The Zionist Congress meets for the first time without him who had created it. The Seventh Congress - the Sabbath Congress - its creator has not survived to behold. This rostrum no longer presents to you the familiar aspect. We miss the tall central figure with the black-bearded Assyrian head that drew all eyes.
What I personally felt, when he was lost to us, need not be told before all. I will endeavour to speak of him, as he would like to have been spoken of, without bombast or exaggeration, which would have greatly gone against his grain as a fine stylist, a refined and sober intellect, an artist in subdued semi-tints. I will try to see him and to show him as he may one day appear to the historian, who will judge him coolly on his deeds, uninfluenced by the radiant warmth of his personality.
On July 3rd last year Theodor Herzl closed his eyes forever. On the day of his death he had exceeded his 44th year by only two months. The loud outburst of dismay, the long paroxysm of grief, which were the thousand-fold echoes of the news of his demise, were the measures of what he was to his people. At thirty-five years of age quite unknown to the Jewish people, nine years later he had become its pride and its hope. That he was able to attain this place in Jewish thought and feeling is one of the wonders of his wonderful life. He had waded far in the waters of assimilation, even through the deep parts that almost completely immersed him. In the sunniest years of his life he was completely taken up with interests that showed not a spark of Judaism. He devoted himself wholly to artistic labors. He untiringly dedicated all his energies to literary work. He had no other ambition than that of conquering the stage and establishing himself in the conquered sphere. Nothing drew him in the direction of his real life-work. Nothing attracted his mind to deal with Jewish questions till the day came when the situation of the Jewish people made him powerfully conscious of his own Judaism.
For Herzl was a proud man - not conceited or vain, but proud. That is to say, he had assured consciousness of his moral worth, and that self-respect of noble natures which implies that they think lovingly of their fathers. He looked upon his blood as a valued heritage, his descent as a distinction.
No one, not even himself, had an inkling of the qualities that he brought to his new task. Herzl really grew with his greater purposes; he grew so mightily that his acquaintances and colleagues could no longer gauge him by the accustomed standard, because he had outgrown their limited measure. The vivacious conversationalist, the genial raconteur, the witty and playful comedy-writer, was changed in a night into a statesman of wide vision who boldly and resolutely strode along an almost impassable route towards a lofty goal.
Herzl set himself deliberately to the task of forging a people out of scattered, weak-willed, aimless, human units of winning a land for that people, without an army, without a navy, without financial resources, from Governments who only reckon with these factors for gaining concessions. That was an undertaking from which the boldest would have shrunk. The opponents of Zionism said it was a completely hopeless undertaking. Herzl was, however, convinced of his feasibility.
Herzl was a model and an educator. He straightened the back of a broken people. He gave them hope, he showed them means. The seed will sprout, and his people will garner the harvest.