New Signs Celebrate Theodor Herzl's First, Ideology-forming, Trip to Israel

Ceremonies at places Zionist leader visited in 1898 mark little known Herzl Day.

In October 1898 a secret Zionist delegation headed by Theodore Herzl arrived in Palestine for a meeting with German Kaiser Wilhelm II. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the future of the country and the future of the Jewish people.

At the time the German Kaiser was considered a significant leader in Europe and Herzl was well aware of the power and influence Wilhelm wielded with the Ottoman Sultan, Abdul Hamid II.

The aim of the visit was not to tour the country but to further the issue of the charter - permission for Jewish settlement in the country, granted by the Sultan. Herzl considered the meeting with the Kaiser an important step toward gaining such approval from the Ottoman ruler.

The delegation comprised of David Wolfson, who three years after Herzl's death became the head of the Zionist movement, Max Bodenheimer, an attorney and a leader of the Zionist movement in Germany, Dr. Moshe Schneerer, Herzl's physician, and the engineer Yosef Zeidner.

Prior to the meeting with the Kaiser the five Zionist visitors toured seven sites: Jaffa port, where they had landed, the agricultural school Mikveh Israel, Rishon Letzion, Nes Tziona, Rehovot, Motza and Jerusalem. In these locations they met with members of the Jewish community as well as recently arrived settlers.

Yesterday marked Herzl Day, and a little more than 110 years after that visit sparked Herzl to write his famous "Altneuland," a project entitled "In Herzl's Path" was inaugurated.

As part of the project, the Council for the Preservation of Historical Sites placed signs at the seven stops the delegation made and held ceremonies and explanations yesterday, some provided by pupils and youth, offering information about the various locations on the path of the delegation.

In addition to the signs, the Council inaugurated an educational program that includes a training manual for teachers and educators on Herzl and his work, which will be distributed starting this week, to the schools who requested it.

"The program we authored is a special touring program on two levels," explained Elad Betzaleli, director of the education department at the Council for Preservation, who went from one ceremony to the next yesterday. "First, it describes the meeting between Herzl and the Land of Israel, his travels and what he saw - the buildings and the people whom he met. Second, this is about Herzl's ideology."

"Herzl Day is the official day that the state assigned in 2004, but few events occur on that day. The purpose is to restore Herzl Day to being something where something happens, which has meaning," he added.

"Our heart warmed when the pale beach of the country was seen from our ship one sun drenched morning. It was one of the most poetic moments that are rare even in a life full of excitement," the sign at Jaffa port quotes Herzl as having written.

However, one gets the impression that Herzl was not impressed with the scenery of the country: In the training manual it states that Herzl witnessed the country with mixed feelings - "not holding back his criticism, seeing the ugly sides to it, but also the potential for establishing a modern state."

At the Mikveh Israel school is a photograph showing Herzl standing near the horse of the Kaiser, at a meeting they held there prior to the official meeting in Jerusalem.

Betzaleli explained yesterday that the photograph underwent doctoring after it was taken. "After the film was developed they say that there had been a problem, and Herzl did not appear in the photo, so they stuck in his image," he said.

"We want to point out as part of the project that Herzl had a clear and detailed plan," said Ored Dagan, who is one of the youth directors of the organization's training program. "With all of today's cynicism, it is hard to understand the term 'visionary'."