120th Anniversary of the First Zionist Congress

It has been 120 years since the First Zionist Congress was convened by Theodor Herzl in Basel, Switzerland. Jewish representatives of various Zionist societies from 17 countries were among the approximately 200 people who participated in the event.

These disparate groups and individuals were galvanised together to form the World Zionist Organisation, dedicated to the establishment of “a home for the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael secured under public law”.
The convening of the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 was a visionary act spear-headed by a visionary leader, Theodore Herzl.

Jewish representatives of various Zionist societies from 17 countries were among the approximately 200 people who participated in the event. These disparate groups and individuals were galvanised together to form the World Zionist Organisation, dedicated to the establishment of “a home for the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael secured under public law”. Hatikvah was adopted as the movement’s anthem, and is now the national anthem of Israel.

“The event was all the more remarkable given that most Jews at the time were opposed to, or sceptical of, the idea of a return of the Jewish people to their historic homeland as an organised political community,” said ECAJ Executive Director Peter Wertheim.

“Herzl foresaw that the march of history would bring about a reversal of those attitudes.”

At the conclusion of the Congress Herzl wrote, “At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”

Exactly fifty years later, as Herzl had predicted, the United Nations General Assembly voted to endorse the establishment of a Jewish state in what is now Israel.
“From this we learn that a just cause faithfully served by even a small number of dedicated people, led by courageous, intelligent and principled leaders, can overcome any hurdle,” Wertheim said.

As Herzl also wrote: “If you will it, it is no dream”.

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