A dream of redemption, of rebuilding, of returning HOME:
Modern Israel, roughly located on the lands of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, is tiny — about the size of Wales or New Jersey. It’s the birthplace of the Hebrew language and of Judaism and Christianity. Although the region welcomed a variety of ethnicities, and weathered the influence and interference of several empires, the region remained predominantly Jewish until the 3rd century. Afterwards, the Israeli people endured hundreds of years of religious and cultural persecution that led them to flee their homeland, scattering throughout the world — where they remained as strangers in strange lands, further persecuted and alienated. Many Jews dreamed of a place they could call their own … a home, a haven. But after centuries of being harassed, uprooted, dispersed — and even murdered — their dream seemed like an impossible one.
Theodor Herzl shared their “impossible dream.” He was an Austro-Hungarian journalist, political activist, and writer. More importantly, he became one of the fathers of modern Zionism, forming the World Zionist Organization and promoting Jewish migration back to the region renamed Palestine, in an effort to recreate the Jewish nation of Israel. Herzl (May 2, 1860 – July 3, 1904) was born in Budapest, Hungary, to a family of secular, German-speaking, assimilated Jews. His father was a successful German businessman who tried to blend in.
Theodor Herzl, who considered himself an atheist, had a passion for poetry and the humanities, which led to a successful career in journalism. But despite having no religious affiliation with Jews, despite being a successful writer, and the son of a successful businessman, despite being assimilated (blending in), Herzl nonetheless felt the sting of antisemitism. Bottom Line? Herzl was a Jew.
Herzl believed that antisemitism could not be defeated or cured, only avoided. In his acclaimed 1896 book The Jewish State, he outlined reasons for Jews to leave Europe, should they desire, preferably to return to their historic homeland. Herzl believed the Jewish people already possessed a nationality and all they lacked was a nation. He fervently believed the only way to avoid antisemitism was for the Jewish people to have their own state, where they’d be free to practice their unique culture and religion. Little could Herzl imagine the greatest time of persecution, the Holocaust, was only four decades away — less than a lifetime; and if the modern State of Israel had been established prior to the Holocaust, the massacre of 6 million Jews could have been avoided.
Herzl’s ideas quickly spread and, although embraced by many, were largely criticized and rejected — ironically, by many Jews settled in many countries. These critical Jews, who at the time were attempting to blend in and gain acceptance by the gentile population, felt Herzl’s ideas would only fan the flames of antisemitism. But think about it: should any person or people group have to deny their origins, beliefs, culture, identity, and individuality to gain acceptance? What’s this blog about? ACCEPTANCE.
Undeterred by his detractors, Herzl enthusiastically pursued his impossible dream. He gained influential and powerful supporters in several countries, and with each passing year, his impossible dream advanced into the realm of the possible. Although Herzl wouldn’t see it realized before his death, his work had laid the foundation to make his dream a reality.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations recommended a new Jewish state. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, who became Israel’s first Prime Minister, declared “the establishment of a Jewish state … to be known as the State of Israel”! On the same day, the United States, in the person of President Harry Truman, officially recognized the new Jewish nation.
Today, more than 42% of the world’s Jews reside in the State of Israel, making it the largest Jewish community in the world. Israel is their home, their freedom, and their vindication. April 19th will mark the nation’s 70th Birthday, a time of celebration and thanksgiving … a time to acknowledge that dreams, even impossible ones, can come true!
“Listen to this message from the LORD, you nations of the world; proclaim it in distant coastlands: The LORD, who scattered His people, will gather them and watch over them as a shepherd does His flock.” (Jeremiah 31:10 NLT)