The State of Israel owes much of its founding to a few men. The most significant individual, paving the way for a homeland for the Jews, was Theodore Herzl.
Hertzl was the visionary who, in the face of much opposition, pushed for the Jews to have their own land. He was the only individual mentioned in Israel's Declaration of Independence in 1948.
The Early Years
The man who is widely regarded as the father of Zionism was born in 1860 in Budapest to a secular Jewish family. He attended a Christian school that admitted Jews. The family were assimilated into secular society.
At the age of thirteen Herzl was confirmed instead of having a Bar Mitzvah. In 1878 the Herzl family moved to Vienna and it was here that Theodore studied law at the University of Vienna graduating in 1884.
He didn't pursue law beyond his degree, becoming instead an author, part time journalist and playwright. It was probably while he was studying that he experienced anti-Semitism for the first time.
He considered anti-semitism to be a social issue and wrote a play "The Ghetto" about life in Vienna as a Jew. He dismissed assimilation as a solution to the Jewish question and hoped his play would generate dialogue and debate. He hoped for mutual respect and cooperation between Christians and Jews.
Growing Ideas And Vision
While Herzl was working as a journalist he witnessed the Dreyfus Affair in 1894. He had been sent to Paris by the top liberal newspaper, Neue Freie Presse, who employed him to report on the wonderful French way of life.
Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish Officer in the French Army was falsely accused and then convicted of treason. Herzl was to watch the trial and report on it for the paper.
He witnessed the defamation of this officer and the public outcry of "death to the Jews". It is this event and Herzl's contemplation of the plight of, not just Dreyfus but all Jews, that led him to sympathise with Zionism. Herzl concluded that assimilation of the Jews was not the answer.
A year after the Dreyfus Affair, Herzl published his book 'The Judenstaat', (The Jewish State), in 1896 much to the ridicule of some Jewish leaders. The much quoted, "if you will it, it is no dream", is from this book and became the popular slogan of the Zionist movement.
In his book, Herzl talked about his dreams for a Jewish state that would be a beacon to humanity and a model democracy. Religious Jews, even to this day, thought it was blasphemy to consider a Jewish state without the Messiah.
Undaunted Herzl continued with his ideas even trying to purchase land from the Sultan of Turkey to create a land for the Jews. He unsuccessfully proposed borrowing money from all the rich Jews in order to pay for the land.
No money was donated and no support given. The Sultan, after lengthy discussions, wasn't prepared to make land available either.
In August 1897 Herzl invited two hundred notable Jews from across the world to attend the first Zionist Congress which he held in Basle, Switzerland.
The World Zionist Organisation, the political arm of the Jewish people, was created and it's first president was Theodore Herzl.
He addressed an excited audience with the opening words:
We are here to lay the foundation stone of the house which is to shelter the Jewish nation.
He received tremendous applause.
More Than Just Returning To The Land
The true aim was to establish a Jewish consciousness and a unity. Jews would then contribute to the world and have an influential role among the nations.
For Herzl, Zionism was a means of restoring the Jewish soul. He told those delegates at that first Zionist Congress: "Zionism is a return to Judaism even before there is a return to the Jewish land".
In 1898, Herzl made his first visit to Jerusalem timing his visit to coincide with that of Kaiser Wilhelm II. He met with Wilhelm but, it was brief and ceremonial. No help was forthcoming, rather just anti-Semitic remarks.
In 1902 Herzl was asked to speak to the British Royal Commission on Alien Immigration. This gave him the opportunity to speak with the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Joseph Chamberlain.
It was this connection that led to negotiation with Egypt to make Al 'Arish a homeland for the Jews. The terms were never agreed on and, thankfully, the plan fell through.
The Zionist Congress suggested that Herzl approach Pope Pius X to discuss the Vatican's support for a Jewish homeland. The conclusion of that was that the Catholic church would not make a declaration in their favour while they denied the divinity of Christ. Undeterred, Herzl continued to seek help from elsewhere.
The Search Continues
The need for a Jewish homeland was further heightened when world attention was drawn to a massacre in Kishinev, then in Bessarabia of the Russian Empire.
On Easter Sunday in 1903 the Jewish Quarter of the small town was subjected to a horrific ordeal.
Men, women, and even children were all brutally set upon by a group of Russian Orthodox men. Babies and children had their brains smashed against the walls.
They murdered over 40 and injured 92 and 700 homes destroyed.
Following this massacre Herzl went to the British Government for an emergency meeting. The British were willing to help. The Russian Jews needed to be rescued!
He asked for land in Cyprus or Sinai Peninsular which were under British control. The British refused that but, instead offered land in what is now Uganda. Herzl saw hope and opportunity with this idea.
A plan was drawn up for 'New Palestine' in the British controlled East Africa that we now know as Uganda. When Herzl took the plan to the Zionist Congress in 1903 he was met with uproar.
The Zionists rightly believed that the only place for the Jews was Zion. The Russian delegation at the Zionist Congress were demonstrably upset by the proposal and walked out of the meeting. Among them was a man called Chaim Weizmann, who would eventually become the first President of the State of Israel.
The Congress declined the British offer committing itself to creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
As Herzl closed that Congress meeting with a heavy heart, he held up his right hand and quoted this verse from scripture;
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill."
These were to be the last words that Theodore Herzl spoke at the Zionist Congress.
Herzl suffered with heart problems and he died in Vienna, the following year, 1904, aged 44 years. His funeral procession was attended by over 6000 people who honoured his life. He was buried in Vienna.
In 1949 his remains we taken to Jerusalem and the newly formed Israeli government honoured him with a burial on a hill overlooking Zion. The hill is now called Mount Herzl .
The Legacy Of Herzl
Theodore Herzl did not live to see the ultimate success of his lifetime goal. However, in his lifetime he succeeded in unifying religious and secular Jews from all over the world and splintered zionist movements, bringing them to one aim and purpose. His personality, determination, negotiating and hard work achieved all this.
He didn't see the homeland but he spoke with prophetic direction about it's creation and just before his death asked his good friend the Reverend William H Hechler to, "Greet Palestine for me. I gave my heart's blood for my people."
The State of Israel was formed in 1948 and with it the dream Herzl had was born. The Jews had their own land once more.
In his book Der Judenstaat, Herzl concludes with these words:
Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind."
In the face of enormous difficulty, opposition and many closed doors, Herzl continued to pursue his desire to find an answer to the pressing Jewish question.
He withstood personal hurts and setbacks to seek a place where the Jews could live free from persecution and prosper. His family life wasn't a happy one another price to he paid for the cause he pursued.
God's Plan And Purpose
The life and achievements of Herzl along with others like Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and Chaim Weizmann are exemplary. God will work His purposes out through those who are chosen to serve.
God is sovereign and King over all kingdoms and we see through the lives and achievements of men like Theodore Herzl that He is able to do all things.
Today, thanks to Theodore Herzl, there is a homeland for the Jews, the State of Israel, with Jerusalem (the City of Zion) is her capital. The region is contested by many and the enemies of God are restless and loose.
We know that one day all the world will look to Jerusalem and acknowledge that it is the capital of the King of Kings.