Herzl Day on Monday

Iyar 10 marks Herzl's 149th birthday: schools, the army, and youth groups will discuss his Zionist dreams and ties to Judaism.

Hillel Fendel ,

Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl (stamp from 1960)
Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl (stamp from 1960)
Israel News photo (file)

Tomorrow (Monday), the 10th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, marks the birthday of Binyamin Ze’ev (Theodor) Herzl, the visionary who is remembered as the father of the modern State of Israel, although he died more than 40 years before it was founded. 

According to a law passed in 2004, educational activities having to do with Herzl and his vision will be held in schools, the IDF, and in official state bodies. The purpose of the day is “to pass down to future generations Herzl’s legacy, vision and activities; to honor his memory; and to educate future generations and fashion the State of Israel and its bodies, goals and character in accordance with his Zionist vision.”

Schools throughout the country will have special workshops and classes dealing mainly with the following issues:

* "Herzl Said, We Do" – Vision vis-à-vis Reality ["Herzl Said" is the Israeli children's version of "Simon Says" - ed.]
* "My Flag?!" – The significance of a symbol for a group, the importance of the flag of Israel, and the significance of the flag for each individual.
* "I Have No Other Land" – Jewish life in Israel and in the Diaspora
* "From Mount Sinai to Mount Herzl" – Herzl’s complicated Jewish background and his connection to Judaism.

An official memorial ceremony for Herzl will be held at his burial site on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. The Education Ministry is to bestow scholarships upon students studying Herzl’s legacy and activities.

The Herzl Law of 2004 also stipulates that a Herzl Conference must be held, and it will in fact take place at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. Its four sessions will deal with “Faith-Based Zionism vs. Political Zionism,”  “The Desired System of Government in Israel,” “Urban Planning,” and “The Arab Question.” Entrance to the conference, which begins at 9 AM, is free.

Another event will be a re-enactment of Herzl’s first trip in the Holy Land, which took place in 1898. He and other Zionist Movement members were invited by German Kaiser Wilhelm II, and they toured seven sites. During the day-long re-enactment, signs marking “Along Herzl’s Path” will be unveiled at these locations: Jaffa, Mikveh Yisrael, Rishon LeTzion, Nes Tziona, Rehovot, Arza-Motza, and Mamilla in Jerusalem.

An umbrella organization for two large Israeli youth movements will hold Herzl-related educational activities in schools in 76 different towns and cities throughout Israel.

'Herzl: A New Reading'
Just last year, Dr. Yitzchak Weiss wrote a work entitled “Herzl: A New Reading” showing that Herzl was in fact more Jewish-minded than is commonly thought. “I, like almost everyone else, always thought that Herzl was an assimilated Jew who was shocked by the Dreyfuss affair and thought that a modern, secular Jewish state would solve all our problems,” Weiss wrote. After reading Herzl’s work “Old New Land,” however, Weiss said he saw that this picture was totally inaccurate. For one example, Weiss noted that in the fifth sentence of his speech at the First Zionist Congress, Herzl said, “Return to Jewishness is an absolute condition for the return to the Land of Israel.”

Though Herzl originally led the approach that Zionism "has nothing to do with religion," he later wrote, "We must not drive the Zionist rabbis away. Let us not discourage them, even if we have no intention of handing them the leadership."

Herzl, the author of The Jewish State (1896), convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, during which he predicted the establishment of a Jewish State within 50 years; he was off by only a year.  He convened five more Zionist Congresses between then and 1902, and passed away suddenly of a heart disease in 1904. He was only 44, and historians have surmised that his death was hastened by the great strain of his Zionist project.