Defending Our Future. Protecting Our Past.
Defending Our Future. Protecting Our Past.
If you can believe in modern day prophets, you can believe in Theodore Herzl. “If you will it, it is no dream” wrote Theodore Herzl about the founding of the State of Israel.
Theodore Herzl was a leader, a strategist, an organizer and a dreamer. If anyone encapsulated The Power of One, it was Theodore Herzl. A relentless one man show who moved mountains to plant the seeds for the modern State of Israel.
For more than 2,000 years, the Jewish people could only dream of returning to their promised land. They lived in foreign lands where they were oppressed, beaten and murdered.
They suffered pogroms, inquisitions and the crusades. They were forced to live in ghettos, made to pay more tax and relegated to second and third class status simply because they were Jewish.
Along came Theodore Herzl. A nobody. A secular Jew from Hungary whose family was assimilated into bourgeois culture. Trained as a lawyer, and after a brief legal career in Vienna, he became the Paris correspondent for the Viennese newspaper Neu Freie Press.
Herzl was Born on May 2, 1860 in Budapest, Hungary. He married Julie Naschauer in 1889 and fathered three children – Hans, Paulina and Margaritha.
While Herzl’s family life and marriage was rocky at best, he ended up becoming the father of modern political Zionism and a father to an entire nation.
The concept of Zionism must have been foreign to Herzl prior to his arrival in Paris. Zionism would become a political movement under Herzl to return the Jewish people to their homeland, the land of Israel.
In Paris, after covering the trial of Alfred Dreyfus in 1894, Herzl reached the conclusion that the only solution to Antisemitism is a Jewish homeland. Dreyfus was a Jewish captain in the French military falsely accused of treason.
Herzl had a front-row seat to Dreyfus’ degradation and humiliation in what was obviously a set up because he was a Jew. After his so-called conviction (which was reversed years later), Dreyfus was degraded and humiliated on the military grounds by having his medals stripped and his sword broken in half. He was then imprisoned on devils Island.
This plain antisemitic farce of a trial outraged Herzl. As Dreyfus was stripped of his credentials, he heard the crowds yelling “death to the Jews”.
Herzl was shaken to his very core. He saw the future of Jews in Europe and it did not look good. He did not know it at the time, but the seeds toward the Holocaust were unfolding before his very eyes. He needed to act fast to save the Jewish people from Antisemitism.
While ordinary people would have continued on, wondering what if anything they could do about it, Herzl mobilized himself into action.
In his own words, Herzl said: “Anti-Semitism of today could only in a very few places be taken for old religious intolerance. It is for the most part a movement among civilized nations by which they try to chase away the spectres of their own past”.
He understood that Antisemitism was a problem for non-Jews who are still haunted by the Antisemitic religious prejudices – primarily the claim that Jews (dead and alive) are responsible for deicide, namely, the killing of Jesus. This assertion has now been mostly repudiated by the Catholic church.
In 1896 he published the manifesto that would eventually give birth to the modern State of Israel in 1948.
His booklet was called, Der Judenstaat, or The Jewish State. In it, he elaborated on his vision of a Jewish homeland. Through this, he attracted international attention, and would soon become a major figure in the Jewish world.
In envisioning the Jewish State, Herzl was an advocate of religious freedom and giving equal rights to minority groups. He wrote: “Every man will be as free and undisturbed in his faith... And if it should occur that men of other creeds and different nationalities come to live amongst us, we should accord them honorable protection and equality before the law”.
But writing a pamphlet was not enough. Action speaks louder than words. Herzl understood this and set a course to fundraise, meet influential leaders and unite Jewish communities and organizations. For anyone in the Jewish community, you know this is no easy endeavour.
In 1897 he convened the first Zionist Congress in Basel Switzerland and elected president of the Zionist Organization, the framework that would become the political organization that would see the campaign to form the State of Israel in 1948.
Think about it, for 2,000 years, Jewish people were scattered at all ends of the earth. For the first time, they came from all over the planet, by boat, by train and by carriage to participate in the first Zionist congress. What Theodore Herzl did was nothing short of a miracle, for a people who were lost. He gave them meaning, renewed hope and brought them together.
Herzl worked and travelled relentlessly. He met with the German Emperor, Wilhelm II and the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II – to try and get them to agree to the Jewish State. The time was not yet ripe.
Like Moses who led his people to Mount Sinai, but could not enter the promised land, Herzl would not see the establishment of the Jewish State. He died in 1904 at the young age of 44.
Its hard to believe that someone that young had moved mountains and reset the world’s mindset. For the first time in 2,000 years, Jews had renewed hope about their future.
It’s true that in the last year of his life, Herzl proposed that Uganda be considered as an interim relocation step before Jews will make Aliya to Israel. This was out of desperation. He was deeply concerned for the plight of European Jewry.
Herzl foresaw the future. Less than three decades later, a man named Adolph Hitler rose to power in Germany by harnessing the power of Antisemitism. He would murder Six Million Jewish people, with the help of hundreds of thousands of Antisemites across Europe.
Theodore Herzl’s daughter, Traude would be murdered in the Holocaust. It’s as if, his relentless actions that drove him to an early death from exhaustion were meant to prevent his daughter’s death and to save an entire nation.
He never saw the fruition of his dream, The State of Israel. The indigenous land of the Jewish people, that has become a refuge from Antisemitism. In 1949, his remains were transferred to Israel, where he rests on Mount Herzl.
Herzl showed us how one person can change the course of history. He exuded the very essence of The Power of ONE.
Theodore Herzl was right about the future of the Jewish people. In his closing remarks in The Jewish State, Herzl wrote:
I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabeans will rise again. Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.
Herzl’s dream has been fulfilled. Perhaps not perfectly. But fulfilled.
We still have much work to do. But Herzl showed us that where there is a will there is a way.