The Father of the Jewish State
The Fellowship | April 30, 2020
Born to a Jewish family next door to a Budapest synagogue on May 2, 1860, there is little in Theodor Herzl’s early life that would make one guess he would grow up to be modern Israel’s founding father.
From Law to Literature to Love of Israel
After losing his beloved sister to typhus, young Theodor moved with his family to Vienna and began to study law. During law school, he first experienced anti-Semitism. And after a very brief legal career, he instead focused on careers in journalism and playwriting.
While working for a newspaper in Paris, Theodor’s beat coincided with the Dreyfus Affair, an anti-Semitic scandal that just about tore France apart. While it seems Herzl himself felt the Jewish military officer at the center of the scandal was guilty, the anti-Semitism he witnessed turned him into a Zionist, particularly mobs in the Parisian streets shouting, “Death to the Jews!”
The State of the Jews
The anti-Semitism that Herzl witnessed made him realize something when it came to hatred of his people: it could not be stopped, but could be combated by establishing a Jewish state. In 1896, he published the book Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews), which made the case for the Jewish people to leave Europe and return to the Holy Land, the land God had promised them. Herzl’s ideas were at once adopted by Jewish people around the world. They were entranced by Herzl’s conclusion:
Therefore I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabeans will rise again.
Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it.
We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes.
The next year found Herzl doing even more for his people. He founded Die Welt, a Zionist newspaper, and also planned the First Zionist Congress, of which he was president until his death. This allowed him to meet with world leaders and businessmen to further his Zionist dream.
To the Holy Land
In 1898, Theodor Herzl visited the Holy Land for the first time in his life. Then still Ottoman-controlled Palestine, it became home to the “local office” of Herzl’s World Zionist Organization.
For the remaining years of his life, Herzl would advocate for the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land (as opposed to another suggested landing spot for the Jewish people), a dream he would not live to see. He died on July 3, 1904, in Austria, his will stating, “I wish to be buried in the vault beside my father, and to lie there till the Jewish people shall take my remains to Israel.”
Once Herzl’s dream of a Jewish state had been fulfilled, his remains were moved to the top of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, which became Israel’s military cemetery. The Declaration of Independence adopted by the state of Israel calls this man “the spiritual father of the Jewish State,” and those of us who stand for Israel surely agree that he helped make real these words he wrote when such a nation was still just a dream:
The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness.
And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.