The First Zionist Congress

Dr. Joseph Frager,

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לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Dr. Joseph Frager
The writer is a leading American pro-Israel activist who sponsors and coordinates many Zionist events. He is clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine (Gastroenterology & Liver Diseases) at the Einstein School of Medicine as well as a practicing physician.

In a year of the solar eclipse and major anniversaries including the 100th year since the Balfour Declaration, and the 50th year since the reunification of Jerusalem as well as the Six Day War, this week marks the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress convened and chaired by Theodor Herzl in Basel, Switzerland in 1897.

The Congress lasted for 3 days and set in motion one of the greatest triumphs in Jewish History, the establishment of the State of Israel. Herzl made 2000 years of Jewish exile and persecution a thing of the past. If it could be ascertained that one man ended 2000 years of suffering and wandering it would be Theodor Herzl. Although Theodor Herzl was not an observant Jew he may well have been one of the greatest who ever lived. As a teenager growing up in Philadelphia, he had a profound effect on my life. (I have attached a drawing I did of Herzl when I was 18). The First Zionist Congress consisted by 208 delegates from 17 countries. Twenty six members of the press were in attendance.

One of the overlooked qualities of Theodor Herzl was his ability to amplify his message using his media savvy. As a journalist himself he understood the power of the press. His "Basel Program" stated that "Zionism aims at establishing for the Jewish People a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine." Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary Sept. 3, 1897, "were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word-which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly-it would be this.

At Basel I founded the Jewish State...In five years perhaps, and certainly in 50 years everyone will perceive it." He was a prophet. He was right on target. In November 1947 at the Queens Museum (recently in the news), the United Nations declared Israel a State. Herzl was so revered after the Basel Convention that Menachem Begin's father named a son after him. Begin's brother's name was Herzl.

Unfortunately, Herzl Begin was murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. This year also happens to be the 25th year since Menachem Begin passed away. The story of Zionism and Theodor Herzl should never be forgotten. There were many factors that led to the First Zionist Congress. One of the main ones that propelled Theodor Herzl was Ant-Semitism.

The miscarriage of Justice in the trial of Captain Alfred Dreyfus in France which Herzl covered as a journalist may have been one of the main influences that made Herzl realize that a Jewish Homeland was essential for Jewish survival. Thank G-d that Herzl led the Jews back to the Promised Land.