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'Herzl causes me to ask myself every day, am I doing all that I can for the things I believe in?'

A Toronto lawyer asks, ‘What would Herzl do?’

Fanatic collector of Herzl memorabilia produces a documentary to spread the Zionist dreamer’s magic

David (left) and Leanne Matlow pose next to posters exhibited at Toronto's Beth Tzedec Congregation from Matlow's personal Herzl collection of over 2,500 items. (photo credit: Laura Arsie)
David (left) and Leanne Matlow pose next to posters exhibited at Toronto's Beth Tzedec Congregation from Matlow's personal Herzl collection of over 2,500 items. (photo credit: Laura Arsie)

TORONTO — David Matlow has long held a passionate connection to all things Herzl. A Toronto attorney and documentary producer by trade, as well as a leader of that city’s staunchly Zionistic Jewish community, Matlow also happens to possess the globe’s largest personal collection of Herzl memorabilia.

Not one to stand on his laurels, Matlow has taken what he considers the next logical step in spreading the word about his hero, by having recently produced a documentary about the founder of modern political Zionism, dubbed, not surprisingly, “My Herzl.”

The film, distributed by Ruth Diskin Films, Jerusalem, is a Canada-Israel co-production produced by the 52-year-old Matlow, along with his Israeli brother-in-law, Eli Tal-El, made its US debut at the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema on October 9.

Matlow’s Herzl collection, over 2,500 pieces ranging from postcards and stamps to household items and pen knives, is clearly a labor of love for its owner, who hopes the priceless pieces he has amassed will teach Toronto Jews about the Jewish state and its history.

While his collection has been displayed in various synagogues and other Jewish institutions in Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa, the documentary — an extension of that collection — brings the vital story of Herzl to a worldwide audience.
And, with popcorn, no less.

A true Canadian tribute to Herzl, a hockey cup. (photo credit: Goodmans law firm, Toronto 2006)
A true Canadian tribute to Herzl, a hockey cup. (photo credit: Goodmans law firm, Toronto 2006)

So, just how does a Toronto lawyer end up devoting so much of his time to a man who died in 1904?

It seems Matlow’s grandparents, Archie and Goldie Matlow, unwittingly lit the spark.
The couple moved to Ramat Gan in 1955, fulfilling their dream to live in the Jewish state, and a portrait of Herzl that hung in a special place of honor in their home got David’s attention during his many visits.

The portrait was given to David in 1991 after his grandmother’s passing, and the floodgates were opened.

“I think it is critical to talk about Herzl and to learn from his life,” said the father of three girls; Naomi, Orli and Yael. “As our documentary shows, Herzl sacrificed everything for what he believed in, which is a better future for the Jewish people. His family life and fortune, and his health, suffered for our benefit. The movie portrays Herzl as human, just like us, which means we all have the potential to change the world for the better.

“Herzl causes me to ask myself every day, am I doing all that I can for the things I believe in?”

“My Herzl,” set in many of the same iconic venues that Herzl made famous, is based on a trip made by Matlow and 27 other members of his family and close friends to Basel, Switzerland to celebrate Matlow’s fiftieth birthday.

Matlow on the balcony in Basil where Herzl stood (photo credit: courtesy)
Matlow on the balcony at the Three Kings Hotel in Basil where Herzl stood. (photo credit: courtesy)

The group even slept at the Three Kings Hotel, where the man himself pulled up the covers while at the first Zionist Congress in 1897. The hotel has a Herzl room, which is adjacent to the balcony where the iconic photograph of Herzl overlooking the Rhine was shot.

“Herzl dreamed of the Jewish state, and his dreams were fulfilled when Israel’s independence was declared in 1948,” said Matlow. “Herzl also cared about the kind of society that would be experienced in the Jewish state. He dreamed of a model society where all citizens would be living in peace and security. So, while his dream has been fulfilled, it is not yet complete. That job is now up to all of us.

“Numerous people who have seen ‘My Herzl’ have come up to me to say that, when faced with a decision in their lives, whether to do something or not, they ask themselves, ‘What would Herzl do?’ and they inevitably make the decision to do it. The movie and the exhibit have motivated them to be like Herzl, and not just sit around and wish for something to happen, but to make it happen. Herzl’s magic still works.”

Delegate card to the First Zionist Congress, Basel, Switzerland 1897 (photo credit: courtesy)
Delegate card to the First Zionist Congress, Basel, Switzerland 1897 (photo credit: courtesy)

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