Center Dedicated to Zionism's Founding Father to Open in His Native Budapest

Opening on the date the UN voted to establish the State of Israel, the center will focus on Theodor Herzl's life and legacy. Its founders hope it will help combat the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe.

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BUDAPEST – A new information center dedicated to the life and legacy of Theodor Herzl is slated to open here in the birthplace of the Zionist visionary on November 29 – the date that the United Nations voted to establish the State of Israel.

A joint initiative of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, the new center will be modeled on the Herzl Museum located in Jerusalem but on a smaller scale, said Alex Katz, head of the Jewish Agency mission in Budapest.

“We see this center as a response to the rise of anti-Semitism here,” said Katz, who noted that for many Jews leaving the former Soviet Union, Hungary had served as a passageway to Israel. “In a way, it’s the closing of a circle.”

The center would aim to attract both Jews and non-Jews in Hungary, as well as tourists from abroad, mainly from Israel. Although it would be inaccurate to say that Hungarians take pride in the fact that the man who conceived of a Jewish state was born in their capital, noted Katz, “they don’t ignore it either.”

The center, whose cornerstone has already been laid, will be equipped with computers and film archives, and will serve as a venue for hosting events of relevance to Jewish and Israeli culture.

Katz said moves were under way to “interest the Austrians” in the project but would not provide details. When Herzl was 18, he moved from Budapest to Vienna, the Austrian capital, to study law. He went on to become a journalist, playwright and writer who penned "The Jewish State," which argued for the world's Jews to create a state of their own – possibly but not necessarily in their ancestral homeland.

“I have no doubt that this place will draw visitors,” Katz said.

Theodor Herzl in Basel, site of First Zionist Congress.Credit: Central Zionist Archive/Courtesy Simon Wiesenthal Center
Herzl addressing the First Zionist Congress.Credit: "It Is No Dream"/Jewish Film Festival 2012
An Orthodox Jewish man sitting outside the 14th Plenary Assembly of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest.Credit: Reuters

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