Of the numerous socio-political movements to arise in the late 19th century, the Zionist movement had one of the most profound impacts on global culture. The father of the Zionist movement was a somewhat unlikely figure: the Budapest-born, Vienna-raised Theodor Herzl, who was brought up in a prosperous, non-religious Jewish family that had relatively little direct exposure to anti-Semitism. A mildly successful playwright and journalist, Herzl’s life changed in 1895 when he was a reporter covering the infamous Dreyfus Affair in Paris and the resonating anti-Semitic rage that it provoked across France. Herzl became convinced that the only way for Jews to deal with anti-Semitism was to remove themselves from European society and re-establish their own state in the Holy Land.
Richard Trank’s documentary covers Herzl’s life and his efforts to bring about a world Zionist movement. It was not an easy effort: Zionism was not unanimously embraced by worldwide Jewry and Herzl’s ideas were sometimes off-kilter (he had initially considered the possibility of Argentina as a location for a Jewish state, and he would later spark a furious debate within the movement over a British offer for a Jewish state in colonial Uganda). But Herzl’s indefatigable spirit and rich eloquence gave the movement a bold undercurrent of energy, and his influence became so great that he was greeted by royal heads and national leaders in Europe who were sympathetic and curious about his plans.
Trank’s film offers a wealth of rare photographs and compelling insight on how Zionism transformed the Jewish experience. Christoph Waltz provides the voice of Herzl and Sir Ben Kingsley offers a graceful narration. Anyone with a deep interest in Jewish history will appreciate this intelligent and well-produced endeavor.