“If you will it, it is no dream.” These are the famous words of Theodor Herzl born May 1860, and this, one of my favorite sayings, kept me going through many hard times.
According to David Matlow, a collector of more than 6,000 items of Herzl memorabilia, the phrase should probably read “If you will it, want it badly enough, and work for it, it is no dream.”
In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, a part of the collection has come west. Until June 1st, some of the artifacts that recall Herzl’s connection with the state will be at Adat Ariel Synagogue and then from the beginning of June through the high holidays, the exhibit will go to the Chicago area to be hosted at Temple Am Shalom in Glencoe, Ill.
Admission is free at the synagogues during the times when they are open but due to security measures, you must make an appointment beforehand. The Herzl Exhibit at Adat AriEl is part of The Israel at 75 celebrations entitled MyIsrael75 produced by Craig Taubman and the Pico Union Project with the support of Judy and Tom Flesh, Jewish Community Foundation, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Pico Shul, Adat Ari El, Stand With Us and Sinai Temple.
A prominent Austro-Hungarian Jewish lawyer, journalist, playwright, and political activist, Theodor Herzl is considered the father of modern Zionism. Founding the Zionist Organization, he promoted his plan in an effort to form the Jewish state.
Living in Austria, Herzl experienced his share of antisemitism and in fact, could not become a judge there because he was Jewish and so he quit law. Becoming a journalist for the Viennese newspaper, Neue Freie Presse, Herzl covered the Dreyfus trial – where Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish captain in the French army, was falsely convicted of selling military secrets to the Germans and many years later absolved when the real traitor was convicted – and saw the extreme attitudes attacking Dreyfus.
This was a turning point for Herzl when he realized that no matter where the Jews lived unless we had a homeland of our own – what is now Israel – we would not be safe. Concluding the Jews lived on borrowed time, he wrote – “We have sincerely tried everywhere to merge with the national communities on which we live, seeking only to preserve the faith of our fathers. It is not permitted to us. In our native lands where we have lived for centuries, we are still decried as aliens often by men whose ancestors had not come at a time when Jewish sighs had long been heard in the country. Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland.
“Whatever we attempt there will be beneficial to the good for all of mankind.”
After the Dreyfus trial, he devoted his time to promoting a place for Jews to call their own. In this homeland, he saw women having equal voting rights, an outrageous idea for the early 1900s, and a place where everyone could come. He envisioned free education, free medical care, free elections, a 7-hour workday, free press and communal farming where everyone participates based on their talents and no one has a leg up.
His book, Der Judenstaat, (The State of the Jews) elaborated his vision and attracted international attention. In 1897 he convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, and began a series of diplomatic initiatives to build support for a Jewish state appealing to German Emperor Wilhelm II, and Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II.
At the 6th Zionist Congress in 1903, he presented the Uganda Scheme which was endorsed by the British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain. That, however, was met with strong opposition since the Bible always claimed that area called Palestine by the British Mandate and the city of Jerusalem were sacred to the Hebrews. (The 38th Congress just ended a few weeks ago.)
A bank – the Jewish Colonial Trust – that was approved at the Second Zionist Congress in 1898 morphed into Bank Leumi.
His last literary work, Altneuland (The Old New Land) published in 1902 was a romance novel centered around Zionism. He envisioned the Jewish state to combine Jewish culture with the best of European heritage, a place where international disputes could be arbitrated and while Hebrew would be the main language spoken, he expected a melting pot of many tongues with all non-Jews having equal rights.
To Herzl, Israel would be a cross between capitalism and socialism, a system he called mutualism.
His doctors told him to slow down but he was desperate to find an answer to antisemitism. It was his efforts that started the ball rolling even though he died in 1904 and did not live to see the state established.
Herzl wanted to create something and not just write it up.
Matlow’s first inspiration to collect Herzl memorabilia started when he was in seventh grade. His Zionistic grandparents, originally from Belarus, then in Toronto, moved to a home in Ramat Gan and left him a portrait of Herzl. He loved the idea that as Jews we would not be subject to the whims of the local Czar or police, attacked in pogroms, and that the homeland would protect us.
David Matlow loved the idea that Herzl understood that marketing and symbols were needed to push the desire forward. “Herzl was a marketing genius and there were forks, knives, pocket watches, ice tongs, and many other items bearing his likeness and keeping the dream alive.”
Shortly after he acquired the famous posed picture of Herzl posing as he overlooked Basel and the Rhine River. Matlow’s one-person initiative, which he calls The Herzl Project, is to use his collection to educate people and inspire them to pursue their dreams and act for the betterment of mankind.
“Herzl’s message is not just for a Jewish homeland but aspiring to have a better future for all.” Herzl is remembered in many things – not only objects, but schools, summer camps, roads, mountains, and hospitals that bear his name. Even in schools where there are no Jewish children, those there, like this one in Chicago, teaches the students what Herzl said: “Educate yourself and make the world a better place.” The place is now called the “Theodor Herzl’s School for Excellence.”
On his website Herzl Collection one can find a 50-page hardcover book “Collecting the Dream” that talks about Matlow’s collection in depth which currently has 6,000 items in it. He also did a six-part series for the American Zionist movement and Canada’s Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs to educate people about Herzl’s work and inspire others to make a better future for all.
He also has another book for Israel’s 75th with 75 treasures of the collection. This is available for visitors to download for free from the site.
A whole room of his home and much of his basement is dedicated to the collection and people are welcome to come and see the exhibit with a prior phone call. Often Israeli government members from the Knesset or Ministry of Foreign Affairs will come research and see the exhibit or read some of the original documents that David has found.
David Matlow, himself, is a corporate and private equity lawyer at Goodmans LLP (Toronto) and past Chair of the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto. He is currently the chair of the Ontario Jewish Archives and a member of the board of the iCenter for Israel Education. His collection is the largest private exhibit of Herzl memorabilia, which he believes is a national treasure in his care only temporarily. “If someone has a place to exhibit it publicly, where people can learn from it and show it off, I’d love to hear from them.”