Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl (Theodore) was born on May 2nd, 1860 in Budapest, Hungary to Janet and Ya’akov. He grew up in a wealthy home, received a basic Jewish education and was educated in the spirit of Enlightenment, which was typical of the Jews of Central Europe at the time. After the sudden death of his sister, Paulina, in 1878, Herzl and his parents moved to Vienna, Austria. In 1884, he received a doctorate in law. He worked briefly in this profession in Vienna and Salzburg, but after only one year, he decided to devote his life to his true love, writing. He was a journalist, a lawyer, a writer, a playwright and a statesman.
In 1891Herzl was a correspondent in Paris for the important Viennese newspaper,” Neue Freie Press”. While working there, he encountered an anti-Semitic atmosphere, which was on the rise in France. The Jewish issue upset him more and more and he sought ways to deal with the issue.
The Jewish State
After the Dreyfus trial in 1894, Herzl began to understand that the Jewish question required a political and national solution. He believed that the establishment of a state for the Jewish people was the only solution and would end anti-Semitism. He presented his new Zionist vision in his work, The Jewish State, which was published in February 1896. Its publication brought about a stormy debate. The enlightened elite rejected Herzl’s plans because of both ideological and practical reasons. However, the masses of Jews embraced his ideas and saw him as the modern Moses.
The idea of Zionism captivated Herzl. He conducted diplomatic relations to spread his plans and to obtain a charter (a permit from the Ottoman sultan to settle Jews in the Land of Israel). Unlike others in the Zionist movement, Herzl attached great importance to obtaining international and legal recognition of the rights of the Jews in the Land of Israel before actually settling the land. This view constituted the basis for the political Zionist stream that Herzl led.
In 1897, Herzl assembled the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, where the first World Zionist Organization was established. Herzl was chosen to be its president. In the same year he founded the Zionist newspaper, Die Welt, in Vienna.
The People Join In
From the time of the first Zionist Congress until the death of Herzl, the Zionist movement became a political movement, practical, dynamic and meaningful. Herzl’s ideas echoed through European Jewry and reached Jewish communities all over the world. Massive Jewish support of his ideas brought about a growth in waves of “aliyah” to the Land of Israel, which finally enabled the establishment of the State of Israel. The sixth Zionist Congress was the last one in which Herzl participated. As a result of his intense activity and emotional stress his health declined. Herzl died on July 3rd, 1904 at the age of 44.
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