In Israel's 75th Anniversary Year, Historians Remember its 'Spiritual Father,' Theodore Herzl
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JERUSALEM, Israel – At the highest point of Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl, the grave of modern Israel's most famous founder overlooks the city and the nation he fought so hard for the Jews to possess once again.
Theodor Herzl, a refined Jewish gentleman living in Europe, saw a growing hatred of Jews in the late 1800's and feared the prejudice would never end. That's when he realized God's chosen people needed a safer place to live and sought to take them back to their sacred homeland.
Gil Troy is the author of a new three-volume work called Zionist Writings of Theodor Herzl. "Imagine where the Jewish people were 125 years ago: broken, lost, wandering, homeless," he recalled. "And this guy with piercing black eyes and a beautiful black beard and a real sense of dignity, says 'We are a people. We have ties to a particular homeland and a right to establish a state on that homeland. Zionism! We're going to return to Zion,'" Troy added.
Troy is a professor and a commentator for The Jerusalem Post. He wrote his latest work in an effort to communicate Herzl's importance to new generations.
Of Herzl, he says, "He saw that at a time when the French were becoming more French and the Italians were becoming more Italian and there was this amazing thing called America coming together that it was a moment of nationalism. And in order for the Jews to be accepted -- truly accepted, truly respected -- they needed their own home. Unfortunately there was this ugly disease called anti-Semitism which too many Europeans couldn't get over. And it traumatized Herzl, and he said 'wait a minute. I'm not going to give in to despair'– although he has his dark moments – 'I'm not going to give up. I'm going to find a way home.'"
Herzl – a journalist and a playwright – wrote of a strong, confident new breed of people establishing this homeland. Troy read a passage from Herzl's writings. "The idea must wing its way into the most remote, miserable holes where our people dwell. They will awaken from their gloomy torpor. Then, activated, a generation of marvelous Jews will spring into existence."
Herzl lobbied world leaders and assembled Jews from all over to Basel, Switzerland, for the first World Zionist Congress. That set off a powerful Zionist movement and led to a prophecy.
Troy set the scene: "August 29th, 1897, he (Herzl) calls together 208 Jews. By the way, says ‘meet in formal dress, because we're dignified people. We’re not losers.’ And he says, after that Congress – and he puts it in his diaries, but he won’t put it in public –‘nobody’s going to believe me, but in Basel we founded the Jewish state. And 50 years from now, people are going to see that I’m right.’ And indeed 50 years later the United Nations, on November 29th,1947, voted to recognize that Zionist idea: that the Jews are a people, they have ties to a particular homeland, and a right to establish a state on that homeland. A year later, so 51 years later, May 1948, Israel was established. So he really was a prophet," Troy said.
Activists began to push for a Jewish homeland, and thousands began moving to what the Bible called "the Promised land." The Jews had been scattered from there some 1300 years before, and though many believed their ancient homeland to be lost forever, Herzl had faith.
Troy explained, "Here's this guy leading this broken, scattered people, but he believes in the power of an idea. He believes that ideas are the force that can move history. Ideas are the force that can reunite people."
Although Herzl died at the young age of 44 in 1904, his influence helped lead to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which endorsed the idea of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Herzl's dream was well on its way to fruition.
"He'd always believed if one pushed hard enough, a dream – an idea – could become a reality. He wrote that this particular dream of a Jewish return to Zion must be made real," Troy said.
"It is as old as our people, which has never, even in times of direst misery, ceased to cherish it.," Herzl wrote. "The Jewish state is something the world needs, and consequently, it will come into being.”
Gil Troy added, "And it has!”
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