State and Mane

The real story behind 'Der Judenstaat'

Not many people know that before he set out for the Ecole Militaire to cover the demotion of Maj. Alfred Dreyfus, Theodor Herzl looked at himself in the mirror and was appalled. His beard was gone! The long, black beard that had silently and faithfully accompanied his face for many years had disappeared. Only then did he recall the Parisian Delilah he had hosted in his bed the night before; indeed, the scent of her cheap perfume hovered in the room. And he also recalled they had emptied two bottles of cheap wine and that during the act she had whispered in his ear, "My heroic Samson."

It was all clear now: that anti-Semitic trollop cut off his beard as he slept in order to make a laughingstock of him after she had discovered - upon observing the usual indication - that she had gone to bed with a Jew.

"There's no use crying over spilled milk," said Herzl, shrugging, because by nature he was a practical yekke. "The beard will grow back. I'm handsome enough without it. In any case, I am late." He quickly donned his hat and left.

On the way, Herzl saw the masses heading toward the site of the sentencing, and heard the first mutterings of unhappiness about les Juifs. Herzl, who over the years had developed a tic of stroking his beard in moments of consternation, felt his palm moving through empty space and again recalled his missing hair, but was also happy he could mingle with the hostile Parisian crowd without that Semitic identifying sign.

The rest is known. Dreyfus had his badges torn from his uniform and his officer's saber broken. But Herzl's mind was elsewhere. As the crowd shouted "Death to the Jews" (if indeed that is what they shouted - there were, after all, no tape recorders back then), he was totally absorbed in thoughts of revenge against that slut who had stolen the thing most dear to him, the most obvious external sign of his virility. Compared to his own personal misery, he thought Dreyfus looked like a happy man.

Upon returning to his chamber, Herzl sat down to pen the first draft of "Der Judenstaat." The Jewish state, as he envisioned it, would be shaped like his beard. The mouth would be the Haifa Bay, the tip of the chin would be Gaza and the edge of the beard would be Eilat. The sideburns would be the Galilee, and the ear, Lake Kinneret. And the entire land would be a dense black forest against the surrounding deserts.

"I'll show you, you anti-Semitic hussy," he mused. "You thought you would cut off my beard, but it will soon spread over 22,000 kilometers! People will dwell in the thicket and each will have a beard of his own, adding thickness to my beard."

After all, Sigmund Freud had already said (or if he hadn't, he would do so soon) that the essence of the Jew is the mourning for what has been snipped off him, mourning that develops into monstrous dimensions and grows branches and roots only to show the world nobody is going to shave us! We aren't going to let any scissors take off a single centimeter of our holy beard, nor will we allow any anti-dandruff shampoo to remove settlements, nor any gel to make ourselves look a bit less coarse.

Herzl sighed. As a practical yekke, he might have predicted in advance what his beardish state would look like: corruption, parasites, crooks - they would run it like they run the synagogue coffers in their Eastern European shtetls.

"Maybe we should give up this idea after all," Herzl thought to himself as he smoothed the missing beard - and his blood boiled at the injustice.

And with the force of this spontaneous fury, that night he completed the first draft of the book, whose original motto was not "If you will it, it is no dream," but rather, "He who lies with anti-Semitic whores should not be surprised if he wakes up in the morning without a beard."

"The Jewish State"! Permit me to laugh. Herzl never wrote a book with that title. And the Jewish state some people say he envisioned has never been founded and it remains tantamount to a dream, despite all the good will. What has grown is a beard, a wild, unkempt and tangled one, which breaks any comb that tries to mess with it.

At the night's end, as he concluded the draft, Herzl smoothed his hand over his cheeks and wonder of wonders: The beard had grown back. He arose from his desk and peered into the mirror, and there before him was the entire future state, which was supposed to arise as revenge for the injustice of the previous night. There it was, stuck back on his visage as though it had never left. Only then did he go back and blot out the original motto, writing instead, "If you will it, it is no dream." That is to say: I have done my bit, and you people go ahead and live in the dream that I actually stand behind your state.