The effect produced by "The Jewish State" was profound. Not the ideas, but the personality which stood behind them appealed to us. Here was daring, clarity and energy. The very fact that this Westerner came to us unencumbered by our own preconceptions had its appeal. We of the Russian group in Berlin were not alone in our response. The Zionist student group of Vienna, "Kadimah", was perhaps more deeply impressed than we. ... We were right in our instinctive appreciation that what had emerged from the "Judenstaat" was less a concept than a historic personality. The "Judenstaat" by itself would have been nothing more than a nine days' wonder. If Herzl had contended himself with the mere publication of the booklet - as he originally intended to do, before it became clear to him that he was no longer his own master, but the servant of the idea - his name would be remembered today as one of the oddities of Jewish history. What has given greatness to his name is Herzl's role as a man of action, as the founder of the Zionist Congress, and as an example of daring and devotion.
I first saw Herzl at the second Congress, in Basel, in the summer of 1898, and though he was impressive, I cannot pretend that I was swept off my feet. There was a great genuineness about him, and a touch of pathos. It seemed to me almost from the beginning that he was undertaking a task of tremendous magnitude without adequate preparation. He had great gifts and he had connections. But these did not suffice. As I learned to know him better at succeeding Congresses, my respect for him was confirmed and deepened. As a personality he was both powerful and naive. He was powerful in the believe that he had been called by destiny to this piece of work. He was naive, as we already suspected from "Der Judenstaat", and as we definitely learned from our contact with his work, in his schematic approach to Zionism. ...
We liked and admired Herzl, and knew that he was a force in Israel. But we opposed him within the movement because we felt that the Jewish masses needed something more than high diplomatic representatives, that it was not good enough to have two or three men traveling about interviewing the great of the world on our behalf. We were the spokesmen of the Russian-Jewish masses who sought in Zionism self-expression and not merely rescue. We must follow the example of the Bilu though on a far larger scale; this alone would encourage our youth, would release the forces latent in our people, would create real values. To Herzl all this was rather alien at first. But now that I have come to know and understand the Viennese milieu in which he grew up - so remote from all the troubles and vicissitudes of our life - and especially when I compare him with other Jewish Viennese intellectuals, of his time or a little later (Schnitzler, Von Hofmannsthal, Stefan Zweig - all men of talent), I am amazed at Herzl's greatness, at the profundity of his intuition, which enabled him to understand as much of our world as he did. He was the first - without a rival - among the Western leaders, but even he could not break the mold of his life. Within the limitations of that mold, and with his magnificent gifts and his complete devotion, he rendered incalculable service to the cause. He remains the classical figure in Zionism.



Share                   PRINT    
05 Nov 2007 / 24 Heshvan 5768 0