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Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader, featuring historian and author Derek Penslar


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In a webinar held April 28, Derek Penslar, the William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard University and an eminent historian of Zionism, presented some of the findings of his new biography of Theodor Herzl, the founder of the modern Zionist movement. The book draws on a vast body of Herzl's personal, literary, and political writings. Professor Penslar then discussed the book with David Myers, the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History at UCLA. Professor Dov Waxman, Director of the Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, welcomed the two historians and led audience Q&A.

About the Book

Author and historian Derek Penslar discussed his new book, Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader (Yale University Press, 2020). He answered a number of questions about a visionary man sometimes referred to as the father of modern political Zionism.

The author discussed Herzl's remarkable life promoting political Zionism on the international stage. In 1896, Herzl published a political pamphlet titled The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat), that envisioned creation of the future independent Jewish state. Herzl wrote: "Let the sovereignty be granted us over a portion of the globe large enough to satisfy the rightful requirements of a nation; the rest we shall manage for ourselves."

Herzl's proposal was in response to the persecution, violence and frequent pogroms against Jews in his native Europe. While living in Paris, he witnessed anti-Semitism in France and came to conclude that Europeans would never fully accept Jews, so the solution was an independent Jewish state. He argued for Jewish national sovereignty in Palestine, "our ever-memorable historic home," but was open to other geographical locations, including Argentina.

Originally recorded April 28, 2020.


About the Participants

Derek Penslar (featured speaker) is the William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard University, and is the author of Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader (Yale University Press, 2020). His research specialities are the history of modern European Jewry, Zionism, and the State of Israel.

Penslar also has taught at Indiana University, the University of Toronto, and at Oxford University, where he served as the inaugural Stanley Lewis Professor of Modern Israel Studies. He is co-editor of The Journal of Israeli History and president of the American Academy for Jewish Research and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. A native of California, Penslar earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Penslar's previous books include Zionism and Technocracy: The Engineering of Jewish Settlement in Palestine1870-1918 (1991, Hebrew version 2001); In Search of Jewish Community: Jewish Identities in Germany and Austria, 1918-1933 (co-edited with Michael Brenner, 1998); Shylock’s Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe (2001); Orientalism and the Jews (co-edited with Ivan Kalmar, 2004), Israel in History: The Jewish State in Comparative Perspective (2006); The Origins of the State of Israel 1882-1948: A Documentary History (with Eran Kaplan, 2011), and Jews and the Military: A History (2013). He is currently working on another book titled, Zionism: An Emotional State, for Rutgers University Press' series on Keywords in Jewish Studies.

David Myers holds the Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History at UCLA, where he also serves as the director of the Luskin Center for History and Policy. He previously served as chair of the UCLA History Department (2010-2015) and as director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies (1996-2000 and 2004-2010).

Myers has written extensively in the fields of modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history. He has authored Re-Inventing the Jewish Past: European Jewish Intellectuals and the Zionist Return to History (1995), Resisting History: Historicism and its Discontents in German-Jewish Thought (2003), Between Jew and Arab: The Lost Voice of Simon Rawidowicz (2008), Jewish History: A Very Short Introduction (2017), and The Stakes of History: On the Use and Abuse of Jewish History for Life (2018).

Since 2003, he has served as co-editor of the Jewish Quarterly Review. Myers is an elected fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research and the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities. He earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University.