David Zellnik
A Jewish Masterpiece, p.3

SCENES 15 and 16: 1896 Basel/1953 Israel

HERZL: I have already booked space in Switzerland and told every book-seller who sells a copy of my manifesto to post notices for the First International Zionist Conference. Oh I know, I will be ridiculed. Rothschild has already sent me a telegram announcing his opposition. As has Hirsch, the head of the British and French communities, and also Berlin’s very well-off Chief Rabbi...

Well let the money Jews of the West boycott! We will have crowds, noise! Noise is everything! The entire history of the world is nothing but noise and I will raise such a noise! I will raise up an army of the Jews of the East, the Yids who terrify the assimilated. I will assemble the communists, the anarchists, the tailors, the con men, the loan sharks, the chasids who keep coming to Vienna and Berlin and Paris and London – the rabble, the garbage, the ghetto, the muscle of the East! I will assemble them! I will assemble them and speak for them!-

TO: BASEL. Herzl (now with long beard of an ancient prophet) backstage at the First Zionist Conference. In the room with him are Max and David, fellow Zionists. Herzl is dressing, putting on spotless almost-regal attire. Also an older woman (DELEGATE) in the corner sewing a flag.

HERZL: (Now arch, cool) For them, that is, but not to them.

MAX: Whom will you be speaking to?

HERZL: The London papers, the Paris papers, the New York papers. That’swhy this Congress counts.

DAVID: And all the talk about this being the first democratic assembly of the Jews since the Maccabees.

HERZL: This is a show for the masses’ sake but the people here are not the audience, they are the scenery. As are you, Max. You must change.

MAX: But we must work on your speech.

HERZL: Everyone must look the part if this is to work, and the speech is perfect.

MAX: No fire in it.

DAVID: You need to mention Palestine.

HERZL: We have discussed this. We are playing with too much fire already. We need elegance.

MAX: Then why are we in a casino?

HERZL: It was this or a tailor shop! And the main hall is quite pompous looking, which in the photographs will convey seriousness. Oh, David, we need a new flag draped over the entrance, that yellow is nauseating.

DELEGATE: (Russian accent) I have been sewing this.

The woman holds up a standard prayer shawl, which looks very much like the current Israeli Flag – a blue Star of David on white with two bars of blue.

HERZL: What is it?

MAX: It’s a prayer shawl, Theodor.

HERZL: Oh yes right. David, is this your mother?

DAVID: (To the old woman) Who are you?

DELEGATE: I am a delegate from Poznantz. Max takes the shawl and leaves. Hatikvah is being sung.

HERZL: Beautiful song. But when I enter, I want Wagner. Something monumental.

David has been looking outside.

DAVID: (Shocked) Herzl, there’s not a single reporter in all the press stands. None.

HERZL: There’s a reporter here! I am a reporter.

DAVID: Your paper wouldn’t even publish a formal announcement about the Congress.

HERZL: Not the New Free Press – I have started my own paper. A Jewish paper, why not? David, write this down: it must be designed for the common people – light up their imaginations with illustrations, caricatures of anti-Semites, we’ll assign investigative reporters on say, worker conditions. Let’s see: price it at 2 crowns and we should expect to take a loss the first year. Budget for editors, writers, printing, taxes are 1½ percent per crown per shipment. What, I have been planning this for a long time. A paper, a worldwide paper – that will separate the Zionists from the kikes.

DAVID: Dr. Herzl!

HERZL: Those willing to read it will be real Jews. The masthead: the old yellow star from the Middle Ages – now a badge of honor. Are you writing this down still? And in the middle a piece of land, our future homeland, but make it shaped vague enough so "Is it a province in Canada? Is it Argentina?" Who knows, but seeing something tangible will rally the masses!

DAVID: Only Palestine will rally the masses.

HERZL: Argentina is one of the most fertile countries in the world! Extends over a vast area, has a sparse population, a mild climate. And the financial benefit to the Argentine Republic would be immense if it ceded some of its land to us!


Fine, put Palestine on it I don’t care, they will take what I give them. We can commence negotiations with the Sultan. We can be an outpost of civilization on that barbaric continent but I say Argentina will be better, we can get it for cheap, recognized by International Law and be done with it!

DAVID: Tell them you are sending emissaries to Palestine to make an initial report. You will see how excited they become.

HERZL: Do I have emissaries?

DAVID: Yes. Me.

HERZL: Done. Time is approaching. Max has to introduce me, where is he?

Max enters in beautiful clothes.

HERZL: Ah there you are, much better, tails and a hat – you look like a British gentleman.

MAX: Have you rewritten the speech yet?

HERZL: Max you know I can’t. The Russian delegation threatened to boycott if I bring up the Czar, as offending him might cause a pogrom. The Orthodox must not be made light of, but the secularists must not be scared. The Socialists must be placated but Rothschild – who even now plots against me! – must be praised, as must his pathetic 4000 Russian Jews in Palestine living off charity. I must not offend the Sultan, I must not offend the Kaiser, I mustn’t scare the Christians, nor the Canadians, nor the British, Argentines, or French, and most of all, most of all, I must not inflame that army of schnorrers, beggars, and schmucks out there.

MAX: Now that had fire.

DELEGATE: Out there they say you’re holier than the ark. They say you are Moses. (Silence) Are you?

HERZL: Max, are you sure that’s not your mother? David please get her out.

DELEGATE: I am a delegate!

HERZL: There are no woman delegates, ma’am.

DELEGATE: In Russia - where you have never been - they take the first-born son, and when he dies they take the next, and when he dies the next. They ride into town demanding conscripts, and they serve in the Russian army like dogs for 25 years or until they die and last week your delegate from Poznantz was drafted into the Russian army.

They beat us, they say 1/3 of us can stay, 1/3 of us can leave, and 1/3 of us can die. Have you seen the Pale of Settlement where the Jews are forced to live? Have you been to the East?

They say you grew up rich, in the house of the Pharaoh, little yids out there impressed you speak high German, and wear good clothes. They put your picture up in shops, in squares, in synagogues! They say you are the new law. All over "Herzl will save us!" Your words, your pictures, your pamphlet - did you know this Dr. Herzl? And they say you have thrown all of it away for us, in order to lead your people. So are you Moses?

HERZL: If Zion needs a Moses, we shall find a Moses.


HERZL: If we cannot find him, we will invent him.

DELEGATE: No! We were expelled for our sins. And if you are a false messiah, then it is a sin to follow! When the Messiah comes we will have Zion again but if we follow a false messiah then the world will end in war! That is what the rabbis say – misery and suffering and war and a corrupted people of Israel.

MAX: Madame, please go outside.

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December 2004

Straight Eye for the Consumer Guy
Dan Friedman

I'll Say Goodbye and Let you Go
Abigail Pickus

Three Jewish Books on Sadness
Jay Michaelson

Rachel Barenblat

The Other Jews: Secularism, Kabbalah and Radical Poetics
Hila Ratzabi

A Jewish Masterpiece
David Zellnik

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Bush the Exception
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