Opinion | Paying Tribute to Theodor Herzl’s Yahrzeit

Theodor Herzl
Theodor Herzl (Herzl.gif from the National Photo Collection of Israel licensed under public domain)

By Jacob Karlovsky

All across the world, young Jews are regularly told to be leaders — whether by their parents, their teachers or their community peers. They are expected to inspire and influence future generations. Yet in today’s world, it’s tougher than ever to identify true leadership; it is a world defined by division and confusion, and young people must bear the consequences of it.

Educators and community leaders are the crucial element to reaching today’s youth and inspiring them to open their minds and hearts to the lessons of Jewish history and leadership, and to the dream of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. The goal is to teach them to embrace true leadership in the spirit of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement and the modern embodiment of what it means to be a dreamer in a world where anti-Semitism is as rampant as ever.

It was with this shared mission in mind that the Israel Forever Foundation has just announced an innovative effort to inspire today’s youth to consider fundamental issues that touch on the nerve of Jewish peoplehood, patriotism and the endless struggle for Jewish rights.

The “My Herzl International Youth Essay Competition,” launched in honor of the anniversary of Theodor Herzl’s passing, is a call for teens ages 13 to 17 throughout the Jewish world to use their voice to outline their vision as the continuation of Herzl’s dream.

The visionaries behind this creative-writing initiative emphasize that the goal of the competition is to revive understanding and awareness of the essential elements of leadership that was the impetus for the reestablishment of a Jewish sovereignty in its ancestral homeland. In a movement that inspired millions of Jews worldwide and changed the course of Jewish history, this approach to inspiring engagement with the lessons of the past is more important today than ever.

With the deadline for submissions on Nov. 29, the anniversary of the U.N. Vote for the Partition of Palestine and the near final step towards statehood for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, the top prize will be a trip to Israel, where the winner will present his or her essay at the 2020 World Zionist Congress, the very organization founded by Herzl himself in his pursuit of a Jewish state. The winning essay will also be shared globally as an inspiration to fellow young Jews, hopefully also by educators and community leaders as a reminder of just how important it is to garner youthful interest in issues relating to what some might consider an irrelevant past.

By giving youth the opportunity to use their voice and take pride in innovative ideas, as Israel Forever believes, the competition allows them to reflect on Jewish history and think creatively about the future of world Jewry, while simultaneously improving their own writing skills.

But most importantly, according to the foundation, it helps them get a sense of true leadership and explore how Jewish history relates to their own personal lives and identities.

Jacob Karlovsky, a Phoenix native, is a student at the University of Pennsylvania and a contributing writer for the Israel Forever Foundation. This piece also appeared on JNS.org. To learn more about the youth essay competition, visit israelforever.org.


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