Tag Archives: Hungarian Jews

Jew of the Week: Theodor Herzl

Israel’s “Spiritual” Founding Father

Theodor Herzl

Theodor Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl (1860-1904) was born in what is now Budapest, Hungary to Ashkenazi Jewish parents with mixed Sephardic heritage. He was a descendant of the great Spanish rabbi and kabbalist Yosef Taitazak. Herzl first wished to be a scientist and engineer, then switched to law and journalism. In his youth, he was ashamed of the many impoverished and uneducated Jews in Hungary, and was inspired by the Germans whom he felt were the most civilized and cultured of peoples. During his time at the University of Vienna, he was a member of a German nationalist club, but left because of their rampant anti-Semitism. After a brief law career, Herzl became a journalist for a Viennese paper. In 1894, he was sent to cover the Dreyfus Affair where a French-Jewish military officer was falsely accused of treason by anti-Semites, and heard the masses chant “Death to the Jews”. While this is often cited as the moment that awoke him to the plight of the Jews, a more likely factor was what happened at the same time back home in Vienna. The virulently anti-Semitic Kart Lueger was elected mayor – this was the man whom Hitler would later credit as being his major inspiration. Although Herzl once believed that Jews should assimilate and become Germans, he soon realized that the Germans were not as civilized as he thought, and that the Jew would never be accepted in European society. Immersing himself in Jewish and early Zionist literature (especially the work of the great Sephardic rabbi and mystic Yehuda Alkali), he came to understand that the only solution for the Jews was not to abandon their heritage, but to embrace it forcefully and return to their Promised Land (or some other land if that didn’t work). He wrote: “Zionism is first and foremost a return to Judaism.”

Herzl got to work and drafted Der Judenstaat, his manual for “The Jewish State”. It was published in early 1896 and quickly became a bestseller. Meanwhile, Herzl succeeded in arranging a meeting with the German emperor, injecting a huge boost of credibility to his campaign. The following month, Der Judenstaat was published in English, and a month after that Herzl met with the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire, who awarded him a medal. Herzl continued traveling, speaking, and meeting with dignitaries and Jewish communities. In 1897 he spent much of his own savings to found a Zionist newspaper and to organize the First Zionist Congress, where he was elected its president. It should be noted that Herzl had many opponents, including assimilated Western European Jews, those that had entered the European nobility, most of the wealthy Jews and bankers who lived in Europe comfortably, as well as the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who distrusted his secular leadership. Nonetheless, he charged onwards, believing that “The Jews who wish for a State will have it.” Herzl continued negotiating with the British, the Turks, and the Russians. He traveled to Israel for the first time in 1898, and once more met the German emperor there for discussions. He also traveled to Russia to try to ease the plight of the Jews and end the pogroms. Meanwhile, he worked on a novel to describe his vision more romantically, and published Altneuland in 1902, which also became a bestseller. When translated into Hebrew by Nahum Sokolow, he chose to title the book Tel Aviv, based on a verse from the Tanakh (Ezekiel 3:15). The name would, of course, later be adopted for Israel’s largest city. Herzl met with the Pope in early 1904, famously refusing to kneel before him or kiss his hand as was required. The Pope refused to help the Jews unless they all converted to Christianity, which Herzl quickly rejected. The meeting lasted less than a half hour. (The next Pope would reverse the Church’s position in 1917 and support the Zionist cause.) Herzl had been battling a heart condition for quite a while, and unfortunately succumbed to it in the summer of 1904. He didn’t live to see his dream fulfilled, but on the 5th of Iyar in 1948, the State of Israel became a reality, with David Ben-Gurion proclaiming the rebirth of an independent Jewish state in the Holy Land, with a portrait of Herzl behind him. The city of Herzliya in Israel is named after him, and the 10th of Iyar (next Wednesday), is a minor holiday in Israel called Herzl Day. Happy Yom Ha’Atzmaut!

A Secret History of Zionism

Words of the Week

…I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence. The Maccabees will rise again… We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes. 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.
– Theodor HerzlDer Judenstaat

Jew of the Week: Tribich Lincoln

The Unbelievable Story of a Jew Who Almost Became the Dalai Lama

Lincoln as "Chao Kung"

Lincoln as “Chao Kung”

Trebitsch Ignácz (1879-1943) was born in the shtetl of Paks, in Hungary. The family moved to Budapest when he was a child, and after finishing school, he enrolled in an acting academy. By this point, Ignácz had left his Orthodox Jewish roots, and would often get in trouble with the police. At 18, he ventured to London and made friends with Christian missionaries. Ignácz converted two years later and was off to a seminary in Germany where he became a reverend. He was sent on missionary duty to Montreal, but didn’t last very long there, and returned to England. He changed his name to Ignatius Timothy Tribich Lincoln, or I.T.T. Lincoln, and got his British citizenship in 1909. He met the Archbishop of Canterbury (the head of the Church of England) who appointed Lincoln to be a parish priest in Kent. There, he met the millionaire politician Seebohm Rowntree, who made Lincoln his personal secretary. Somehow, Lincoln managed to get on a Liberal Party ticket and was elected to the British Parliament in 1910 in an upset victory over the favoured incumbent. However, MPs were not paid at the time, and Lincoln was soon bankrupt. He moved to Romania and started an oil business. When the business failed, he moved back to London and applied to become a British spy. The British rejected him, so he went to the Germans and was hired as a double agent. Lincoln traveled to the US, but then the Germans didn’t want him either, so he revealed his story to a magazine, and then had a book written about him. The book was popular enough that the British government was embarrassed by the whole thing, and had him extradited for fraud. Lincoln spent three years in prison. After this, he returned to Germany and rose through the ranks of various right-wing parties, at one point even meeting Hitler. Later on, he sold government secrets and was deported for treason. Lincoln now headed to China. After working for a number of Chinese warlords, Lincoln apparently had a revelation and converted to Buddhism. He became a monk and quickly rose to the high rank of abbot by 1931, at which point he founded his own Buddhist monastery under his new name, Chao Kung. In 1937, he became a spy for Japan, but at the same time seemed to assist Japan’s enemy, China. During World War II, Lincoln reconnected with the Nazis and offered to raise Buddhist support for them. When the 13th Dalai Lama passed away, Lincoln proclaimed himself the new Dalai Lama! Despite strong support from the Japanese, the Tibetans rejected his claim. Lincoln passed away in Shanghai not too long after. While some think he was a crazy adventurer who dangerously played both sides of every conflict to even the odds, others think he was a smooth-talking con artist who was simply exploring the limits of his acting abilities – and perhaps even surprised himself at how far he could go. It seems his only redeeming quality came at the end of his life: Lincoln protested the Holocaust and wrote a strongly-worded letter to Hitler to end the terror. Hitler requested that the Japanese have Lincoln poisoned, and this was likely the cause of his sudden death in 1943.

Words of the Week

People think of education as something they can finish.
– Isaac Asimov