Theodor Herzl (Hebrew: בנימין זאב הרצל, Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl, also known as חוזה המדינה, Hoze Ha’Medinah, lit. “visionary of the State”; Hungarian: Herzl Tivadar) (May 2, 1860 — July 3, 1904) was an Austro-Hungarian journalist and the father of modern political Zionism.
Herzl, a writer and a statesman, founded national Zionism and the World Zionist Organization, which elevated the Jewish problem to an international political subject of primary importance. It was the Dreyfus case that awakened in him national Jewish feeling and brought him to the conclusion that the Jewish problem could only be solved by political means. The concept of emergence from the Diaspora and return to Zion found expression in his book “Der Judenstaat” or “The Jewish State”,
which was written in 1896.
Theodor Herzl was born in Pest to a Jewish family originally from Zemun, Austrian Empire (politically, city of Zemun is in Serbia today). When Theodor was 18, his family moved to Vienna, Austria-Hungary, where he studied law. After a brief legal career in Vienna and Salzburg, he devoted himself to journalism and literature, working as a correspondent for the Neue Freie Presse in Paris, occasionally making special trips to London and Constantinople. Later on, he became literary editor of Neue Freie Presse, and wrote several comedies and dramas for the Viennese stage.
As a young man, Herzl was engaged in a Burschenschaft association, which strove for German unity under the motto Ehre, Freiheit, Vaterland (“Honor, Freedom, Fatherland”), and his early work did not focus on Jewish life. His work was of the feuilleton order, descriptive rather than political.
Background: Theodor Herzl – The Jewish State
It was January 5, 1895 and a young journalist, Theodor Herzl, was assigned to report on the ceremony that publicly stripped French Captain Alfred Dreyfus of his military rank prior to being sent to Devil’s Island to live out the sentence of his court marshal.
Anti-Semitism in Europe in the late 1800’s and prior was not a new concept or reality for Jews. However, the blatant anti-Semitism that took place with the Dreyfus Affair had a profound impact on Theodor Herzl and how he viewed himself and the role of Jews in Europe at that time. Compelled by the events of the Dreyfus Affair, Herzl published The Jewish State in 1896.
The idea of The Jewish State was, as Herzl phrased it, “a very old (idea) – it is the restoration of the Jewish State…The world resounds with outcries against the Jews, and the outcries have awakened the slumbering idea.“
There were plenty of Jewish leaders before Herzl that called for the return of the Jews to Palestine. But what was different about The Jewish State was that it pushed for the formation of a political movement to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
The Jewish State was simple in its approach. In summary, there is a Jewish Question and there needs to be a Jewish Plan. Herzl realized the “gravity of the situation of the Jews. Wherever they (Jews) lived in perceptible numbers, they are more or less persecuted.“
The solution…”we are a people – one people” that is in need of a homeland. As Herzl stated, “the creation of a new State is neither ridiculous nor impossible. We have in our day witnessed the process of connection with nations which were not largely members of the middle class, but poorer, less educated, and consequently weaker than ourselves. The Governments of all countries scourged by anti-Semitism will be keenly interested in assisting us to obtain the sovereignty we want.”
The first Zionist Congress was convened by Herzl in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. From that Congress forward, preparations were made for the long journey forward for the creation of a Jewish homeland. In a little more than 50 years after the first Zionist Congress, the movement that Herzl had put forth to the Jews of Europe would become a reality when the State of Israel declared its independence as the Jewish state in 1948.
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1) The “Jewish Question” Shabbaton– If not for Theodor Herzl and The Jewish State, it possible that the Jewish people would still be without a land. Herzl’s publication, The Jewish State, is a document worthy of review and discussion.
As an interesting discussion for a shabbaton, why not debate the merits of The Jewish State or a portion of it (i.e., the “Jewish Question” or the Jewish Plan). There are plenty of very good resources on Herzl that will aid in making this a meaningful discussion. Be sure that everyone has access to the information prior to the shabbaton.
2) Herzl on Zionism – As the father of modern Zionism, here is an opportunity for an informal teach-in on the basics of Zionism. Conduct a lunch-and-learn about the basics of Zionism and have members of your group offer examples of modern day Zionism and the kind of role it plays in their lives.
3) Zionism a Century Later – There are many debates that suggest that we are now in the post-Zionist era. Some would argue that the Zionist dream has been achieved. Another theme for a brown bag program might be to discuss Zionism’s place in the 21st Century – what’s next…what’s needed.
4) An Introduction to Zionism Campaign – Another simple campaign that you can conduct is to educate people as to the basics of Zionism. This campaign can consist of a flyer campaign and editorial series, helping people understand the fundamentals of Zionism and Zionist thought.