The CZA through a researcher's eyes

By Laura Almagor
Laura Almagor is a PhD researcher at the European University Institute in Florence. She researches the Jewish
Territorialist movement, and her dissertation is titled: "Forgotten Alternatives: Exploring Jewish Territorialism as a Movement of Political Action and Thought (1895 - 1950)".
The first time I entered the deceptively small-looking building of the Central Zionist Archives, I came with large expectations as to the size and quality of the collections housed there. During my research endeavours up until that point, almost every study or publication I had picked up dealing with whatever aspect of modern Jewish history was at least partly based on CZA holdings. I prepared myself for a slightly intimidating archives experience.
In reality, what I found was a place that would become my ‘office’ (I dare even say my second home) during that visit and a consecutive research visit to Jerusalem. The ever vibrant CZA employees proved not only very helpful with providing me with my research material, but also with the occasional informal chat and piece of advice on everyday life in the city.
As for the archival material itself, my CZA experience turned out to be a true treasure hunt. Although the ‘core business’ of the Archives is Zionist history, many of its collections relate to individuals and organisations that were active only on the fringe of Zionism or even completely outside of it. This certainly holds true for the collections I consulted for my Ph.D. project on Jewish Territorialism as a Jewish national(ist) movement. Largely ignored or downplayed in Zionist historiography, this movement was in fact just as global as Zionism and throughout its half-a-century of active existence, attracted many influential adherents both from within and outside of the Zionist movement. Many of the documents that tell the tale of this ‘alternative history’ are to be found at the CZA. Among the treasures I came across are many beautifully written letters from, amongst others, author George Bernard Shaw, Vladimir Jabotinsky and well-known and lesser-known Territorialists like Israel Zangwill, his wife Edith Zangwill and Joseph Leftwich. These and many more of my CZA findings will undoubtedly form an important part of the ‘forgotten history’ I am attempting to write. In the end, my large expectations of the Central Zionist Archives were not disappointed.