Today In Fact, 2 May

Today is Theodor Herzl’s birthday. Born in Pest on the other side of
the river from Buda in Hungary in 1860, Theodore was brought up as an
“assimilated” Jew. In German-speaking countries at the time, being
assimilated demanded a lot of self-hatred. Instead of a Bar Mitzvah,
Herzl’s thirteenth birthday was advertised as a “confirmation”. He
grew up as a “thoroughly emancipated, anti-traditional, secular,
would-be German boy,” who dismissed all religion, and spoke of Judaism
with mocking cynicism. He exhibited a secularist disdain toward
religion, which he viewed as uncivilized. Even after becoming
interested in the “Jewish question,” Herzl’s writing retained traces
of Jewish self-contempt. Herzl considered himself to be atheist.

Herzl’s personal life was also a disaster as he seems to have been a
“mommy’s boy” and did not have good relations with his wife, Julie and
it would seem, neglected his three children. His daughter died of a
heroin overdose, both of his sons committed suicide.

Something however began to change when, as a journalist in Paris,
Herzl, found a general hatred of Jews in popular culture. He began to
see that this hatred could not be healed but required avoidance. He
published an book tilted;”Der Judenstaat” in 1895 in which he set-out
the need for a Jewish state.

His book and the subsequent popular support from Jews around the world
led to the first International Zionist convention in Basle in 1897.
Herzl is recognized as the founder of Zionism and the father of the
Israeli state which was formed almost half a century after his death
in 1904.

Not all Jews support Zionism and the state of Israel. Moshe Hirsch who
died today in 2010 was the leader of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta
group in Jerusalem. Hirsh led the Neturei Karta grouping which opposes
Zionism and calls for a peaceful dismantling of the State of Israel,
in the belief that Jews are forbidden to have their own state until
the coming of the Jewish Messiah. Hirsch and Neturei Karta stress what
is said in the mussaf Shemona Esrei of Yom Tov, that because of their
sins, the Jewish people went into exile from the Land of Israel

Hirsch advised Yasser Arafat on Jewish affairs and visited him in
Ramallah. Following Hirsch’s death, shiva visitors included senior
Fatah members, including Adnan al-Husayni (who brought a personal
letter of consolation from Mahmoud Abbas) and other Palestinian
leaders. What a mess.

– Douglas Racionzer (a full archive of this quirky insights can be
found at