It is a kaleidoscope of traits that makes the modern State of Israel a miracle, each and every day, just like Herzl himself was a study in contrasts.
Two Hebrew words come to mind when a native Israeli like me gazes around at the charming Swiss town of Basel where Theodor Herzl established the Jewish state.
Those words are: “Ma HaKesher??” What’s the connection? What links these things – that seem so unrelated and uncanny? Why did Herzl have to come to Basel, of all places, so that we, the Jewish people, could return to Zion? What do these elegant cafés and churches have to do with the souks and synagogues of the Middle East? The cool River Rhine with the blazing Mediterranean coast?
And if you think the contrast is stark today, when Israel is booming and blooming – just imagine how things seemed 125 years ago, when it was a sleepy desert corner of the Ottoman empire. But the contrast is the point. Herzl worked a miracle in this town. And miracles are all about contrast – because they defy and transform reality.
Herzl himself was a study in contrasts: A secular Jew doubling as a bearded prophet. A playwright, taking center-stage in an epic drama without a script. A statesman for a state not yet created. A troubled soul with rock–solid commitment to the cause. A visionary and a pragmatist. That kaleidoscope of traits helped Herzl win over world leaders – as well as the Jewish philanthropists and chief rabbis who resisted his Zionist designs.
And it is a kaleidoscope of traits that makes the modern State of Israel a miracle, each and every day: Its optimism against the odds; its fight for peace; its profoundly diverse people, united by profound destiny; its pride in being so self-critical, its traditions and innovations.
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