Zangwill, Israel

Israel Zangwill was a novelist, playwright, and Zionist leader. He was born in London in 1864 to Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire. His brother was novelist Louis Zangwill. Israel Zangwill was educated at the Jews’ Free School and at the University of London. He campaigned for people he considered oppressed and became involved with Jewish emancipation, Jewish assimilation, territorialism, cultural Zionism, pacifism, and women’s suffrage. After meeting Theodor Herzl in 1896, Zangwill became a spokesman for Zionism. He later broke with the movement to form the Jewish Territorialist Organization, of which he was president from 1905 to 1925. Zangwill wrote several novels, including Children of the Ghetto: A Study of a Peculiar People (1892) which he also dramatised on Broadway in 1899.

His most notable play, The Melting Pot, was first staged in 1908 in Washington, DC, and depicts the life of a Russian Jewish immigrant family in America. the play received its UK premiere at the Royal Court Theatre in 1914 and transferred to two West End theatres. It was revived in 2017 by the Finborough Theatre. The play popularized the phrase “melting pot” and Zangwill was an avid campaigner on behalf of the assimilation of immigrants to the United States, and the development of America as an amalgamation of migrant cultures. His views rather than his rather conventional dramatic form make him arguably the first ‘modern’ British-Jewish playwright.

Zangwill was married to the feminist and author Edith Ayrton. One of his sons, Oliver Zangwill, was a prominent psychologist. Israel Zangwill died in 1926.