“Im tirtzu” (If you will it), “Ein zo agadah” (It is not a dream).
These familiar words of Theodor Herzl echo in my ears.
I remember singing them as a teenager in Israel with my Reform Zionist youth movement I recall reciting them every time we celebrate the independence of Israel.
Herzl in many ways is an unlikely hero; he was a quiet unhealthy man with a tragic family story who died young.
Yet with all that, he managed to change the course of Jewish history.
His remarkable ability to see the reality as it is and lead change provides a masterclass to us all. But for me, his legacy extends well beyond leading and establishing the Zionist movement.
In his book Altnueland (The Old New Land), in which he describes his vision of a utopian Jewish state, Herzl laid the foundations of the ethics and the values of this new nation.
His vision was of a nation that would be a sanctuary to persecuted Jews, but would also be modern and open minded, valuing the contributions of all its citizens.
He pictures an exemplary society in which all inhabitants are equal, including the native Arabs who dwelled in this land for many generations.
In his vision of a Jewish homeland, their rights would be protected and he believed they must be a viable and active part of the new society.
This vision inspires me still and along with the wording of Israel’s Declaration of Independence encourages me to work in pursuit of peace.
In recent years, some groups in Israel claim to represent Herzl’s vision to promote a discourse of hatred and discrimination. In my opinion this could not be further away from Herzl’s vision of equality and solidarity.
Benjamin Zeev Herzl is a true hero whom history remembers not merely as a politician, but as a visionary.