“If you will it, it is no dream.”
That famous quote from Theodor Herzl’s 1902 book Old New Land is perhaps one of the founder of modern Zionism’s most oft-cited phrases.
Yet according to the man himself, the dream of a Jewish homeland was already an inevitability five years earlier, writing in his diary a few days after the First Zionist Congress – the 125th anniversary of which was marked earlier this week – “At Basel, I founded the Jewish state.”
For it was at Basel, on August 29 and 30, 1897, that delegates established the goal “to secure for the Jewish people a publicly recognised, legally assured homeland in Palestine”.
Everything else, the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo Conference, the British Mandate and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 – was a result of events stemming from that moment.
As proud Jews and Zionists, it is important for us to mark the anniversary in order to remember where the miracle began. But it is equally important as we look to the future.
Israel’s achievements in its relatively short existence are nothing short of remarkable. Its pioneers defended the fledgling state from five armies sworn to its destruction. They took a desert and made it bloom. They revived an ancient language. They built a state from the ground up.
Israel has become a haven for our people, absorbing millions of Jews from around the world. It has shone as a beacon of democracy in a region fraught with totalitarianism. It is a technological marvel bringing light to the world.
Surrounded by hostile neighbours, it has extended its hand for peace, achieving treaties with Egypt, Jordan and more recently the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Yet there is more to achieve. Peace with a number of other nations is still elusive. In international fora, on Western campuses and on social media, Israel’s name is smeared.
Within Israel itself, societal divisions are growing wider, with extremist candidates growing in popularity ahead of November elections.
But as Herzl demonstrated, nothing is insurmountable. Within Israel, and here in the Diaspora, we all have the power to overcome any challenges so the Jewish state may continue to thrive.
For if we will it, it is no dream.