Imaginary strolls with Herzl

By Martin Gilbert, October 10, 2008

Many books have been written about the history of Zionism and the creation of Israel. Bernard Zissman's Herzl's Journey: Conversations with a Zionist Legend (Devora, £14.95) is one of the most readable. Taking as his method a series of imaginary meetings and conversations with Theodor Herzl, the champion of political Zionism, Zissman reveals many facets of the long Zionist struggle and brings us into the present day with considerable skill.

One of the most successful devices is the author's conversations with Herzl after the latter's death in 1904. Zissman takes the Zionist leader into the troubles and triumphs of Zionism right up to and beyond the creation of the Jewish state.

In 1902, in the book Old-New Land, two years before his death, Herzl set out his vision of the future, with Jerusalem as the centre of a global, medical and scientific endeavour "for all kinds of charitable and social ventures where work is done not only for Jewish land and Jewish people, but for other lands and peoples too.... Wherever in the world a catastrophe occurs - earthquake, flood, famine, drought, epidemic - the stricken country telegraphs to this centre for help."

This vision so inspired the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that when he was in Jerusalem this July, he repeated it to the Israeli parliament, and went on to propose "a global citizenship corps". In a promise that Zissman will surely report to Herzl at their next meeting, Brown pledged 1,000 British participants to this corps.

Zissman's own story, which Herzl asks him to recount, is also of great interest, relating his journey from a wartime boyhood in Birmingham to his becoming Lord Mayor of the city.

Last updated: 2:54pm, October 10 2008