Theodore Herzl, who died in in Vienna 1904, was buried in Vienna, but a provision in his will stated that his body should rest there only until “the Jewish people shall take my remains to Israel.”
How did Herzl finally return in 1949 to the state he had prophesied long before? This was accomplished in 1949, thanks to a personal act by an American Jewish chaplain, Lt.-Col. Chaplain Oscar M. Lifshutz, of blessed memory, who was honored in several different ways. tIn the many historical articles written in Israel about disinterment and transportation to Israel led by Chief Chaplain Goren, he dedication of American army chaplain Rabbi Oscar (Asher Michel) Lifshutz had never been mentioned.
In 1952 the Yeshiva University presented him with the Mordechai Ben David award for his work as an army chaplain.
Dr. David Breakstone, vice-chairman of the World Zionist Organization, oversees the Herzl Center and has developed it with adviser Marty Davis into a site with educational facilities for IDF groups, Israeli youth organizations and youth movement trips from the entire world. When he heard the Lifshutz story, he wanted to honor the chaplain and make educational facilities available in his name.
Miriam Lifshutz, Alyssa and Ira Lifshutz have worked closely with Davis to make this happen.
Recently, an etched glass portrait of Lifshutz in full dress uniform was installed in the Herzl Educational Center at the Herzl Memorial Cemetary in Jerusalem, thanks to Marty Davis, adviser to the vice-chairman of WZO. It is a fitting acknowledgement of Lifshutz’s work on fulfilling Herzl’s last wish.
Last week, Lifshutz’s grandson, Xander (Asher Michel) Lifshutz, and I sat together in his family’s Jerusalem apartment looking out at Mt. Herzl in the distance. Xander, residing in Englewood, New Jersey, was a guide for the audio-visual history on Herzl in Vienna.
I was surprised that Xander had grown so tall. Since my wife, Rita and I began to research his grandfather’s history, I have seen him with his parents, Alyssa and Ira, his grandmother, Miriam Lifshutz and his brother at least once a year since 2008. Initially, our conversations focused on sports. In recent years, Israel, sports, his grandfather and Theodor Herzl were still discussed.
As he was describing his grandfather here in Jerusalem, the coversation seemed to return us to August 1904 and the World’s Fair in St. Louis. The American Zionist reaction to the death of Herzl, two months earlier, was to make sure the Star of David Zionist flag flew publicly in the United States for the first time.
In another article by Rita and me in 2009 entitled “The Man Who Brought Herzl Home,” we described the role of Lifshutz, as the American military officer in charge, in this honorary and spiritual mission in Vienna. His widow Miriam published a biography of her husband in 2011 and as a part of the event this past week, the World Zionist organization published her biography in Hebrew translation with numerous images documenting his military career.
On Tuesday night, Marty Davis emphasized how significant it is when the role of American Jews in the early years of Israel becomes clear. The Lifshutz story is but one of many waiting to be told.
Miriam Lifshutz is very emphatic when she says, “I loved my husband very much; I watched him as a most successful chaplain; and I believed it was only right that he be remembered in the city that is the world-recognized capital of Israel.”
With family living in Israel and friends from abroad, a new Torah was completed.
Since Xander’s bar mitzva will be in New Jersey in November, the Torah will return there for this event. Then it will return to Israel to be used both in military installations and youth institutions.