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My Herzl

My Herzl
A Film by Eli Tal-El
A Co-Production of Tal-El Productions, Jerusalem & Willit Productions, Toronto, Canada, 2013
Runtime: 52 Minutes
Distributed by Ruth Diskin Ltd.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - April 3, 2014

Eli Tal-El's quirky documentary, My Herzl provides viewers with an eclectic journey through all things Herzllian...

Theodor Herzl was born in Budapest on May 2nd, 1860. He died in 1904. Over the course of his all too short life, Herzl developed the political underpinnings of modern Zionism and became an ardent spokesman for the need of a Jewish homeland. He was also the founder of the World Zionist Organization. In My Herzl, Tal-El, who directed and wrote this documentary, takes a new look at Herzl, a man who in many eyes is no longer the illustrious figure he once was. Are they wrong? Many, such as Tel-El's brother-in-law, David Matlow, believe that Herzl is as relevant today as he was when he wrote The Jews' State (Der Judenstaat). This book sets out the case for the urgent need (pre-World War II) of a Jewish homeland.

If you already have your mind set as to whether or not Herzl is a superstar or a has-been, be prepared to have your preconceived notions shattered. Some aspects of this film can be seen as negative. While most accounts of Herzl's life are overly glamorized, this film looks at Herzl as a real man, with normal human failings. On the other hand, it also points out some lesser known facts about Herzl that drive home the point that he was, indeed, a remarkable man who played a pivotal role in modern Jewish history. Along the way you'll 'virtually' travel to Basel, Switzerland to view the site of the First Zionist Congress, and you'll learn all about Tal-El's brother-in-law, David Matlow, a Canadian lawyer and avid collector of Herzl memorabilia. His collection includes such 'normal' items as books and magazine clippings as well as several unique items including a couple of Herzl bobble-headed dolls dressed in hockey uniforms!

The focal point of this film is Matlow, who has invited a huge group of family members to accompany him on a Herzl pilgrimage. The purpose of this trip is to celebrate his 50th birthday and, at the same time, celebrate the memory of Theodor Herzl. Tal-El tags along on this family gathering, camera in hand, and along the way discovers, as you are sure to do, that there is more to Herzl than the glossy overviews of his life would have you think. From the state of his marriage to his political views, My Herzl not only informs, but entertains and it is a 'must-see' for anyone with an interest in Jewish or Israeli history, or who is simply looking for an edifying and unique show to watch.

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