A tour of Zionist history through Jerusalem's landmarks
Even though the State of Israel was born generations after the founding of the contemporary Jewish nationalism movement, Jerusalem is filled with landmarks, memorials and museums connected to Zionism’s most important figures.
The yearning for Zion stretches back to the books of the Bible and has inspired poetry and prophecy for centuries. But the modern quest to found and shape a self-governing Jewish state - located among the ancient hills, valleys, plains and seas - is of much more recent vintage. The Zionist movement rose out of 19th century Europe, where secular Jews adopted the push for a Jewish homeland in Palestine in response to both assimilation and rising anti-Semitism.
Jerusalem, the Zion of the Biblical age, was a focal point of the Zionist movement. Generations of Jews had lived in Jerusalem. The city still inspires passionate responses, with stirring psalms, songs and poems declaimed in its name. As the 20th century moved on, the British crown also adopted Jerusalem as its capital for the Mandate government, and since independence in 1948, Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel.
There are memorials and museums to some of Zionism's major players in the capital, but, on closer inspection, every street sign is a tribute to the hard work (and sometimes uphill battles) of the Zionist movement. To experience the people and places of Jerusalem touched by Zionist history, read on for some suggestions.
Jerusalem landmarks associated with Theodor Herzl
Although he was neither the first nor the only European Zionist, Theodor Herzl became the single most recognizable figure in the movement. An educated and assimilated Jew, the 1894 Dreyfus affair changed Herzl's attitude about the safety of Jews in Europe; he became determined to establish a secure homeland in Palestine. Herzl was the chair of the first Zionist Congress in 1897.
In Jerusalem, the military cemetery (politicians and Zionist achievers are also buried here) is on a mountain that bears his name. Hauntingly full for such a young state, the cemetery (pictured) is a somber reminder of the sacrifices made to achieve the Zionist dream.
It is open to the public - though funerals and memorial ceremonies take place on short notice - and it is loosely pided by era. Herzl was re-interred here in 1949, 45 years after his death.
At the entrance to Mount Herzl is the Herzl Museum, a small facility (pictured) where his life and achievements are encapsulated.
In a quirkier remembrance, you can enjoy a meal at the restaurant named Herzl. Located within sight of the Old City walls, this contemporary grill is located in the Stern House, where Herzl stayed during an 1898 visit to then-Palestine.
Jerusalem landmarks associated with other Zionist forefathers
While Herzl worked in Europe to bring his vision to life, other important Zionist figures spent time and money in the land itself to establish institutions and culture, while physically building places for future generations to live.
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda's vision was to unite Jews from all over the world, in the land of Palestine, using the Hebrew language. Through his hard work - and unwavering insistence that his family and friends address him in Hebrew - he transformed the land from a virtual Babel to a Hebrew-speaking one. He wrote a dictionary, founded a newspaper and set the state for modern Israel to express herself. There is no museum in his honor, but you can catch a glimpse of his home in Jerusalem.
Boris Schatz, a visual artist (pictured), turned his back on his Lithuanian legacy of scholarship and instead devoted himself both to the arts and to achieving a strong Jewish presence in the Jews' homeland of Palestine.
He founded and tirelessly fundraised abroad for Jerusalem's Bezalel School, which he named after the first artist mentioned in the Bible. Although the school opened and closed more than once due to lack of funds and government interventions, after his death it grew into the vibrant, top-tier art academy it is today. At the site of the original Bezalel campus is the Jerusalem Artists House, a small museum with frequently changing exhibits, focusing on home-grown talent.
Sir Moses Montefiore, a British financier, was a longtime lover of the land. He toured dozen of times and was an enormous financial booster of Jewish institutions in the land of Palestine. The Yemin Moshe and Mishkenot Sha'ananim sections of Jerusalem (pictured), honoring Montefiore, have lovely views of the Old City and a landmark windmill which never functioned properly.
Where it all went down around town
The Zionist past is inextricably woven into Jerusalem's New City. A series of locations in downtown Jerusalem pay tribute to the people and events that helped modern Israel come into being.
Now located in a district known for federal government buildings, Israel's house of parliament, the Knesset, convened in numerous venues before moving into its current building (pictured) in 1966. The "Constituent Assembly," as it was called at the time (the assembly named itself the Knesset within two days), first met at the Jewish Agency's headquarters in Jerusalem in 1949, later filibustering from Froumine House, another facility on King George St., as well.
Following a brief stint in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion cited Jerusalem's ties to "the soul of our people" in his announcement that the Knesset was moving back to Froumine House, where it stayed for some 16 years.
Zion Square (pictured) has been a gathering place, for both serious and fun purposes, since the time of the British Mandate.
Ben Yehuda Street, named for the builder of the modern Hebrew language, is now a touristy and commercial pedestrian mall where, ironically, Hebrew is less likely to be heard.
Tucked in a corner not far from the Machane Yehuda market is Davidka Square, a small monument to an armament used by Jewish partisans during the War of Independence.
Another landmark event in Zionism's journey from theory to functioning practice, the Supreme Court building was inaugurated in 1992. Although Israel's high court was always a significant Zionist institution, but it didn't grant itself virtual veto power over Knesset laws until 1995.
Two smaller museums near the center of town, the Museum of the Underground Prisoners and the Mount Zion Cable Car Museum, illustrate poignant stories of pre-state sacrifice and struggle.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on Mount Scopus, was founded in 1925 (pictured) as an expression of faith in the Zionist idea. It was funded by Jewish intellectuals abroad - including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud - who felt that an institution of higher learning and academic scholarship was necessary in the land of Palestine.
As Zionist Jerusalem's landmarks are spread across the city, it is recommended to plan for transport prior to beginning a tour of them. Options range from packages involving hired cars with guides to the extremely practical and affordable Egged 99 line. Both can be booked with instant confirmation on GoJerusalem.com.
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