As many of you know, this week, 1,300 other Jewish leaders and I attended the 125th-anniversary celebration of the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. The pinnacle of the conference was the formal event Monday night, exactly 125 years to the day, in the original theatre where they had first gathered to hear Theodore Herzl’s vision of a Jewish state.
“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 world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, and 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.”
Back then, it was but a dream, and today we live that dream in this incredible country we call Israel. Our rabbi called it “a miracle in our time”.
But what, pray tell, happened to the descendants of Herzl? I did a quick Google search, and the results were not pretty. His marriage was apparently not a happy one. He died young, his wife dying three years after him, and he was cremated. They had three children; their oldest daughter died at 40 of a heroin overdose. Her brother was not circumcised at birth, converted to Christianity, and committed suicide on the day of her funeral. The youngest daughter married and had a son, but both she and her husband were killed at the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Their only son survived the war, anglicized his name, and died in Washington DC with no descendants.
That means that Theodore Herzl has no Jewish descendants– in fact, no descendants at all.
Judaism without Zionism lasted for 3,500 years. Zionism without Judaism cannot last.
But if you have both– not just a state with Jews, but a Jewish state, you have the ultimate.
I was both inspired and shaken by the life of Herzl. Can you change the world, even if your own home crumbles around you? Can you share a dream while your own family lives a nightmare?
Years ago, when, as a young adult, I first began my Jewish journey, someone said something that always stayed with me:
“How do you know you’re Jewish? Because your parents are Jewish? Your grandparents are Jewish? No– you know you’re Jewish when your grandchildren are Jewish.”
I am grateful for Herzl’s dream and forewarned at the same time.