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Toronto lawyer shares his passion for Theodor Herzl

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Toronto lawyer David Matlow, an expert on Theodor Herzl, speaks in Halifax during Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations, after showing a film he produced about the visionary behind modern Zionism.
Toronto lawyer David Matlow, an expert on Theodor Herzl, speaks in Halifax during Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations, after showing a film he produced about the visionary behind modern Zionism.

HALIFAX – Inspiration has been a byword for 55-year-old Toronto lawyer David Matlow since he was a preteen.

That’s when he first discovered Zionism while writing a school play. It was the moment he became fascinated with Theodor Herzl and the man’s passion for a Jewish homeland, an inspiration for Matlow that continues today.

While presenting a documentary film in Halifax on Yom Ha’atzmaut, Matlow, who produced the film, opened up about his passion for anything Herzl and his collection of nearly 3,000 pieces of Herzl memorabilia that fills most of the rooms in his house.

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“I want to inspire people that anything’s possible. As Herzl famously said, ‘If you will it, it is no dream.’ He was a normal person, with pitfalls and foibles, but a guy who had an idea for a Jewish state, way back in the late 1800s. He wrote about it in 1896, held conferences about it in 1897 and after, inspired the creation of the Jewish National Fund and various banks. He pushed and prodded, even bankrupted his family to create the Jewish state. There’s no reason we can’t be as inspired to do good things.”

Matlow is reported to have the largest private collection anywhere of Herzl memorabilia. It includes postcards, autographs, household items with the Herzl bearded likeness on them, jackknives, lamps, Chanukah menorahs, pieces of art, and even bobblehead dolls. Showings of some of his items have been held in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.

Matlow, who co-chaired the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s 2015 campaign, hopes that, when seen in exhibitions, the Herzl items and their stories will teach North American Jews, young and old, about the Jewish state and its history.

He also hopes the 58-minute film My Herzl will bring Herzl’s inspiring story of perseverance in fulfilling a dream to audiences worldwide. It had its U.S. premiere in 2013 at the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema and received rave reviews, and it has been screened in Toronto a number of times.

Produced by Matlow and his filmmaker brother-in-law, Eli Tal-El, the film uncovers the man behind the Zionist icon as someone with everyday values but passionate dreams that encompassed his entire being, to the detriment of his wife and two children, who rarely saw him, missed knowing him and experienced his death in disappointment and frustration, as well as poverty.

“I wanted to do a film,” Matlow said of the work that took three years to complete. “The story told through the exhibit [of memorabilia] was not broad enough. The film deals in length with the tragic personal consequences of Herzl’s tireless efforts of behalf of the Jewish People. It truly explains why this marvelous man, who had such a major impact on Jewish history, died so young at 44 in 1904.”