Theodor Herzl, founding father of the State of Israel

Theodor Herzl, founding father of the State of Israel


Theodor (Hebrew name: Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl was born in 1860 in Budapest, Hungary, into an assimilated Jewish family. The family later moved to Vienna, where Herzl attained a degree in law from the University of Vienna. Rather than pursuing a law career, however, Herzl became a playwright, author and journalist, serving as a correspondent for a Viennese newspaper in Paris.

The story has often been told of how Herzl was profoundly affected while reporting for his paper on the Dreyfus Affair - in which the thoroughly assimilated French Jewish Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus, in an anti Semitic plot, was falsely accused of treason.

Theodor Herzl family

This, coupled with other observations dating back to his student days, convinced Herzl of  the futility that the Jews would ever achieve “normality” and acceptance in European society until they achieved true nationhood – building their own society, their own culture, their own government in the land of Israel, a land that they could  call their own.  

In coming to this conclusion, Herzl was not the first major modern Zionist activist. A number of other scholars and ideologues were promoting Zionist ideas before him, including prominent Christian dreamers and visionaries. But Herzl can be said to have been the key figure in the latter decades of the 19th century in the development of what came to be called political Zionism, the active pursuit of achieving Jewish statehood through political means. Indeed, it can be said of him that he was the “right person, in the right place, at the right time.” 

Herzl gave expression to his views in 1896 with the publication of Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”). He eventually came to appreciate that the creation of such a state could be feasible only in Palestine, the traditional homeland of the Jewish people. Herzl has been described as a practical dreamer, and it is true that, with considerable organizing ability, he worked for the practical realization of his aim, succeeding in winning many Jews to cooperate with him in, at the time a seemingly impossible task.

He convened the first Zionist Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897 at which the World Zionist Organization was founded and Herzl elected its president. In 1902 Herzl published his utopian vision of the Jewish state, the Altneuland (“Old New Land”). Herzl also extended untiring efforts to convince world leaders to back his idealistic aspirations for the creation of a Jewish state, mostly without much success,

Herzl died in 1904 at the early age of 44 in Austria and was buried in Vienna. Though he did not live to see the fruition of his labor, the movement that he inspired continued and grew, following in his vision, leading to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. In 1949, Herzl’s remains were taken to Jerusalem where they were buried on a hill, now called Mount Herzl.

Without doubt Herzl was indeed the outstanding visionary of the yet to be created State of Israel and is considered to this day, rightfully so, as the “founding father” of the new Jewish state.