Herzl was keenly cognizant that massive funding was essential to ensuring that his plan for Jewish statehood would come to fruition, so he attempted to solicit commitments from such financiers as French railroad tycoon and philanthropist Baron Moritz de Hirsch, who agreed to meet with Herzl in Paris. Ultimately, doors were figuratively slammed in his face by de Hirsch and the Rothschilds, who were overtly circumspect of what they perceived as his seemingly vague and unrealistic notions. Newsreel footage of Herzl’s one and only trip to Palestine left the viewer sharing Herzl’s melancholia over the abject poverty and destitution that he witnessed amongst the Jewish population at that time.
As time passed, significant percentages of Jews, both religious and secular alike, would come to shower Herzl with well-deserved plaudits, and they even bestowed a degree of reverence on him as a harbinger of the Jewish redemption from exile. Totally immersed in his mission, Herzl met with kings, heads of state, prime ministers, ambassadors, government ministers and even the pontiff in Rome in order to obtain legitimate rights to the land of Israel and to facilitate Jewish immigration there.
Having no other option, Herzl used his own money to set up his infrastructure, which included the launching of a Zionist newspaper, the creation of the World Zionist Organization, and the first World Zionist Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. Feeling a terrible sense of urgency for his people and having no other viable recourse, Herzl took a great risk when he proffered the idea of establishing a Jewish state in Uganda to the Congress delegates. He was met with visceral acrimony along with a litany of ad hominem attacks by such iconic Zionist leaders as Chaim Weizman and others like him. Deeply perturbed by the lack of appreciation from his contemporaries, Herzl nonetheless girded his loins and changed his tune. He now would not settle for any other land for the Jewish nation other than the biblical land of Israel.
While Herzl remains a controversial figure to this very day (especially in religious Jewish circles) for his adamant secularism, it is noteworthy to mention that the film reveals that on the Shabbat prior to the first Zionist Congress, Herzl joined the delegation at an Orthodox synagogue for services. When called up to the Torah, without being prompted, Herzl recited the blessing in perfect Hebrew and with sincere dedication.
Herzl’s final work was a novel titled “Altneuland” (Old New Land), which gloriously envisaged a thriving and prosperous autonomous Jewish homeland in ancient Israel. It was in these pages that Herzl penned the words that he will eternally be remembered for: “Im tirtzu ain zo aggada” (“If you will it, it is no dream”).
Kudos to Moriah Films, director Richard Trank and Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for preserving the legacy of Theodor Herzl on film for generations to come. No doubt, this pulsating and highly original documentary will leave us moved by the unwavering dedication of one man’s vision that changed the course of Jewish history.
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