The 120th Anniversary Of The First Zionist Congress

The Viennese playwright, journalist and boulevardier Theodor Herzl was a typical fin-de-siècle man of letters but for one exception. Having spent the first 35 years of his life ever-more pleasantly, mostly in Paris, reporting this and reviewing that, he then spent the last nine years of it, founding, without land, an army, a population – or permission – a national state. This he did in reaction, specifically and generally, to two things. The first, specifically, was the Dreyfus Affair, in which an innocent French Jewish officer was convicted of treason in late 1894. The second was the ineradicable anti-Semitism of enlightened France, of unenlightened Russia (where, in 1881, the assassination of Emperor Alexander II launched years of fierce pogroms, and, consequently, the start of the mass exodus of Jews from Russia looking for safe haven), of benighted Austria, (in particular Herzl’s residence of Vienna), and of Germany. When, at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, January 5, 1895, these two historical forces coalesced for ten minutes in the main courtyard of the Paris Ecole Militaire, Herzl was witness. As Captain Dreyfus, in full dress uniform, was degraded – stripped of his insignia, badges, buttons and stripes, his sword broken in two, paraded in rags – the crowd of 20,000 began to bay for Jewish blood, screaming “Death to the Jews.” Herzl, an assimilated non-practicing Jew himself, suddenly grasped a single momentous fact. There was no place for Jews in Europe; in order to live in peace and dignity, they would have to return to Zion. This letter tells the story of the beginning of that beginning…

“The whole thing is one of those balancing feats which look just as natural after they are accomplished as they seemed improbable before they were undertaken.” Theodor Herzl, Diary, Vienna, August 24, 1897.

“Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word… it would be this: At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.” Theodor Herzl, Diary, Vienna, September 3, 1897.

The founder of the Jewish State spoke neither Hebrew nor Yiddish, had no Jewish education, and was so thoroughly secular as to appear, in late 19th century Paris and Vienna, the very image of a dashing boulevardier. Had not the Dreyfus Affair exposed Europe’s dark underside of vicious anti-Semitism, Theodor Herzl would not have nourished, in bitter reaction, his vision of a publicly and legally secured home for the Jewish people. Nor, had he not proclaimed this same vision in his 1896 pamphlet entitled ”The Jewish State”, would this unlikeliest of leaders ever have become, to a great many Jews, a modern Moses. Indeed, even as he lays the foundation here, in this letter from May 4th, 1896, of the work which would result in the First Zionist Congress – and, astonishingly, almost 50 years to the day after the Congress, the founding of the State of Israel – Herzl, writing to a potential supporter only three months after publishing his visionary pamphlet, makes a promise which, like that of Moses, would prove prophetic:

“We will perhaps, but probably not live to see it, but the Jews will receive Palestine! Of this I am convinced to the depth of my soul.”

Herzl’s friend and fellow critic Stefan Zweig said that this time in Herzl’s life, “while the idea [of Israel] was still a dream of vague outline, was decidedly the happiest in Herzl’s short life.” Even the incredible disunity of the Jewish people – between the secular, the socialists, the ultra-Orthodox – seemed easily solvable then. Believing that “the faith of our fathers” would prove the common link between the traditionalist and impoverished Jews of Eastern Europe and the assimilated and cosmopolitan Jews of Western and Central Europe, Herzl was adamant, as he argues in the letter, that the Rabbis had a crucial role to play in the creation of the Jewish homeland.

But by the end of July 1896, Herzl was unable to make either the leading English Jewish philanthropists, or the French Baron Edmond de Rothschild, see what he saw as their role in founding a Jewish state. So, typically, he looked further – to a different, and far vaster body. At the Congress, he started to envision, finally, a modern ”Ingathering of the Exiles,” which would unite all the various forces for one great and tremendous effort…

On August 29, 1897, in Basel, Herzl’s idea manifested in the form of the First Zionist Congress, and, after 2000 years in the Diaspora, it proclaimed: the Jewish people were going home.

Herzl in Basel, site of the First Zionist Congress, almost exactly a year before his death, and signed on the 6th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress. Shapell Manuscript Collection.

Read more here.

The Jewish People

”The Palestinian “Balfour Apology Campaign” to demand the annulment of the Balfour Declaration is part of a consistent policy of denying the rights of the Jews to their national homeland as a people indigenous to the area.

Yet the Jewish People for more than two millennia has consistently maintained the strongest claim to be the aboriginal people in its ancestral homeland, and their existence and roots are widely documented, acknowledged, and recognized.

Christianity grew out of Judaism, and the early Christian existence and settlement in the Holy Land were part and parcel of the Jewish existence and settlement there.

Arab and Palestinian leaders are attempting to establish a mythical, new narrative according to which the “Palestinian People” have existed as a distinct people indigenous to the area for thousands of years, predating the Jewish People.

Saeb Erekat, the Secretary-General of the PLO, claimed in 2014 that he is a direct descendant of the Canaanite tribes who lived in Israel some 9,000 years ago. Yet according to Erekat’s own Facebook entry, the Erekat clan is from the northwestern Arabian Peninsula and settled in the Palestine area around 1860.”

A Friendly Reminder

To the left: 

The International Synagogue in Tel Aviv, today, a lazy and sunny Friday afternoon. Still quiet before Shabbat. No iron fence. No military guards outside, armed with automatic rifles. No bullet proof windows. No heavy, extra double doors. No x-ray scanner. No security guards asking invasive questions. No fear of getting attacked outside. No fear of wearing a kippah on the way there. No fear of attending. No fear. Period.

To the right:

Any and every synagogue in Europe in 2017.

Just in case y’all, Jews and non-Jews, need a reminder of why we need our own country.

#Zionism #StateOfIsrael #JewishNation


You don’t have to be a super hero to be defiant. Sometimes it’s just a matter of standing straight and walk with your head held high. A small action can be just as powerful as a big one. Small Action x Many People = Power And Change.

Many Jews are afraid to wear anything religious, like a kippah or a Magen David, in public. Quite understandable considering the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe. Wearing a religious symbol that reveals that you are Jewish, immediately puts you in danger.

When I lived in Sweden I used to wear my Magen David all the time. The more people told me to hide it, the more I showed it. Silly perhaps, but that’s just the way I work. “I’m not going to hide, I’m not going to be quiet – I’m living in a democracy goddamn it!”

When I moved to Israel, I didn’t feel the need to wear it as often. After all, I live in a Jewish State. I don’t need to make a statement, I don’t need to be defiant – I can just be. If I wear it, it’ll be because it’s a beautiful necklace, that’s it. Many of my native Israeli friends smiled about this and said: “Yep, that’s what happens when Jews make Aliyah!”.

With the recent terror attacks though, I once again feel the need to be defiant and to take a stand. I’m not going to hide or stop living out of fear of being shot, stabbed or attacked in any way. So I’m wearing my Magen David again, and I added the outline of The State of Israel to my necklace.

I suggest you do the same. Wear it! It’s a subtle AND beautiful way to flip your finger to all the haters out there.

Am Yisrael Chai.