Theodor Herzl is a saint of the Jewish right. The popular translation of the Zionist leader’s diaries was published in 1956. Surprise: it left out this passage from the Complete Diaries (published in five volumes by Thomas Yoseloff in 1960, now out of print):
December 24, 1895
I was just lighting the Christmas tree for my children when [head Vienna rabbi Moritz] Gudemann arrived. He seemed upset by the "Christian" custom. Well, I will not let myself be pressured! But I don’t mind if they call it the Hannukah tree–or the winter solstice.
Good and pagan of you, Theodor. Don’t let them pressure you! The story is a reminder that assimilation was a profound force in European Jews’ lives. Herzl, a would-be assimilationist, turned to Zionism because of the prevalence of anti-Semitism: he observed how educated Jews were being discriminated against all around him. Herzl built Zionism out of his own frustrated aspirations to be a political leader. Europeans wouldn’t let him have such a role in their councils. Herzl seized it as the leader of the Jewish people. I admire that.
The Christmas moment reminds us that Zionism has been opposed to assimilation from the start. Assimilation, or integration, is now a fact of life in western society. Jews can aspire to virtually any office in the United States. And Jewish organizations pressure Jews not to have Christmas trees, out of fears that Jews will completely assimilate.
And Herzl’s cry–We cannot assimilate here–now is upheld where? In Israel. We cannot assimilate in the Middle East. Huge pressures come to bear on individuals who might think for themselves. The Arabs are Islamofascists, etc.
Maybe it’s time for Jews to honor "’Arab’ customs." They could start with the Nakba.