By Matti Friedman, June 3, 2021

We know Theoder Herzl was a writer who, in forming the Zionist Organization, pulled together the always-active dream of a Jewish return to Zion with the political means to implement such a plan. His organization didn’t happen by chance but was the consummation of seeing — after a period of successful absorption into the larger society — yet again the deterioration of the position of the Jews in society. In this essay, Matti Friedman drives home a point nervous Jews don’t often make; namely, how similar Herzl’s disintegrating social environment of the late 19th century was to ours. Then as now, Jews assimilated into the larger society, although approval came easier if the Jews spoke disparagingly of Judaism. It was when Herzl was in France, where a Jewish French army office named Dreyfus was accused of spying for Germany, a crime those in the know knew was committed by someone else, that the years of observation and unease coalesced and Herzl decided that leaving a more and more malignant Europe and returning to Zion where they could re-create a Jewish state and work the land, was the way to end attacks on the Jews. I find it fascinating that although he could not foreseen Israel’s impact on medicine and technology, Herzl wrote in his book Der Judenstaat what we are already seeing in Israel, “The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.”

AUTHOR: Matti Friedman is a columnist and the author, most recently, of Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel.

This article was published June 3, 2021 by Tablet Magazine and is archived at

It is archived at Think-Israel at