Zionism’s key figures explored

By Kylie Ora Lobell, jewishjournal.com

There have been plenty of books written about Zionism and its early founders and builders, like Theodor Herzl, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Golda Meir and Louis D. Brandeis.

While many of these works are compelling and help readers learn more about the history of the Jewish state, they tend to be overviews of these individuals rather than deep dives into their stories and legacies.

Now, in a new book by Rick Richman, readers can become more familiar with these legends and how they contributed to Israel.

And None Shall Make Them Afraid: Eight Stories of the Modern State of Israel portrays 125 years of Jewish history through little-known stories about Herzl, Jabotinsky, Meir and Brandeis, along with Chaim Weizmann, Abba Eban, Ben Hecht, and Ron Dermer.

“The stories are not only fascinating — you can read any chapter in the book at random and be amazed by things you didn’t know, about people you thought you did — or about people you don’t know, but who did things it’s amazing we are not all aware of,” Richman said.

“The book also illustrates the impact on history that a single individual can make.”

In the chapter on Herzl, Richman writes about how the founder of the modern Zionist movement actually had very few ties to his Judaism. While he had a bar mitzvah and went to a mostly Jewish high school, he started assimilating once he went to university and did not have his son circumcised.

“On Dec. 24, 1895, six weeks before the publication of The Jewish State, Herzl was at home lighting a Christmas tree for his three children,” Richman writes. “For many years, the common belief was that Herzl became a Zionist as a result of covering the Dreyfus trial in 1894 in Paris for a Viennese newspaper. More recently, scholars have shown that Herzl’s embrace of Zionism had nothing to do with that case. The story of Herzl thus presents a mystery.”

And None Shall Make Them Afraid is also about lesser-known Zionist figures like Ben Hecht, a prolific screenwriter from the Golden Age of Hollywood who wrote His Girl Friday and Angels Over Broadway.

Hecht contributed to a column called My Tribe Is Called Israel in a progressive tabloid and ended up cochairman of the Committee for a Jewish Army, which was “part of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s effort to build support for a Jewish Army to join the fight against Hitler,” Richman writes.

“In early 1942, (Hecht) gave his first speech, to a thousand people at a fundraiser held at Twentieth Century Fox. (Hecht said), ‘It was a night that was to alter my life as completely as if I had changed my name and gone to another land.’”

With the book, Richman said, “I was seeking to write about figures who were not generally known, or who were known but whose accomplishments were not generally known. I found that the stories of those involved in the historic work of Zionism had in some cases been forgotten or misrepresented or not yet given their full due.”

The author, who practiced law for three decades at O’Melveny & Myers LLP and worked for Deloitte LLP, is currently a scholar at American Jewish University, where he conducted research for his book. He’s always been a Zionist, spending a summer on a kibbutz during college and going to three missions to Israel organized by Rabbi David Wolpe, now retired from Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

With And None Shall Make Them Afraid, Richman hopes to not only fascinate readers with these stories, but also to show the real work and dedication that went into building the Jewish state.

“I think that American Jews — the vast majority of whom have never known a world without Israel — do not fully appreciate what it took to achieve a Jewish state, and what the existence and persistence of such a state meant for the Jewish people, not only those who chose to live in Israel but those whose status in other countries was fundamentally changed by the miraculous recovery of the Jewish people in the 20th century,” he said.

“I hope that the stories in this book can help remedy the current deficiency in common memory about what it took to get us where we are today.”

The JCC Cultural Arts & Book Series in partnership with Hadassah presents Rick Richman via Zoom, 7 p.m., Thursday, March 28. The program is free. Register here.

To read the complete March 2024 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.


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