On July 3, Hebrew date כ בתמוז, is Herzl’s yahrzeit. Truly, a sad day for the Jewish people at the time in 1904 and now, an important and inspirational day on the Zionist calendar.
Herzl was buried in Vienna, Austria in 1904. However, he was so confident that a Jewish state would one day be established that he requested in his will to be buried in a metal coffin so that it would be easy to transport his body to Israel.
There were attempts to move Herzl’s remains right away. However, the outbreak of WWI and then WWII halted the mission. Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and then the annexation of Austria made it difficult for the thousands of Austrian and European Jews to continue their annual pilgrimage to Herzl’s grave in Vienna on his Yahrzeit. Nevertheless, the custom continued in secret, including memorials and processions in the cemetery.
44 years after his death, in 1948, his dream for a Jewish state was realized and one year later, in 1949, his request was finally fulfilled.
Herzl’s final journey from Vienna to Jerusalem was planned to the tee. In a complex operation, Herzl’s grave was opened in Vienna and his remains, as well as his family members, were transferred to Israel. Military planes accompanied the El Al plane that transported the coffin to the shores of Israel. The burial procession began in Ben Gurion Airport, passed through Tel Aviv, and then reached its final destination on Mount Herzl.
About 250,000 people participated in the various events, a fifth of the Israeli population at the time. In Haifa, white doves were released when the planes passed over the city. In Tel Aviv, rabbis remained near the coffin throughout the night and recited parts of the mishnah and psalms; their prayers were broadcasted on loudspeakers. Upon entering Jerusalem, the casket passed under an honorary arch bearing the biblical verse from Ezekiel the Prophet: “I will lift you from your graves. My people, I bring you to the Land of Israel.” This quote also adorned his coffin drape along with a quote from Psalms, “Those who sow in tears, will reap with joy,” symbolizing Herzl’s personal sacrifice for the Jewish people.
At last, on Mount Herzl, his casket was buried under soil brought in white silk bags from all over Israel to metaphorically bury him in and with every part of Israel. The citizens present at the gravesite then pledged “If I forget Jerusalem, let my right hand whither.” A line which originated from the Jewish people during the Babylonian Exile, which went on to become a famous motif in the diaspora: a quote even Herzl recited during the Uganda Crisis at the 6th Zionist Congress.
June 3 has passed and כ בתמוז is fast approaching. Services are held yearly at his grave sight on Mount Herzl and are attending by the Israeli prime minister and president. There, they will commemorate a revolutionary person, who dared to do the unimaginable.
“If you will it, it is no dream.” — Theodor Herzl