The Most Politically Significant Meeting of Any Group of Jews in the Last 1,800 Years

The story of Theodor Herzl and the First Zionist Congress, convened 120 years ago on this date.

The First Zionist Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897.

The First Zionist Congress, held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897.

Observation
Aug. 23 2017
About the author

Daniel Polisar is the executive vice-president and a member of the faculty at Shalem College in Jerusalem.


Today, the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, marks the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress. That three-day gathering, convened by Theodor Herzl in the Swiss city of Basel on August 29, 1897, might well be the most politically significant meeting of any group of Jews during the last 1,800 years, and it was almost certainly the most important step on the road to establishing a modern Jewish state. The event, like the state it helped create, was also the most improbable of success stories; roundly opposed by the majority of opinion leaders in the Jewish world and viewed with skepticism even by many of the prominent Jewish nationalists who chose to attend, it could easily have failed at any point from when it was announced until the end of its final session.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Max Nordau, Theodor Herzl, Zionist history