A National Home: At Last, To Last

By David Matlow

Imagine that you have an impossible dream; a dream that you have had every night of your life. Then imagine you are told your dream will come true, and you are told this by a person who has the power to make it happen. How would you feel?

Now imagine everyone you know has the same dream, a dream that your parents, and their parents, all had for 20 generations. How would all of you feel when you are told by someone who can make it happen, that it will happen?

I imagine this is how the Jewish world felt on November 2, 1917 when Lord Balfour on behalf of the Government of England wrote to Lord Rothschild as representative of world Jewry that “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object”.

This important correspondence became known as the Balfour Declaration. It was a very big deal.

It is hard now, 100 years later, to sense the exhilaration that was felt at the time. It is impossible to feel how important the Balfour Declaration was, how thankful world Jewry was to Lord Balfour for doing this, and how, with this one letter, Jews around the world started to see their future in a totally different way.

However, it is important to try. As we now have the State of Israel, and most of us never experienced the world before it, we run the risk of not appreciating it enough. Thanks to the Ontario Jewish Archives, we can see how the Jewish community of Ontario celebrated the Balfour Declaration. From this, we can extrapolate the joyous celebrations in Jewish communities around the world.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, accession 1980-12-8.

Toronto Zionist Organization Parade in celebration of the Balfour Declaration, Toronto, 1917.

Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, accession 1980-12-8.

The Balfour Declaration was an important step towards the national home it spoke of. With Israel’s independence in 1948 we have a national home at last, and with our continued dedication and commitment to the State of Israel, we will have a national home to last.

This is what was celebrated in 1917. We should continue the celebration each and every day.

David Matlow is a partner at Goodmans LLP in Toronto. He is the Chair of the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto, a director of the Ontario Jewish Archives, and a past co-chair of Toronto’s Campaign for the United Jewish Appeal. He owns the world’s largest collection of Theodor Herzl memorabilia and together with Israeli film maker Eli Tal-El produced My Herzl, a 52 minute documentary film about the relevance of Herzl today.