A glowing tribute to the memory of Dr. Theodor Herzl, father of political Zionism and founder of the World Zionist Organization, was paid at the opening session of the Zionist Congress here by Nahum Sokolow, chairman of the Zionist Executive, in an address he delivered in Hebrew. July 28 was the twentieth of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, the date observed in Zionist chronology as Herzl’s Jahrzeit. In his address, Mr. Sokolow stated:
“The task has again been allotted to me to pay the tribute of the Zionist Organization to Dr. Theodor Herzl’s memory. This is the greatest honor of my life. It is, however, an ungrateful task as it compels me to repeat myself. What I say today is not essentially different from what I said two years ago, the only difference between the two occasions being that we then celebrated the thirtieth birthday of the Zionist Congress, whilst today we honor Herzl’s memory on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death.
“It is impossible to estimate at a glance the great life which ended twenty-five years ago. Great men are like mountains whose altitude we cannot realize whilst near them. Twenty-five years is always a period when the fame of the greatest man is apt to suffer its most serious eclipse. The generation which knew him is gradually disappearing. A younger generation is growing up, of whom he was in a certain sense a contemporary, but who new little of him.
“Herzl’s life does not fit easily into a biography even at a distance of time. From what numerous standpoints cannot one approach the study of this master mind ! Of how many parts this versatile genius, fascinating personality, who dominated and dwarfed the greatest figures of our contemporary Jewish history. His life marks the newest epoch in our annals, namely, the return of the prodigal son.
“His early youth was spent in an atmosphere of the refined West European culture, but like Abraham, he broke with the traditions which had nurtured him, at the bidding of his Jewish consciousness he stripped himself of his youthful prepossessions, casting behind every single tenet of the assimilation theory in which he was reared. His upbringing and maturer convictions came into conflict. As a youth he was the rising hope of Viennese aristocracy and the intellectual salons. Afterwards, he became the darling of the east European ghetto. From a writer of world-wide fame, he became an organizer of the Jewish people: from a broad humanitarian, he bound himself to the wheel of a single nation’s destiny. He was by turns statesman and playright, orator, journalist, political leader and artist.
“The Zionists have seen Herzl at once in the only proper light, namely, in the light of our national history. We recognized him as a prophet, as all authentic prophet in modern form.”
Recalling the difficulties with which Dr. Herzl contended during the period between writing the “Judenstaat” and the first Zionist Congress, Mr. Sokolow described the anti-Zionist atmosphere prevailing among Jews. “Even when the Munich government did not object to the holding of the Congress at Munich, the Jews alone protested, failing to understand that Zionism was a potent, vital force working for the best in Judaism. But Herzl lifted Jewish life to his own noble, lofty level.
“On the evening of the twenty-ninth of August, 1897, Herzl made the remarkable statement to a few friends that Bulgarian Jews long had believed that the Messiah would be born on the first of Ellul. ‘They were right, Herzl said. The Messiah was born today at the Zionist Congress.’ He added: ‘This Messiah will grow.’
“Herzl was free from superstition, but he had a deep religious feeling in his heart. He not only firmly believed what he said, but he saw it with his own eyes. He felt confident that what the Jewish people desired would not fail of accomplishment for lack of driving power, devotion and high purpose. Herzl saw that the Jewish question was no longer a religious question. Therefore, since he had learned that love of Zion was the inspiring ideal which Judaism could not lose without losing itself, he became a Palestinian Zionist.
“The cornerstone of the Zionist Organization was Paragraph Two of the Basle program, which says that in order to obtain that object, namely, a home in Palestine secured by public law, the Congress recommends a centralized organization of the entire Jewish people by means of general institutions in conformity with the laws of the lands. We had to descend from the high clouds of principle to the slippery ground of finance, when we adopted the proposals for the three Zionist funds, namely, the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Colonial Trust and the Anglo-Palestine Company. Those who watched the progress of Zionism, even those who were unable to accept its main guiding principles have seldom been loah to acknowledge the good that was in the movement itself. Many admitted that the call of independence and nationhood, even if only a vision, was of surpassing value. Nobody more than Herzl understood that Zionism rendered necessary the immense strengthening of Jewish spiritual consciousness.
“The historic Herzl begins with Palestine as the land and with the first Zionist Congress. Until then, political Zionism was a theory existing only in pamphlets, in the imagination of the leaders and in the hearts of their followers, but the Congress gave it concrete expression and hope. Herzl’s fundamental idea was to place the Jewish nation on a basis of equal dignity with all other nations. From this spirit he approached his task. A ‘publicly legally secured’ charter was to him the indispensable condition for development. Zionism is a unique movement. Thanks to its peremptory announcement that Judaism was not merely a word of belief but at the same time the life of a nation based on history and purpose. Zionists definitely declared that they cannot properly call themselves Israelites unless the understanding of Israel’s teachings (Continued on Page 6)
“It was said after William Wilberforce’s death, in reference to the crowning glory of his career, the abolition of slave trade, that he had gone to heaven bearing a million broken fetters. Might it not also be said of Herzl, who could present the record of a life spent in breaking the fetters of slavery of millions of souls?
“Our Kaddish for Herzl is not a mourner’s Kaddish but a ‘Kaddish d’Rabbanan,’ a glorification of God. We glorify the memory of Herzl in a way that the valleys and hills of Eretz Israel will resound with joy, with that triumphant Shir Ha’Maaloth, the song of the steps in our nation’s redemption.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.