Herzl: The Zionist Dream of a Jewish State

This video introduces a Zionist visionary and founding father of the State of Israel, Theodor Herzl. The video tells Herzl’s story, from his experience at the infamous Dreyfus Affair to his eventual establishment of the annual Zionist Congress in 1897. While Herzl did not live to see Israel’s establishment, he is credited with planting the seeds that allowed the State of Israel to come to fruition, teaching the Jewish world, “If you will it, it is no dream.” Students will learn about Herzl’s life, legacy and vision. What is Zionism? Why is it so controversial and why there such a strong relationship between Zionism and anti-Semitism? This video and educator’s guide explore all this and more.

  1. What was Herzl’s initial approach to solving the problem of anti-semitism?
  2. In what ways is Judaism not just a religion, but a nation?
  3. Which of the following known antisemites impacted Herzl’s view that antisemitism was a problem that needed to be solved?
    • Karl Duhring
    • Adolf Hitler
    • Pontius Pilate
    • Martin Luther
  4. What is the name of the Jewish officer who was falsely accused of espionage by the French?
    • Ze’ev Jabotnisky
    • Leon Pinsker
    • Alfred Dreyfus
    • Emile Zola
  1. What do you think was the primary driver for the push toward Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel: an internal belief in nationalism and self-determination, or the external oppression of anti-Semitism?
  2. In a eulogy for Herzl, orthodox Rabbi Eliyahu Kaplan said that even though Herzl was secular and in many ways opposed to the religious Jewish life, he taught all Jews to have pride and the willingness to say, “I am a Jew.” What about Zionism allowed Jews to feel proud about their heritage?
  3. Herzl famously said, “Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word—which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly—it would be this: At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.” Evaluate whether you think Herzl’s prediction was folly and fantasy or grounded and possible.
  1. Bring your students together for a “four corners” activity: Label each corner of the classroom as “religion,” “nation,” “culture” and “community,” and ask students to walk to the corner of the room that they think best represents their Jewish identity. When there, students should discuss why they chose that corner with the other students in that corner, and then open the conversation to the whole group to explain their stances. Students may change corners based on the conversation.
  2. Whereas Herzl believed that Zionism would solve the “Jewish Question” and end anti-Semitism, Jabotinsky believed that Zionism would protect the Jewish people from anti-Semitism. Have your students debate this question: Would Zionism cure the world of anti-Semitism, or would Zionism shield the Jews from anti-Semitism?
  3. Engage your students in an experiential learning activity around the theme of Initiative, a theme found in the accompanying video.
  4. Give your students our Kahoot on Herzl!
  1. Herzl was rejected time and again about his vision for Zionism and the idea that to solve anti-semitism, the Jewish people would need to develop its own state, but he persevered. In fact, Baron Edmond de Hirsch said to him, “You are an intelligent man but you have such fantastic brain waves.” This, however, did not deter Herzl. In what ways can you incorporate Herzl’s perseverance, even if you are rejected a few times, to resiliently push through?
  2. In thinking about the world today, do you think Herzl’s approach to Zionism is correct, in that with a Jewish state, anti-semitism would be cured and disappear, or do you align more with Jabotinsky, who believed that even with a Jewish state, anti-semitism would never disappear, but the Jewish people would be protected from it?
  3. When processing the impact Herzl had on the world and the challenges he went through, which quality of Herzl do you want to incorporate into your own life, and which qualities are you less inclined to incorporate?
  1. Unpacking Israeli History Podcast, “Herzl and the non-Promised Land”
  2. Primary Source: Jewish Virtual Library, “The Jewish State by Theodor Herzl”
  3. Gil Troy, The Zionist Ideas, Part One: Pioneers, Founding the State
  4. Daniel Gordis, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn, Chapters 3 and 4
  5. Adam Kirsch, The People and the Books, Chapter 13
  6. Zionism as the Liberation of Judaism: The Debate over the Soul of Secular Zionism

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Experiential Learning is a proactive way to educate with a focus on reflection and can take place in any academic setting: day school, supplementary school, camp, youth group, synagogue, college campus or university. 

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