“It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl”
“If You Will It…”
Theodor Herzl is the father of the state of Israel yet we know little about him aside from his activities to negotiate a land for the Jewish people. Here is a film that brings Herzl to life and narrated by Ben Kingsley and with the voice of Christoph Waltz as Herzl. (I understand that his grandfather actually knew him. In fact, because of that, Waltz actually asked to do the reading).
Herzl was not the first Zionist but none were more influential nor famous as Herzl. Moriah Films through the Simon Weisenthal Center gives us a new documentary on the life of the man and it is perhaps one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time. The film follows Herzl’s life from his early days as a college student through his trials with anti-Semitism, his coverage of the Dreyfus affair, his meetings with sultans and world and Jewish leaders, the World Zionist Congress and other conferences until his death of a heart attack.
Let me say that I have read a great deal about Herzl both here in America and in Israel and in fact I was at the ceremony when his remains were brought to be buried in Israel yet I learned more from this film than anything else.
Herzl is an inspiration to all, regardless of politics and/or Zionist feelings. He was a man with a goal and would not rest until he saw signs of its fulfillment. He was a secular European Jew and in fact he was anti-religious. This made no difference to anti-Semites who still persecuted him. Herzl was able to come to terms with it—it disgusted and repulsed him and it tormented him and when the Dreyfus trial took place in Paris he rose to action. The idea that Dreyfus, a Jew, was accused of treason because he was a Jew as abhorrent to him. It was his coverage of the trial that brought him to understand the tremendous extent of anti-Semitism. How could something like this happen in 19th century Europe especially when so many thinkers of the Enlightenment helped to bring about equality and reform? Anti-Semitism does not pay heed to the Enlightment; it is a plague that goes where and when it wants and it infects those around it. To Herzl, anti-Semitism was repulsive, as I said before, and this is what brought him back to his Jewish roots. He needed and wanted to find a solution to the situation before it got worse. Pogroms had already begun in the Pale of Russia and it would not be long before it came to Europe. He thought over many solutions and decided that the best one was the establishment of a Jewish state to become a haven for Jews and to protect them from anti-Semitism.
He began meeting with wealthy Jewish leaders and gained their support. He built up a network of friends and supporters and he created the first World Zionist Congress which met in Basle, Switzerland with others to follow. It was his vision that actually caused the establishment of Israel and even with the adversaries that the country now faces, Jews feel safe there. I know I did even when war was raging or I was called up to fight.
Herzl taught us some valuable lessons. We learned never to give up and it is this famous quote that characterizes the man: “If you will it, then it is no dream.” Herzl knew it would take time and it did—50 years. Or as he said, “At Basle I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it”.
The film details the life of a man who did so much for the Jewish people and it a wonderful look at Herzl, the man and the mind. We learn from watching Herzl’s life the important and valuable lessons about combating not just anti-Semitism but hatred in general and we see that motivation is necessary to achieve anything. All of us need to pitch in to make a difference.
The film opens in NYC on August 10 and in LA on August 17.