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Bags of earth from Eretz Israel at Herzl’s second funeral

Prof. Doron Bar
| 17/08/2022

Professor Doron Bar, President of the Schechter Institutes of Jewish Studies, shares with us an excerpt of his research published in his Hebrew book “From Vienna to Jerusalem: Herzl’s Last Trip”. Read more about the moving burial ceremony that was held for this great visionary.

Back in 1949, August 17th, Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl was buried at the summit of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. His funeral was the culmination of an operation that had taken  many months to organize, during which his bones and those of his family members were removed from the family grave in the cemetery in Vienna. In doing so, the State of Israel fulfilled the wishes expressed in Herzl’s will, in which he specifically asked to be buried in the Land of Israel.

The impressive burial ceremony was attended by over 6,000 guests who stood at attention when Herzl’s casket was lowered into his grave, accompanied by drums and trumpets. At that moment, a siren was sounded in different places in the country, and the citizens of the country observed a moment of silence in honor of Herzl. As the coffin was lowered into the ground, three hundred people, all dressed in white, approached the open grave and each threw in white bags containing earth brought from various localities throughout the State of Israel.

In the days before the ceremony, these white cloth bags had been sent to kibbutzim, moshavim, local councils and cities throughout Israel. In an accompanying letter, the representatives of the communities were asked to fill the bag with earth from their land, to write the name of their community on it, and to arrive in proper attire for the funeral. The symbolism here was clear – when Herzl’s coffin was lowered to the ground, the soil of the Land of Israel and the many Jewish settlements would cover it.

In many communities, ceremonies of filling the dirt bags were held in preparation for the funeral. For example, the Broza family (popular for their music) filled a bag with earth collected near the “Herzl cedar”, actually a cypress tree planted by Herzl in 1898. A delegation from the municipality of Haifa collected earth from the garden of the Technion building and sand from the harbor from which immigration ships were expelled by the British.

Since participation in the burial ceremony involved great prestige, in many localities the residents competed for the right to take part in it. In Kibbutz Degania A, for example, they decided to give the honor to Shalom Hochbaum, the member of the kibbutz who stepped forward with a Molotov cocktail in his hands when a long row of Syrian tanks was approaching the kibbutz and stopped them from moving further south. 

On the 100th anniversary of Herzl’s birth, which fell on July 15th, 1960, the veil was removed from the new black headstone that was placed over Herzl’s grave. Representatives of different settlements were also invited to this ceremony and placed blue and white cloth bags containing earth on Herzl’s grave.

On August 17th, 2019, the seventieth anniversary of the burial of Herzl’s bones in Jerusalem, a memorial ceremony was held on Mount Herzl, during which symbolic bags of gravel were placed on the grave of the state’s visionary as a gesture of honor and recognition.

Doron Bar, former president and dean of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, is a professor of Land of Israel studies. He earned his PhD from The Hebrew University in Historical Geography. Professor Bar is researching the development of popular and national holy places. He is a seventh generation descendant of an Old Yishuv Jerusalem family.

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