Israel, Jewish leaders pay respects to first Christian Zionist

Wednesday, February 02, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

Rev. William Henry Hechler was the first modern Christian Zionist, and a long-time confidante and backer of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl.

On Monday, Israeli diplomats, Jewish leaders from around the world and a large gathering of Christians and Jews thankful for the contributions Hechler made to the Zionist cause gathering in north London to pay their respects and finally provide him with a proper tombstone.

Hechler was the chaplain for the British Embassy in Vienna in 1896 when he first read Herzl’s “The Jewish State.” As a strong believer in biblical prophecy, Hechler recognized that the time for the restoration of the Jews to their ancient homeland had come. Three years earlier, Hechelr had penned his own pamphlet on the matter titled “The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine According to the Prophecy.”

Hechler quickly befriended Herzl and used his connections in German royal society to get the Zionist leader audiences with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Sultan Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire, which as the time controlled the Holy Land.

Hechler was constantly at Herzl’s side until the latter’s death in 1904. Hechler himself also never saw the fulfillment of his and Herzl’s work, dying in north London in 1931. Alone and penniless, Hechler was buried in an unmarked grave, hence the need to finally provide him with a proper tombstone.

Jerry Klinger, president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, spent years searching for Hechler’s gravesite. Last year, he found it, and began the process of setting up a tombstone dedication and a memorial service for the original Christian Zionist.

Klinger told The Jerusalem Post that his work on this matter “was a Zionist obligation.”

Klinger went on to explain, “It has long been recognized that without Hechler’s intercession and support, Herzl may have simply remained an obscure, eccentric Viennese journalist. The course of Zionism, and possibly the very founding of the modern State of Israel, may not have been successful.”

At Monday’s ceremony, Israeli Ambassador to Britain Ron Proser noted that “Britain and Israel enjoyed a friendship long before the establishment of the State of Israel, as a result of the committed efforts of British Christian Zionists. Marking Rev. Hechler’s prominent place in the rich tradition of Christian Zionism in Britain, on the 80th anniversary of his passing, is especially timely.”

Alan Aziz, director of the Zionist Federation of the UK, added, “It is very important to Israel and the Jewish people to recognize the incredible efforts and friendships made by our friends and supporters in the Christian world.”

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