An event marking the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress concluded on Monday evening (29 August) in Basel, Switzerland, with a gala ceremony which brought together more than 1,400 delegates from 40 countries.
On the one hand, the two-day conference celebrated how Theodor Herzl’s vision laid out on August 29, 1897 in Basel grew into the thriving reality of modern Israel, attendees said. On the other hand, the event moved away from setting a formal agenda or discussing specific policies.
The event was organized by the World Zionist Organization (WZO), the same group created at the first Zionist Congress.
At the first congress, 208 delegates from 17 countries voted to work together to establish “a public and legally secure home” for the Jewish people in Palestine.
“Herzl’s vision 125 years ago included not only the creation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, but also the creation of a model Zionist and leading society committed to creating a better world,” the president said. from the WZO, Yaakov Hagoel.
“Herzl’s vision spoke of the establishment of a Jewish leadership that would lead the Jews of the world to a national home, and exactly 50 years after the establishment of his dream, the State of Israel was created.”
Due to threats from pro-Palestinian protests, the Swiss government allocated more than five million Swiss francs to secure the event and closed the Rhine to sea traffic and airspace above for the duration of the conference. .
‘A breath of fresh air’
Ddelegates discussed implementing Herzl’s dream and their own vision for the Jewish people for the next 25 years.
The congress was divided into two parts: the Herzl Leadership Conference, which focused on modern Zionism in light of Herzl’s vision, and the Impact Conference, which brought together 125 entrepreneurs and innovators to share ideas on how to securing a Jewish future.
“This is a commemoration . . . not a meeting with resolutions or elections,” said Michael Jankelowitz, international spokesperson for WZO.
He said Yaakov Hagoel’s idea was to bring together Zionists from around the world “for something festive – to celebrate, have fun and discuss the future.”
He said the hope was that the event would give Jewish leaders “a boost” to continue fighting for the Jewish people.
“It was a breath of fresh air to come to an international conference where there were no fights, but people united with one goal: the Jewish people, Jewish unity.”
Jankelowitz said the Impact conference was standing room only.
A speech by businessman and philanthropist Sylvan Adams on the power of sport to unite Jews around the world was discussed in the halls for hours after it ended.
A discussion with Professor Isaac Ben-Israel about Israel’s impact in space was “very popular”, Jankelowitz said.
Building bridges between Israel and the Diaspora
Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern, director of the Jewish People Policy Institute, said “the spirit was very optimistic, despite the fact that many of us feel that Jewish identity outside of Israel is eroding.”
He warned that “Congress is a symbolic gathering where people talk. But we have to take the next step.
He underscored the urgent need for the American and Israeli Jewish communities to work together more effectively. “Many of us believe that the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora is about to change.”
If in the past Israel was a needy country, today it is an economic superpower, he said. If American Jews considered Israel the core of their identity, today about 40% of young North American Jews do not consider Israel important to who they are.
He believes it is Israel’s responsibility to take the first steps towards supporting the Diaspora by providing affordable Jewish education abroad.
Israel must also play a role in ensuring that Jewish life can thrive in the Diaspora, for example by opposing government policies that prohibit the basic needs of Jews, such as ritual slaughter or circumcision.
Finally, he said it was crucial for Israel to educate Israel’s younger generation about Diaspora Jews.
“We speak very well of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. But we are only talking about Israelis and not about a nation. We must teach the Jewish nation.
He said the reason the WZO is essential is that Diaspora Jews do not vote for the Israeli Knesset and therefore their interests are “not at the heart of Israeli politics.
“We need a new Herzl and a new Zionist Congress, not for the purpose of establishing a state or defining an identity, but to instill the spirit of Jewish solidarity and brotherhood in an era of strife .”
“We have different visions of the future and each vision has its merit,” he continued.
“Conflicts make us a dynamic and rich society. But we need someone, a movement, a person, who will teach us to live together despite the arguments.
David Yaari, chairman of the Kol Israel faction, expressed similar sentiments.
“Just as Basel was a place to declare what would lead to the founding of the State of Israel, here we have the opportunity to bring together leaders from around the world to imagine the next 125 years. will be concrete next steps that can reinvigorate the Zionist movement globally.