influence came from Aharon David Gordon, a Zionist whose ethical philosophy amalgamated vitalism, belief in personal redemption, and the presumption of a relationship between individual self-realization and national survival. The organization also absorbed Gordon’s dream of a reborn Jewish people who would live on the revitalized land of Israel; Jews would unite by partaking in manual agrarian labor.

The movement spread to the formerly Russian regions of Poland where an independent section of Gordonia emerged in 1928. Local branches appeared in other states that previously had belonged to the Habsburg Empire. Gordonia also established itself in Bucovina, and in 1927 an all-Romanian movement was founded. Through the interwar period, Poland and Romania remained its strongholds, though it also functioned in the Baltic republics. As a pioneering movement, Gordonia joined the organization He-Ḥaluts. During the Holocaust, the core of its members in Galicia was active in the Jewish resistance led by Eli‘ezer Geller. At the same time in Romania, the movement continued its existence underground.

It is almost impossible to estimate the actual number of members of Gordonia, as Zionist youth groups tended to exaggerate figures in order to increase financial support from the World Zionist Organization and to obtain a high number of visa certificates for Palestine. Ranks certainly swelled in times of increased emigration. In 1930, the numbers of youth affiliated with Gordonia were presumed to be 4,000 in Congress Poland, less than 3,000 in Galicia, and about 1,500 in Romania. Gordonia reached out to lower-class working youth. Indeed, the fact that only a small percentage of its members attended high school limited the organization’s educational activities and made it difficult to choose a pool of leaders from within the group.

Gordonia was an anti-Marxist socialist movement that opposed the doctrine of class struggle and rejected Marx’s definitions of social classes. In actuality, the philosophical figure behind the organization was the Belgian critic Hendrik de Man, though this fact was later concealed because of his pro-Nazi sentiments. In dismissing theories of class structure, Gordonia called instead for a “productive people,” including in this phrase all members of society who could potentially cooperate in national tasks. It defined its philosophy as constructive socialism.

While trying to preserve the characteristics of a youth movement, Gordonia acted under the guidance of the Hit’aḥadut Party in Eastern Europe, and yielded its autonomy in the political sphere. Members were also brought up to be loyal adherents of the Ha-Po‘el ha-Tsa‘ir party, and after 1930, of Mapai. Following Mapai’s vision of a single labor party, Gordonia strived to unite with other movements in Palestine, first with the Young Maccabis (1941) and later with the Maḥanot ha-‘Olim movement (1944). It thus ultimately relinquished its independent existence.

Suggested Reading

Peter Dodge, ed., A Documentary Study of Hendrik de Man, Socialist Critic of Marxism (Princeton, 1979); Ya‘akov Margalit, Gordonyah be-Polin (Ḥuldah, Israel, 1980); Nathan Rotenstraich, ed., Gordonyah: Tenu‘at no‘ar ‘amamit ḥalutsit (Ḥuldah, Israel, 1982); Me’ir Zayit, ed., Sipurah shel tenu‘ah: Gordonyah Makabi ha-tsa‘ir be-Romanyah (Ḥuldah, Israel, 1978).