The Herzl Museum

A sparkling state-of-the-art facility, the Herzl Museum offers visitors an enjoyable and convincing 55-minute audio-visual vignette of Herzl's life.

herzl museum 248 (photo credit: )
herzl museum 248
(photo credit: )
The Herzl Museum, founded by the World Zionist Organization, was opened in 2005 with the help of the Jerusalem Foundation and donations from other organizations. The new Herzl Museum includes a spectacular audio-visual encounter with the visionary of the Jewish State. During the visit, one journeys through time back to Vienna during the days of Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl, becoming an active participant in his stormy personal journey and learning first hand both about his bold aspirations as well as his bitter disappointments. Within the museum, visitors join Herzl in a dialogue between the world in which he lived, the dreams he dreamed, and the reality of today. Through this encounter, one becomes a part of Herzl's enduring heritage. A state-of-the-art audio-visual production integrates original photos and artifacts of Herzl's life with a very contemporary film in which Herzl is played by a young talented actor who makes this towering historical figure very accessible to today's younger generation. The tours are in Hebrew, English, Russian, French, Spanish, Amharic and Germen. Advanced reservations are required. For more information, visit: Read more about the Herzl Museum in the article below: A museum willed By Barry Davis One wonders what Theodor Herzl would have made of the museum devoted to his life and work. The resurrection of the Herzl Museum - at Mount Herzl - may not be quite on the scale of proffering and promoting the idea of a homeland for the Jews 100 years ago, but it is still an impressive feat. Truth be told, until fairly recently the museum was - to paraphrase a famous Monty Python line - an ex-museum. "The old museum wasn't doing its job," notes the new museum's founder Dr. David Breakstone, head of the Department for Zionist Activities of the World Zionist Organization. "It wasn't succeeding in conveying Herzl as someone who still has something to say to us." The Herzl Museum first opened its doors in 1960. It offered the public a glimpse of assorted documents and artifacts culled from important junctures in Herzl's formative sojourns in Vienna and Paris, such as the original manuscripts of Herzl's historic publications The Jewish State and Altneuland, and furniture from Herzl's office and home, but little else. Originally a highly popular site, times moved on as did the public. 'It wasn't so much a matter of closing the museum to visitors,' says Dr. Motti Friedman, its current director. 'No one was coming here then anyway.' Incredibly, the country was left without a living monument to 'the father of modern Zionism' from the mid-1990s until public attention - and financial wherewithal - was drawn to the lamentable state of affairs by the passing of the Herzl Law in 2004. The declared intent of the law was 'to inculcate future generations with the vision, legacy and activity of Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl, to honor his memory, to teach future generations and to effect the creation of the State of Israel in accordance with his Zionist vision, together with its institutions, its objectives and its image.' The passing of the law followed a fundraising campaign, through which $3 million was duly provided for the revamp, with the help of the World Zionist Organization, Jerusalem Foundation, Jewish National Fund, Jewish Colonial Trust, the Education Ministry and the Science and Technology, Culture and Sport Ministry. Today, the museum - which was officially opened in May 2005 - is a sparkling state-of-the-art facility that offers visitors an enjoyable and convincing 55-minute audio-visual vignette of Herzl's life, and a taste of the political and cultural circumstances in which he struggled to convince world Jewry and heads of state of the need for a homeland for the Jews. "Our objective was to engage people - particularly the younger generation, to make the visit here an interactive experience," Breakstone explains."Showing them documents wasn't going to do that. If you want those coming to get something out of the visit, they also have to invest something of themselves in it." That 'interactive experience' is provided through a colorful, dramatized reconstruction of events, such as Herzl's address to the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897, and some ersatz behind-the-scenes shots with actor Lior Michaeli being coached in the role of Herzl by theater director Micha Levinson. The educational element is front and center as Michaeli is carefully groomed for the part. 'Visitors respond very favorably to what we offer them here,' says Friedman. 'We give them feedback questionnaires at the end of tour and they all express enthusiasm about the experiential side of the visit.' "Most importantly, they go away with a feeling that Herzl's vision is every bit as compelling and challenging today as it was when he first formulated it more than a century ago," adds Breakstone. "They begin to contemplate their own role in making Israel all that it was meant to be." While Breakstone and Friedman could be accused of a somewhat biased take on the museum and its hero they are, of course, not alone in their admiration of the famous bearded visionary. 'I have read a lot about Herzl but I still haven't got a handle on what made him tick,' says Friedman. 'Think about it: Herzl died at the age of 44, and he was only involved in his Zionistic work for seven years of his life. What he did was incredible and it is clear that he drove himself into an early grave. What he did in those few years was unbelievable.' For Breakstone, Herzl's great contribution to the Zionist cause "was not only the remarkable feat of establishing the political infrastructure that ultimately allowed the State of Israel to come into being, but also of articulating a vision of the exemplary society that he believed the Jewish state must strive to become." More than anything, Friedman says he wants to spark interest in Herzl rather than providing the public with a comprehensive learning experience. 'I'd like people to leave here informed but also wanting to know more about the man.' Friedman believes the museum is getting the job done. 'We get around 80,000 visitors here a year - that makes almost a quarter of a million people since the new place opened. Kids go home and tell their family and friends about Herzl, and tourists from abroad - who make up about 10 percent of visitors - go back to their countries and spread the word back home too. That makes for a lot of impact.' The cultural retro wave, still very much in vogue, presumably also helps to fuel interest in the Herzl Museum. However, Friedman believes the museum can proudly stand on its own two feet. 'Maybe we started the retro trend,' he proffers. 'Anyway, once you get to know something about Herzl and his work you can't help but be impressed. What he did is almost inconceivable. I'd like visitors to go away with at least some appreciation of that.' An additional objective, says Breakstone, "is giving the visitor a tremendous sense of pride in all that the Zionist enterprise has accomplished, but also the motivation to get involved in all that remains to be done." Judging by my trip through the audio-visual Herzl experience, the new museum achieves that with aplomb. For more information, visit: