Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Father of Political Zionism

Theodor Herzl (Vienna, Austria 1860-1904) was 35 years old when he realized that European society would never see Jews as anything other than foreigners. An assimilated journalist, Herzl came to this conclusion based on the hatred he witnessed during the trial of Cpt. Alfred Dreyfus, who was falsely convicted of spying for Germany. During the trial, citizens took to the streets of Paris shouting, “Death to the Jews!”

Since the destruction of the Holy Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., Jews have been praying facing the direction of Israel. Every day they pleaded in their prayers for a return to the Holy Land. Herzl therefore suggested creating an Alt-Neustadt, an old-new state. Thus, the political-Zionist movement began.

Herzl’s Zionism was unique because it demanded that political and physical action be taken to create a Jewish state. Until this time, Zionism had been expressed primarily through prayer, mourning, hoping and sending money, but not through political lobbying or endeavoring to create a fighting force.

The First Zionist Congress took place in 1897, in Basel, Switzerland, with 200 delegates from 19 countries. The World Zionist Organization was formed, and Herzl elected its president. Addressing the Congress, Herzl said: “At this Congress, I founded the Jewish State. It may not happen now, it may be 50 years, it may be 100 years, but it will happen.”

Until his death in 1904, Herzl worked tirelessly promoting an autonomous Jewish settlement. He convened six Zionist Congresses between 1897 and 1902, and set in motion many of the organizations that would be critical to the formation of the state.

In 1904, Herzl passed away in Vienna. In 1949, Herzl’s remains were brought to Israel and re-interred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

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