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Ebner, Mayer

(1872–1955), Zionist politician and journalist. Mayer Ebner was born in Cernăuți (Czernowitz) to an assimilated bourgeois family, and he studied law there at Franz Joseph University. As early as his teenage years, Ebner supported the concept of developing a new Jewish national movement. He felt that the liberal ideal of Jewish assimilation had failed, and that outbreaks of antisemitism in the last decades of the nineteenth century required change. It was in this spirit that he utilized the model of the Kadimah association (created by Jewish students in Vienna) to set up the student society Hasmonäain Cernăuți in 1891. In this project, he worked with Philipp Menczel, Isak Schmierer, and Josef Bierer.

In 1894, Ebner served as editor of Das jüdische Echo, the first publication from Bucovina with a Jewish national program. He enthusiastically embraced the message of Theodor Herzl’s Judenstaat and participated in the first Zionist Congress held in Basel in 1897, becoming one of the pioneers of the Zionist idea in Bucovina. At the same time, he campaigned to involve Zionist organizations in political life, participating in the establishment of a Jewish National Party (JNP) in Bucovina, led by Benno Straucher. Ebner eventually left the party and, together with Leon Kellner, set up the rival organization Der jüdische Volksrat in 1910; the latter was extremely successful in local and communal elections of 1911 and 1912. Ebner himself was elected to the communal council in Cernăuți.

Following the occupation of the city by the Russian army in 1914, Ebner was arrested and sent to Siberia, where he remained until August 1917. Upon his return, he represented Zionists as a leader of the Jewish National Council in Bucovina, which was established in October 1918 when the Habsburg monarchy fell and Bucovina was annexed to Romania. Ebner pleaded with the new authorities to respect the civilian rights of Jews from Bucovina, as well as for immediately granting such rights to all Jews in Romania.

In 1919, Ebner founded the Ostjüdische Zeitung, which he managed until its demise in 1938. He ensured the preservation and development of Jewish communal institutions in Bucovina, while campaigning for immigration to Palestine and the dissemination of Hebrew. From 1926 to 1933 (except for the years 1931–1932), Ebner served as a deputy or senator of several legislatures in the Romanian parliament, boldly defending the interests of the Jewish minority and resisting discriminatory tendencies and increasingly frequent antisemitic excesses. In 1931, he took part in the establishment of the pro-Zionist Jewish National Party of Romania, which was originally opposed to the Union of Romanian Jews led by Wilhelm Filderman. However, in 1936 the JNP concluded an alliance with the union so as to resist the antisemitic Romanian right-wing forces. Ebner immigrated to Palestine in 1940.

Ebner was one Zionist leader who succeeded in combining Zionist activity with the political and cultural struggle to safeguard the identity, rights, and freedoms of Jews of the Diaspora. He succeeded primarily due to his organizational ability and his outstanding oratorical gifts. In Palestine, he proposed a “dualist” solution to the political and territorial conflict between Jews and Arabs, based on the institutional model of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

Suggested Reading

Josef Ebner, “Aus der Welt von gestern in der jüdischen Renaissance-Bewegung,” in Geschichte der Juden in der Bukowina, ed. Hugo Gold, vol. 2, pp. 125–132 (Tel Aviv, 1962); Manfred Reifer, Dr. Mayer Ebner, ein jüdisches Leben (Tel Aviv, 1947).



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea