Theodor Herzl, born Benjamin Ze’evyy and known as the Visionary of the [Jewish] State, [Hozeh Ha’Medinah-caEaeAa aCiAaAeeEa], was a Austro-Hungarian-Jewish journalist and the father of the modern political Zionism movement that gave birth to the state of Israel.
Last night I attended the screening of the documentary movie It Is No Dream, about the creation of the idea to restore the Jewish nation in its ancient homeland, Israel.
It Is No Dream takes the viewer through the life of Theodor Herzl. The documentary examines the life and times of Herzl, who was, almost single handed, responsible for the creation of the political movement Zionism that led, in 1948 to the founding of the Jewish state, Israel.
A Moriah Films production, narrated by Ben Kingsley and Christoph Waltz as the voice of Theodor Herzl, It Is No Dream tells the story of how the life of Theodor Herzl-an assimilating Jew, a successful playwright and author, who was born into a traditional but mostly non-religious Jewish family in Budapest in 1860-was changed by the trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, which he covered as a journalist in 1895.
Herzl realized then that there is a “Jewish problem” in Europe that needs to be solved. There must be a solution to the growing anti-Semitism of Europe. After witnessing the court proceedings where Dreyfus was falsely convicted of treason and seeing the anti-Jewish-anti-Semitic demonstrations of the French public, Herzl became convinced that the only answer to the anti-Semitism that was spreading across Europe was the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people.
He wrote a political treatise entitled “Der Judenstaat” or “The Jewish State” that became an international bestseller, laying out his ideas for creating a new Jewish state.
Herzl’s literary circle in Vienna ridiculed him; many Jewish leaders in Europe and the US rejected and condemned his ideas; his friends and family were convinced that he had lost his grip on reality or had a nervous breakdown. But Herzl kept on, relentlessly, “peddling” his vision.
But there were a number of intellectuals, such as Max Nordau and religious leaders such as the Chief Rabbis of Paris and Basel, who voiced their support for Herzl’s plan to restore the third Jewish commonwealth in its original location, Palestine.
In a short period of time, a grassroots movement of oppressed Jews in Russia, Poland and much of Eastern Europe joined Herzl’s World Zionist Organization, which held its first international congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. In short order, the formerly assimilated Jew, whose ambition was to be a successful dramatist, was overseeing an organization with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of members-supporters. In his endeavor to get international approval to his vision, Herzl held audiences with the German Kaiser, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, high ranking British cabinet ministers and politicians, the Pope, the King of Italy and other personalities. He began receiving financial backing from the English branch of the Rothschild family, which originally rejected him and his plan. Yet, despite these successes, his mission was burdened with obstacles and frustration.
After the infamous Kishinev, Russia, pogrom on April 6-7, 1903, Herzl became desperate. He was convinced that Jews have only a short time before a humongous atrocity will hit them. While in Great Britain, as an alternative to Palestine, Herzl was offered a territory in Uganda, East Africa for a Jewish state. However, he was faced with angry opposition from the ranks of his Russian Jewish Zionists supporters and that idea never materialized.
On a personal level, Herzl’s life was rather complex and even difficult. His marriage was an unhappy one almost from the beginning; he faced many financial challenges and problems that arose from personally underwriting much of the work of the Zionist movement, including its newspaper “Die Welt” (“The World”). Neglecting his health, his family and his career, Herzl inspired a movement, but he died young in 1904 at the age of 44.
Herzl had a prophetic vision. Had he lived, he would have seen his greatest fear come to life with the Holocaust.
Some 52 years after Herzl completed “Der Judenstaat,” the modern state of Israel was established, an act that never would have occurred without the vision and the tenacity of this Hungarian Jew who, until his late twenties, wanted nothing more than to be a successful playwright.
The rest is history as we see the state of Israel growing from strength to strength, through wars, much peril and even more determination.
It is a duty of every Jew to know and then explain to all others – Jews and non-Jews – why the existence and survival of the State of Israel is the lifeline of Jewish survival. It Is No Dream will do the explanation.
Go see the movie and then tell others to do the same; spread the word.
Trailer: It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl: