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B’nai B’rith International joined in force a series of events on August 28 and August 29 organized by the World Zionist Organization in Basel, Switzerland marking the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress—convened there on the same dates in 1897 by Theodor Herzl. The first congress founded the WZO and discussed Herzl’s vision for the establishment of a Jewish state.

“The 125th anniversary gathering in Basel linked the history of our people with the present and future, in which we can all play a meaningful role,” said B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin. “That means working assiduously to support a strong and vibrant Jewish State, the very same objectives Herzl laid out when he and Jewish leaders gathered in that congress hall in August 1897.”

B’nai B’rith’s delegation, including members from around the world, was led by Mariaschin and former President Charles O. Kaufman, who represents B’nai B’rith on the WZO Executive. World Center-Jerusalem Director Alan Schneider coordinated the B’nai B’rith International delegation.

“The WZO’s historic 125th anniversary meeting validates the many layers of Theodor Herzl’s dream. Israel is not only the legal homeland of the Jewish people, it is an innovative, modern country that’s working tirelessly to improve the world. New chapters in the Zionism story are being written every day. It is a story without end. And we must teach the world the true meaning of the word. We must not let our adversaries weaponize ‘Zionism’ in promoting Jewish hatred,” Kaufman said. “Equally important, we must educate the Diaspora that Zionism means ensuring that the homeland serves to build an advanced, productive and enterprising nation that solves human problems—among them health, hunger, poverty—throughout the world.

Zionism, then, means making the world the best we can make it. With 53% of the world’s Jews, Israel is not only a refuge against anti-Semitism, it is a light unto all the nations,” he concluded.

Other B’nai B’rith participants were Dr. Sandra Horowitz and Dr. Steven Horowitz, Elham Yaghouban, Ira Bartfield, Millie and Larry Magid, Paolo Foa’, Richard and Phyllis Heideman, Sheila and Alan Mostyn, Simone and Ralph Hofmann, Stephan Teicher and Nachliel Dison, a member of the B’nai B’rith World Center Executive, chaired the WZO Control Committee.

The two-day event schedule included the Herzl Leadership Conference, where guests and speakers from around the world discussed Zionism 125 years later, Judaism, Israel-Diaspora relations and fulfillment of Zionist ideals around the world. The schedule also included the Herzl Social Impact Entrepreneurship Summit, festive Shabbat Rosh Hodesh prayers in the Great Synagogue of Basel where Herzl worshiped prior to the opening of the First Zionist Congress in 1897 and a closing gala, attended by Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

As Herzog said at the closing gala, “We have to proudly reclaim the term Zionism as an expression of national and individual identity, tradition, hope and pride, enlightenment, justice and Tikkun Olam. Modern Zionism offers us not only the sense of common destiny but a sense of common calling, so long as it springs forth from the deep roots of people, land and state. We have to do that together, only together.”