Israelis retrace Herzl’s footsteps in Europe

World Zionist Organization, Habonim Dror embark on journey to show Israeli Jews Diaspora life's value, Jews can make a home in Europe.

By ALEX WEISLER / JTA
October 1, 2011 17:49
4 minute read.
Klezmer fusion band in Budapest's Jewish Quarter

Butterfly Effect band 311 JTA. (photo credit: Alex Weisler / JTA)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later Don't show it again

BUDAPEST- Sometimes it takes a Zionist organization to show Israeli Jews that Israel isn’t the only place where Jews have a future.

At least that’s what the World Zionist Organization and Habonim Dror, the labor Zionist youth organization, managed to do with a whirlwind trip this month for about four dozen Israelis that retraced the footsteps of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, through Europe.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


RELATED:
NGOs urge German Shoah foundation to stop 'Israel-bashing'
Video: 'Punk Jews' in New York

The idea of the trip, which took the Israeli 20-somethings through four countries in five days, was to consider whether and how Herzl’s Zionist ideals can help Israel resolve the troubles it is facing now. But the trip also was about helping young Israelis move beyond an Israel-only view of world Jewry, organizers said.

Deborah Laks, a Costa Rica native who now lives in Tel Aviv, said the tour convinced her that Jews can make a home in Europe.

"What I've seen of young Jews and what they're creating in Europe - they're more useful here than they would be in Israel," Laks told JTA. "If they go to Israel, who's going to do it here?"

The bus tour started with Herzl’s birthplace in Budapest before moving on to Vienna, where Herzl studied law; Basel, Switzerland, where the First Zionist Congress was held; and Paris, where Herzl covered the infamous Dreyfus Affair as a correspondent for an Austrian newspaper.



"Zionism in its very essence is a concern with Jewish peoplehood. That's not going to happen only in the land of Israel," said David Breakstone, vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization which helped organize the trip. Funding came from Habonim Dror and the participants themselves.

Before the trip, Breakstone said, many participants believed they would see only “abandoned synagogues and Jewish graveyards. But the focus of our trip is Jewish future and Jewish revival, not persecution and the Holocaust. We certainly weren't trying to encourage anyone to devalue the importance of aliyah, but I think it's important that they understand that those who do not move to Israel are not necessarily abandoning a Jewish future."

The trip was also meant to help participants forge a personal connection with Herzl's life and writings.

"For us, it's very important that Herzl be understood not just as this incredible historical figure that started the Zionist movement, but also as a man of values whose ideas continue to be compelling today," Breakstone said.

The WZO's first Herzl-centric European tour was held just over a year ago, but it wasn’t focused on Israelis. Participants on this month’s Israel-focused trip said the tour helped them think about old questions in new ways.

"The question of whether or not Europe can be a home for Jews - Herzl asked that question in 1890, but now it's 2011," said participant Tamar Levi, a Vancouver native who now lives in Hadera, Israel. "It's a post-Holocaust reality, but the question for them,” she said of European Jews, “is still very present in their lives."

In Budapest, the group visited the iconic sites of historic Hungarian Jewry, like the city's mammoth Dohany Synagogue, the second largest in the world, and the cast-iron Holocaust memorial on the banks of the Danube depicting the shoes of those shot into the river between 1944 and 1945.

But they also met with nine young Hungarians leading the charge to revive Jewish life in the Hungarian capital, which has seen an astonishing Jewish revival in the two decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain. The group also went to listen to a klezmer fusion band in one of the city's "ruin pubs," hipster hotspots housed in abandoned buildings in the Jewish Quarter.

Breakstone said the trip complements a larger Herzl revival under way in Israel, with Tel Aviv graffiti featuring modern twists on his famous slogans, a college activist group called If You Will It and a satirical TV show featuring an actor dressed as Herzl serving in a Dr. Phil-type role.

Ten years ago, he said, Herzl was barely mentioned in any real way; now he's part of Israeli culture and politics again.

"This is all part of a reaction to people waking up and saying, where did we go wrong?" Breakstone said. "We're kind of rudderless. We need to find some direction again."

Zionist organizations such as Habonim Dror and WZO see Herzl's vision of an Israel focused on human dignity and social justice as the answer. And they view trips like the Herzl European tour as the perfect way to energize young Israeli Zionists about the man and his legacy.

"There's a need to replace the old guard with a new generation," said Silvio Joskowicz, Habonim Dror's secretary-general. "We've come here to receive inspiration for what we must do. We didn't just come here for a history tour.”

Related Content

Joan Rivers
August 28, 2014
Joan Rivers rushed to hospital following throat surgery

By JPOST.COM STAFF