The Herzl Museum provides a hands-on encounter with the image of Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl and his Zionist vision. During the tour we accompany Herzl along the major milestones of his life, conducting a constant dialogue with the world then and our own, contemporary reality.
Audio-visual screens present pictures from Herzl’s life, interwoven with documents and original photos. Because of Herzl’s love of writing and the theater, the story of the visionary of the Jewish state and the Zionist movement is presented alongside a theatrical film that accompanies the exhibit. During the film, noted Israeli director Micha Levinson casts a promising young actor (Lior Michaeli) to play the part of Herzl. Levinson encourages the actor to become more familiar with the visionary of the Jewish state, so that his portrayal will be both impressive and realistic.
“Who needs to act?” wonders Michaeli at first. “All I need (to play Herzl) is a beard and a balcony!” But the director makes it clear that if he wants to fill Herzl’s shoes, he needs to understand the concept, the idea and the vision of the founder of Zionism.
During the film we join the actor on his journey to crystallize the figure he is supposed to portray. Slowly he is exposed to Herzl’s world, to the social patterns of his era, his innermost feelings, the force of his principles and the determination with which he acted. We, along with the actor, gain an intimate view of the visionary of the Jewish state, and observe a fascinating dialogue between “the real Herzl” from the past and the “fictional Herzl” of today.
The Museum is divided into four rooms that describe the changes Herzl underwent during his lifetime, beginning with his early life as a bourgeois European faithful to his Austro-Hungarian heritage and the Viennese culture of the 19th century, to his becoming a sophisticated statesman who works and totally devotes himself to fulfilling the vision of establishing an independent Jewish state in the land of Eretz Israel.
The Museum is divided into four exhibition rooms, outlining the changes that took place during Herzl’s life.
In the first room the actor encounters an anti-Semitic incident at a Viennese café during the 19th century. Later, we observe the Dreyfus Trial, and witness the shocking scene when the Jewish officer has his captain’s rank ripped from his uniform and his sword broken in half, as the angry crowd chants: “Death to the Jews!”
This trial had a tremendous impact on Herzl. We will attempt to understand his complex feelings and we will share his sense of commitment to his Jewish brethren who suffered horrible riots, repeated insults, and growing frustration. In this way we will understand the circumstances that led Herzl to write his famous Der Judenstaat, and we will learn about the factors that made him work so hard for his people and led him to establish the Zionist movement in the hope of guaranteeing a stable solution to their distress, and to solve the problem of anti-Semitism.
The room is designed to look like the hall in which the various Zionist Congress meetings took place in Basel, the first of which was held in 1897. A skilled staff of workers toiled for three years to recreate the original auditorium, paying scrupulous attention to the smallest details. In this section we will see the preparations for the First Zionist Congress, the excitement that was felt by its participants – especially Herzl, and we will study the subsequent Congresses that were held in Basel during Herzl’s lifetime and the different issues and disputes that were raised.
In addition, we will hear about Herzl’s diplomatic efforts to gain an international charter to establish a Jewish state. As we join him on his journeys to Eretz Israel and throughout Europe we will meet the principal leaders at that time, such as the German Kaiser, the Turkish Sultan and Lord Chamberlain from England.
We have now entered Herzl’s study. The furniture from his office, including the desk at which he sat and wrote Der Judenstaat, underwent a lengthy restoration process that helped to preserve the original room. Also exhibited here are Herzl’s personal belongings – diaries, certificates and pictures, postcards he sent, writing implements and even his cigarette case.
In this room we will be with Herzl during his final moments. We will learn about Herzl’s tragic death at the young age of only 44 years old, and we will see a moving film showing how his remains were brought to Israel for burial.
“If you will it, it is not a dream” wrote Herzl when he dreamt of an independent Jewish state, which was perceived then as something that was difficult, perhaps even impossible, to achieve. Now, more than 100 years after his death, we will sit in the Museum’s last room and see how the actor, who dons Herzl’s image, stands before an impressive panoramic screen and looks at the achievements of the Jewish state on the one hand, and the difficult issues that have been part of our lives in the Jewish state, on the other hand.
“If you will it, it is merely a dream.” The room leaves with us many points for further thought regarding our future: How do we preserve Herzl’s legacy in our own day? What are the values we want to promote? What have we accomplished, and what challenges still remain before us? How will we face them? Even after the film it isn’t over, it is only “the end.” Visitors can continue to discuss these questions at the conclusion of their visit to the Museum, through the various workshops and tours the Herzl Center has to offer.