Haaretz Editorial from August 17, 1949
This editorial originally appeared in Haaretz on August 17, 1949, the day after Theodor Herzl was reinterred in Jerusalem. Six decades closer to the man, the War of Independence generation had an appreciation for Herzl somewhat lost today.
Tel Aviv, 22 Menachem Av, 5709
The Hebrew Yishuv and the State of Israel are fulfilling a duty of honor today, reburying the bones of Theodor Herzl in the Land of Israel. The national movement may have done enough when it transferred the coffins of Dr. Leon Pinsker and Max Nordau, and it is befitting to recall these leaders as well at this instant. One was no less a great thinker and talented analyst than Herzl, and the other deserves the credit for turning the Zionist Congress into the greatest forum for bringing attention to the Jewish people’s distress.
Yet, this day, Herzl Day, a time when the Zionist movement fulfills the deceased’s will, the nation and the state are privileged to witness an event that will be etched in the memory of all succeeding generations.
In days of yore, when the Greeks spread out east and west from the Aegean Sea to establish new settlements, they had a tradition after a few generations of elevating the head of the founding fathers to the level of hero. They were less than gods, but more than people.
Jewish thought is foreign to such a portrayal, and knows nothing of man being raised to the level of creator of the world that created him. However, the same generation that succeeded in extracting itself from life in the Diaspora, and which brought with it the treasures of world culture, may permit itself to see in Herzl a figure similar to the founding heros of classical Greece.
We, who returned to Zion, receive with honor Herzl’s remains within the boundaries of our state; and on this day we are allowed to feel, in every sense, that we truly reached the goal.
Herzl’s image lives among the Yishuv. This is not a given; many factors in practice work against this. Herzl was born in 1860, and he died at the beginning of our century.
Who else among his generation of world leaders lives in the memories of the present generation? Whoever reads Herzl’s diaries won’t easily connect with them, unless he bears a fairly broad knowledge of history: Kings and princes, statesmen and literary figures, Jews and non-Jews.
Most of them are forgotten, and few have the names that schoolchildren associate with any substantial ideas.
Even today Herzl immediately arouses wonder and thought. And that kindergarten girl who is asked who is this man, with the wonderful beard and the serious, worrisome look?
She answered: “This is the man who brought the people of Israel here.”
She not only knew how to answer; she gave the right answer, and the entire world couldn’t give a better answer, truthfully and innocently: He is the one who brought the people of Israel to its land.
Over time it gets harder to understand Herzl, historically, and language poses an additional barrier. German is no longer standard among the educated elite, and inevitably the wonder and strength of Herzl’s style in the original language is not felt in translation.
However, Herzl’s image is not etched so deeply in the collective memory of the nation because of what he wrote. His personality and what he did − they are what brought him immortality.
The Zionist idea existed before the man left Budapest and in Vienna wrote a small book “The Jewish State.” Across Russia a number of schools of thought preceded him, and Herzl’s contribution to Zionist thought is not that great or decisive.
Specifically, he did not surpass Pinsker, and one could understand how people saw Herzl at first as a naive man, who in his innocence thought he had discovered America.
Russian Zionists changed their opinion when they encountered Herzl’s persona, and they followed him once they became convinced that here before them was a leader who didn’t suffice with writing books and articles, but strove to manifest the project and deed. This is the enormous difference between Herzl and those who preceded him in expressing Zionist ideas. Herzl was capable of acting − and he acted.
The 1884 Katowice conference holds a place of honor in Zionist annals, and certain attempts previously to organize movement devotees in Austria managed modest success.
But there is no comparing them to the Zionist Congress and with the World Zionist Organization. Herzl initiated and created this instrument, and he instilled both of them with a strong spirit. The method of diplomatic negotiation was not invented by Herzl; there were Diaspora lobbyists, too, in earlier periods of Jewish history, and among them people of great stature. The decisive innovation was that Herzl appeared for the first time as a leader of an organized people, and made his offers not only for the good of the Jews but also convinced non-Jews that solving the Jewish question was also necessary for them.
Herzl − perhaps in his only contribution to Zionist movement ideology − believed and clearly articulated that all the world suffers from the Jewish problem, and that there is no homeland or country for a nation living in the Diaspora as a minority. Imbued with this recognition, Herzl turned to the leaders of the Christian and Muslim world – not as one asking favors, but as a consultant for a problem, which was a painful problem for them as well.
One could say this approach was not helpful with those who rose in the 20th century to destroy us; in this regard Herzl was a product of a liberal era which believed in the power of convincing and in the results of an erudite argument.
Still, it is correct that the approach of Herzl, who saw the Jewish question as a general global question, opened doors; and there would have been no United Nations decision or mandate from the League of Nations had Herzl not sat before the kaiser and the sultan, the Russian Interior Minister Vyacheslav von Plehve and Joseph Chamberlain, and raised his suggestion for a solution.
Fate only awarded the real success to those who followed him, but beyond a shadow of a doubt Herzl, and only he, was the first who paved the way, whose successors marched toward fulfillment. Herzl was both a prophet and hero of the Jewish State; and when the house arose, he was acknowledged as the architect.
The past year brought us many celebrations. The first Knesset of the State of Israel opened; the country’s first president was sworn in; all over the country we remembered those who sacrificed their lives for its liberation; we celebrated the first Independence Day; there were parades and mass gatherings.
However, this day is special. It stands out above all other days of assembly. It is a one-time event, unique in the annals of all peoples. They, the nations of the world, have always resided on their lands; they do not have the same way of life that is characteristic of us.
The Jewish people was resurrected during its return to its land; and there is no symbol more exalted to the movement of this return than that of Theodor Herzl finding his final resting place in the land of the State of Israel.