What Zionism Did for Herzl

Though he was blessed with extraordinary charisma, Herzl was filled with inner turmoil. In Zionism, he found a calling that stabilized his fragile persona.

Theodor Herzl and other Viennese Zionists in the Cafe Louvre in 1896. Imagno/Getty Images.

Theodor Herzl and other Viennese Zionists in the Cafe Louvre in 1896. Imagno/Getty Images.

Response
Jan. 11 2021
About the author

Derek J. Penslar is the William Lee Frost professor of Jewish history at Harvard University. His books include Zionism and TechnocracyIn Search of Jewish Community, and, most recently Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader.

Rick Richman describes the story of Theodor Herzl as a “mystery.” Was it? To some degree we are all mysteries. No human can ever fully understand another—or, for that matter, him or herself. Herzl was a particularly complicated man whose neuroses were commensurate with his talents. But complexity is the opposite of mystery—it is an invitation to empirical investigation and a caution not to take our subject’s self-presentation, or his perception by others, at face value.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Theodor Herzl