Theodor Herzl, Father of Zionism

The Jews in Western Europe were deeply disturbed by the Dreyfus Affair and its ramifications. Many of them had believed that they were finally full citizens of their countries, but now saw that they were still vulnerable to government-sponsored anti-Semitism. One of these Jews was Theodor Herzl (1860–1904).

Herzl was born in Budapest; at the age of eighteen, his family moved to Vienna, where he had the opportunity to receive a doctorate of law, completed in 1884. Following his studies, Herzl became a writer and journalist. In 1894, he covered the Dreyfus Affair for a liberal Viennese newspaper.

Before the trial, Herzl wrote that the best way to respond to anti-Semitism in Western Europe was to assimilate, but his views changed dramatically in 1894. Hearing the mobs shouting “Death to the Jews,” Herzl had cause to rethink his views on dealing with anti-Semitism.

Herzl's Ideas

Two years later, Herzl published a small book, Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”), in which he maintained that the Jews are one people and the only solution to their plight is the establishment of their own nation. Herzl suggested that any tract of land big enough to accommodate the Jews would suffice.

Ideas included a tract of land in Argentina, where Baron de Hirsch had funded 6,000 Jewish settlers in an agricultural colony, and Palestine, where Rothschild had provided financing for Jewish settlements. Herzl subsequently wrote a Zionist novel, Altneuland (“Old New Land”), which portrayed a new Jewish country he envisioned as a socialist utopia.

Herzl took his cause far and wide—to ordinary Jews, the Jewish elite, foreign rulers, and politicians. Although most of the wealthy Jewish leaders were not receptive to Herzl's proposals, he was popular with the Jewish masses.

Death of a Jewish Hero

Herzl threw himself into his work and it took a toll on his health. At the age of forty-four, Theodor Herzl died of pneumonia and a weak heart. Although he did not live to see the establishment of the Jewish state he envisioned, he was convinced it was only a matter of time before the Jewish people would have a homeland. In 1949, his remains were brought to Israel and reinterred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Coincidentally, the year of Herzl's death marked the beginning of the Second Aliyah (1904–1914). The majority of the people who arrived during this time were Russians fleeing pogroms. Many of them were socialists, and they founded kibbutzim (national farms) based on egalitarian principals.

The Second Aliyah also saw the founding of the first Jewish self-defense group, Ha-Shomer, and settlement of new towns. In a suburb of Jaffa, an Arab town on the Mediterranean coast, the settlers constructed a neighborhood called Ahuzat Bayit, which would one day become Tel Aviv, the first modern all-Jewish city in the world. But despite all the achievements, life in Palestine was difficult. In the face of oppressive conditions, of the 40,000 Jews making up the Second Aliyah, nearly half returned to their previous homes.

The skyline of Tel Aviv, a city that represents modernity in Israel.
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