Participants in the First Zionist Congress meet in Jerusalem in 1938..
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Knesset on Tuesday marked 120 years since the First Zionist Congress was held in Basel, convened and chaired by Theodor Herzl, considered to be the father of political Zionism.
“On this day, we honor the Knesset for allowing MKs to refresh Herzl’s legacy. Herzl stated that Zionism is the infinite ideal. And therefore on this day his legacy is expressed in the present and the future,” said Avraham Duvdevani, chairman of the World Zionist Organization.
WZO officials participated in various Knesset committees for discussions about aliya, Zionist education in the Diaspora and antisemitism around the world.
“In every nation’s life, there are special turning points,” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said during a festive event which followed the committee meetings.
“Today we celebrate one hundred and twenty years since one of the most important turning points in the history of the Jewish people: the first Zionist Congress in Basel. In Basel, not only was the torch of Jewish freedom lit up – in Basel, the big bang was ignited, which changed the course of history.”
Edelstein said that as Israel now approaches its 70th anniversary, “the time has come to work on building the foundations on which our national home stands.”
Referring to numerous studies showing the public steadily losing faith in governmental institutions, Edelstein stressed the importance of strengthening civic engagement and local institutions. “Israeli democracy does not begin or end in the Knesset. It is based on the small departments that you are a part of, the community initiatives that you will lead,” he said. “Tikkun Olam will develop from the strengthening of your local environment. Start with being micro-pioneers, local pioneers.”
“Sixty-nine years have passed since the realization of Herzl’s hope and the establishment of the state,” said Duvdevani. “We are beginning to get used to independence and to become so secular that we are cut off from the past. It is important that we do not lose our vision for the future.”
“Some say that the era of Zionism ended with the establishment of a state,” he continued. “We must aspire to moral and spiritual perfection in order to continue to realize the Zionist goals set forth by Herzl, goals that still exist today: the ingathering of the exiles, the establishment of a Jewish-moral state that will be a light unto the nations and will preserve the unity of the Jewish people. These are the functions of the World Zionist Organization in its efforts to realize Herzl’s vision. “