In loving memory of Malca, z’’l

“Zionism has been the Shabbat of my life.”—Theodor Herzl, Diaries.

Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, died on July 3, 1904, at the age of forty-four. Born on May 2, 1860, July 9, 2004, marks his one-hundredth yartzeit.

In the span of forty-four years, Theodor Herzl compressed the activity of several lifetimes. The richness of his personality was dedicated to Zionism, but it carried him into many fields and attracted variegated friends. Not only a statesman but a man of letters, with a scientific cast of mind, Herzl was a philosopher and a humorist as well.

In his writings Herzl reveals himself as the enemy of the rampant antisemitism of his day—an antisemitism that had barely touched him personally, yet one that his heroic and passionate soul could not countenance. He was the author of that daring title that had the audacity to proclaim publicly, to display in bookshops: Der Judenstaat! The Jewish State was written under the impact of the notorious Dreyfus Affair. In 1899 Herzl published an article on “Zionism” in the North American Review, detailing the shock he had received while covering this case:

“I became a Zionist as the result of the Dreyfus Trial, which I witnessed in Paris in 1894. I was living in Paris at the time as a [Viennese] newspaper correspondent and attended the hearings of the Military Court…. And the furious roar of the crowds gathered in the street before the Ecole Militaire still rings unforgettably in my ears: ‘Mort, à mort les Juifs;” “Death to the Jews,” shouted the crowds. “Death to all Jews, because this one was a traitor! But was he really a traitor? … And if an otherwise progressive and highly civilized nation could adopt such a course, what may be expected of other nations?”

Thus Herzl came to the conclusion that the Jews had no way out save to return to their own people and settle in the their own country. In his Diaries, he wrote (Paris, 1895):

“The Neue Freie Presse summoned me to Paris as its correspondent. I accepted because I sensed at once how much, in that post, I would see and learn of the world… In Paris I came into close contact with politics—at least as an observer. I saw how the world is governed. I stared, too, at the phenomenon of the crowd—for a long time without understanding it. I also attained here a freer and more detached attitude toward anti-Semitism, from which I did not suffer, at least in any direct manner. In Austria or Germany I constantly have to fear that someone will shout ‘Hep, Hep!’ at my heels. But here I pass through the crowd ‘unrecognized.’ In this ‘unrecognized’ lies a terrible reproach against the anti-Semites.”

The name Theodor Herzl will be eternally inscribed among that limited number of humanity’s heroes whose lives made possible the greatest advances of civilization, in this case The Jewish State!

“To know wisdom and instruction: to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man, knowledge and discretion.”—Proverbs 1:2-4.

“A light unto the nations,” Am Yisrael—the Jews as a people! The only progressive, democratic country in the Middle East, despite the unbearable pressure of over a half-century of constant Arab aggression and world ostracism. The reborn Jewish polity, with a strong, proud Maccabean army, advancing the interest and aspirations of the State of Israel: Herzl’s Jewish State, Hamedina Hayehudit!

(Baruch Cohen is Research Chairman of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)