Category Archives: Turkey

Theodor Herzl – The Moses of Modern Times.


Theodor Herzl

Theodor Herzl

Theodor Herzl – The Moses of Modern Times.

Theodor Herzl was born in 1860 in the Jewish quarter of Budapest, the capital of Hungary. He was the son of a bourgeois family of Germanic origin. His father was a reformist, practicing a “progressive” Judaism and supporter of the assimilation of Jews within their homelands.

Already being a doctor of law, Herzl became a journalist in Paris and correspondent of the Viennese newspaper “Neue Freie Presse”. But, eager as he was for knowledge, not being able to satisfy his curiosity, he also traveled the world.

In Berlin and Vienna, Herzl gained fame as a writer and as the author theater plays.  He was appointed to literary director of the newspaper he worked for.

Herzl was of tall stature and wore a long black beard. With his sparkling deep eyes, his vivacity  and eloquence, he magnetized people, from emperors to poor Jews, who would stop to touch the edge of his coat!

The Dreyfus affair and a crowed screaming “Death to the Jews” in Paris would change the course of his life.

It is said that, when he was young, he told his family doctor that the only way for the Jews was to go to Palestine. To the question who will lead them, the answer was “Me!”

In 1896 he wrote the book “The State of the Jew” (Der judenstaat) of which he said that he had never written anything in such a state of exaltation.

He went on a crusade to Germany, France and England to meet with financial sponsors, in order to raise money needed to realise his project.

Despite many difficulties, like doors that closed, and the denunciation of “false Messiah”, Herzl organized the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897. It was a large assembly of bearded Zionist brothers from all over the world, from all cultures united by their origin. His transcendent speech was acclaimed by these brothers, who were fascinated by the charism of this man. Unanimously they chanted Hebrew expression ”Yechi Hamelech” ”  Long live the King ”.

Herzl would preside over every Zionist Congress until his death in 1904.

Better than anyone, he understood the power of Germany over Turkey, and met the Emperor WilhelmII, who was just preparing for his trip to Palestine, stopping at Constantinople. Herzl also left for Constantinople, thinking to meet the Sultan and to solicit him the cession of Palestine against money!

”Here is Jesus Christ”! HabdulHamid cried out when he met Herzl.  However, nothing was signed because the Sultan wanted to be sure that the money was handed to him before making any commitment.

When the Emperor WilhelmII visited Palestine …He met Herzl there. They saluted each other majestically like two kings, although one of them had no crown!

Theodore Herzl was 44 years old when he died in 1904, leaving behind a wife and 3 children. After his death, the children were sent to foster homes as per their father’s request. They all  died later under tragic circumstances.

The paradox is great between the ideology of Herzl and the misery of his family. His wife was deprived of the care of her children by this man, who lacked any compassion for her, because she did not follow him in his dream. Her destiny would end as tragic as that of her children.

Theodore Herzl’s last wish was to be buried in Palestine, after the Jewish people would have found an independent state. He had expressed the wish to have his close family at his side.

On August 17, 1949, his body and that of his parents, Yaakov and Jeannette, and his sister  Pauline, were buried at Mount Herzl.

In Septembrer 2006 the remains of his children Hans and Pauline were transferred from Bordeaux. His youngest daughter, Trude Norman, died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, and her remains were never found. The body of Trude’s only son, Stephan Theodore Norman, who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge in 1946 in Washington, was also transferred to Mount Herzl on December 5, 2007.

Theodor Hertzl's children

Theodor Hertzl’s children

Doña Gracia – A Noble Dame

d gracia
Doña Gracia was a jewish noble Lady who played a particularly important role in the middle ages. Her exceptional destiny intrigues and fascinates us till today …

Born, in Portugal in the early 16th century, in the noble and very wealthy  Benveniste family, which fled Spain at the beginning of the Inquisition.

She married Francisco Mendez-Nassi, a banker, whose fortune was even greater than hers.


Doña Gracia or ” Beatriz Luna, ” according to the name adopted as alleged Catholic, was of a great beauty, rich and cultivated.

On the death of her husband, she decided to leave Portugal and took her only child with her, along with some other family members. Life was becoming unbearable for the ”Marranos” as the Inquisition began to dwell beyond Spain and Portugal.

The Marranos were Jews who, like Doña Gracia, secretly remained loyal to the faith of their fathers, while claiming an apparent adherence to the Catholic Church. They suffered deep oppression.

She went to Antwerp, where her brother in law ran the Bank for the Mendez-Nassi family and settled there.

But even there the Inquisition was soon to join them.

After the death of her brother in law in 1549, she left Antwerp with her daughter,  sister and widowed niece to Venice, She took away as many goods as she could and was hoping to find a far away land which would allow her to  live her Judaism in peace.

She decided to join her nephew in Constantinople, the famous Don Joseph Nasi who became Minister of the Sultan in Turkey, one of the most influential man in Europe.

But the King of France, persuaded the government of Venice to prevent them from embarking and put that Noble Dame and her family in prison and confiscate all their properties.

Don Joseph Nasi using his influence with the Sultan managed a Master coup : for some time the Sultan policy was disturbed by the competing merchants of Venice.

Therefore the Sultan sent an emissary with a query asking firmly the release of Dona Gracia and to restore her fortune.

It took two years for the Sultan to get satisfaction.

Doña Gracia eventually settled in Constantinople in 1552 and became the center of world aid to persecuted Jews and Marranos. She spent her fortune to this cause.

Unfortunately, due to political changes, the situation of the Jews in Turkey deteriorated and became as dramatic as in Europe. Much of the wealth of Mendez-Nassi was confiscated.

                              The dream of Doña Gracia was to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine!

                          That any persecuted Marrano Jews would have a peace of land where they                                         could finally live and transmit their ancestors traditions to                                  their children          

                     Many remnants in Safed and Tiberias remind us, nowadays, of the generosity                           of this benefactor and her image remains forever etched in our memories.                                                           
                                                             A Great and Noble Lady                                                                                                                         
                                                                        Doña Gracia