Shalem College
November 11, 2018

A Lesson in Leadership: Dr. Daniel Polisar Teaches Online Course on Theodor Herzl

A Lesson in Leadership: Dr. Daniel Polisar Teaches Online Course on Theodor Herzl
Dr. Daniel Polisar, Executive Vice President of Shalem College.

When asked why he chose Theodor Herzl as the topic of his lectures for the new Tikvah Online Courses series, Dr. Daniel Polisar, executive vice president of Shalem College and the first chairman of Israel’s National Herzl Council, offers two answers.

“The story of Herzl’s writing The Jewish State and convening the First Zionist Congress is arguably more important today than it was in the early years of the state,” he explains. “The reason is a wonderful one: Today, the success of the Zionist venture seems all too obvious. But it definitely wasn’t, not then. At the Congress, Herzl created what he described as ‘the will of the people for a state’ out of the belief that it’s not foremost territory, but instead a sense of unity and shared destiny that is a prerequisite for statehood.”

“Today, when there is so much talk of friction within different segments of Israeli society, and of a growing chasm between Israeli and American Jews, it’s critical to recall those ideas and principles that once brought Jews of all stripes together for the sake of a common purpose.”

And the second answer?

“He offers a model of leadership from which everyone can learn,” says Polisar. Noting that Herzl had very little institutional support, and virtually no resources or political leverage, Polisar insists that it was the sheer force of Herzl’s will and his creative genius, expressed through his writings, his speeches, and his tireless organizational efforts, that carried him to the negotiating table with kings and emperors. “His story is a lesson and an inspiration for individuals looking to cultivate the skills required of a leader—which is why,” he adds with a smile, “Herzl is part of the curriculum at Shalem.”

The course, which is now available for purchase on the Tikvah Fund website, is “a must-view for anyone interested in Zionism, Israel, and the unlimited potential of human will,” says Dr. Martin Kramer, well-known historian of the Middle East and chair of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Department at Shalem College. “For over a century, Jews have told and retold the story of Theodor Herzl. One might ask, what remains to be said? This makes the fresh telling by Daniel Polisar all the more remarkable. Polisar brings the unique perspective of someone who also beat the odds in launching a Zionist project from scratch–that is, Shalem College. Perhaps this is what gives Polisar’s presentation an uncanny intimacy. It’s as if he’s come to us fresh from a strategy session with Herzl himself.”

The Tikvah Fund’s Online Courses challenge contemporary Jewish thinkers and leaders to address the great issues and ideas of the Jewish, Western, and Zionist traditions. The series currently features two other lecturers: Prof. Ruth Wisse, who was the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University and is currently a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Tikvah Fund; and Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and the rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City. Their courses focus on the Jewish nationalism of Daniel Deronda and the Jewish ideas that inspired America’s founding generation, respectively.

In the seven-episode “Theodor Herzl: The Birth of Political Zionism,” Polisar explores the ways in which Herzl overcame the enormous challenges that confronted him and discusses the enduring lessons to be learned from Herzl’s visionary campaign for a Jewish state. The course also comes with a study guide and suggestions for further reading.

To download Dr. Daniel Polisar’s online course on Theodor Herzl, click here.