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Christian Friends of Leket Israel

William Hechler: The Pastor who helped found Israel

How much love can one Christian have for Israel?

I believe God calls each of us to support the Jewish people. I believe that we live in a time when our support is vital to the survival of the Jewish state.

An inspiring example of this love is the Reverend William Hechler.

When the Father of Modern Israel, Theodor Herzl, died, only one gentile attended his funeral, William Hechler.

Without Hechler’s Bible based help opening doors for the first Zionists, Israel might never have come to pass.

A Philosemitic Home

I’ll bet that is a word many of us are not familiar with. “Philosemitic” is a love of the Jewish people, the opposite of Antisemitism.

William was born in 1845 to a missionary family in India. His father, Dietrich Hechler was a strong supporter of the Jewish people writing,

“One of the wishes I had was that I might be a real descendant of Abraham. I entertained an almost superstitious reverence for Jews, and therefore disapproved of their being mocked or otherwise ill-treated by my schoolfellows.”

Dietrich instilled in his son a belief in Restorationism, that only when the Jews return to their Homeland will the Messiah return. Similar beliefs were held by Christian leaders like Anthony Ashley Cooper, C. H. Spurgeon and William Blackstone.

William’s career began as an Anglican minister, then he served as a medic and chaplain in the Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian War, and continued as a tutor for the nobility of Germany.

Pogrom!

It was in tragedy William discovered his purpose.

In 1881 the Jewish community of Odessa was ravaged by an anti-Jewish riot called a ‘Pogrom’. In this riot dozens of Jews were killed, hundreds more injured. Other acts of sadistic cruelty shown by the rioters are not fit to print.

Hechler bore witness to the atrocities, and knew other Pogroms were being carried out across the Russian Empire.

Standing up as a Christian against Antisemitism he wrote “The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine” in 1884. In it he proclaimed that scripture taught that the Jews needed to return to their promised land before Jesus’ second coming. He did not believe a mass conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity was a pre condition for Jesus’ return.

“It is the duty of every Christian to love the Jews” he wrote.

A fortunate meeting in Vienna

It’s fascinating to me how God can use coincidence to change our lives and the world.

The British government appointed Hechler chaplain of their embassy in Vienna. While there he met another Viennese figure, Theodor Herzl, a Jew and founder of Zionism.

Both were terrified by the rising tide of Antisemitism in Europe. They met during the notorious Dreyfus Affair in which a French Jewish soldier was framed in an antisemtic conspiracy. The scandal shook France, and it seemed the fate of all of Europe’s Jews might hang on whether Dreyfus would see justice. It was a scary time to be Jewish, and perhaps no one felt that fear as sharply as the alert Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl.

In response to the Affair and growing antisemitism in Europe, Herzl wrote the world changing “Der Judenstaat” (The Jewish State). It was an unapologetic and incendiary call for the Jewish people to return to their homeland.

Herzl was a dreamer and an idealist. Many Jews in Europe refused to take him seriously, only a small number headed his call.

In meeting Hechler, Herzl saw a fellow dreamer. But he mistook Hechler’s passionate and Bible based love of the Jews for a mere fantasy. Herzl dismissed Hechler writing,

“Yesterday, Sunday afternoon, I visited the Rev. Hechler. Next to Colonel Goldsmid, he is the most unusual person I have met in this movement so far…the room which I entered was lined with books on every side, floor to ceiling. Nothing but Bibles.”

“A window of the very bright room was open, letting in the cool Spring air, and Mr. Hechler showed me his Biblical treasures. Then he spread out before me his chart of comparative history, and finally a map of Palestine. It is a large military staff map in four sheets which, when laid out, covered the entire floor. “We have prepared the ground for you!” Hechler said triumphantly. He showed me where, according to his calculations, our new Temple must be located: in Bethel! Because that is the center of the country. He also showed me the models of the ancient Temple. He sang and played for me on the organ a Zionist song of his composition… But I take him for a naïve visionary with a collector’s enthusiasm, and I particularly felt it when he sang his songs to me.”

Opening Doors for the Jewish People

Despite doubting Hecher’s seriousness he needed the Reverend to open doors for him across Europe. Without the support of international leaders like Bismark or the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire which controlled the Holy Land at the time, there could be no Jewish settlement.

Fortunately Hechler’s advocacy for a Jewish state was not mere words. Herzl would write,

“Hechler declares my movement to be a “Biblical” one, even though I proceed rationally in all points. He wants to place my tract in the hands of some German princes. He used to be a tutor in the household of the Grand Duke of Baden, he knows the German Kaiser and thinks he can get me an audience.”

And Hechler delivered on his promise of securing introductions.

Hechler became an ally with Herzl and the growing Zionist movement. He was able to provide important introductions of Herzl to German Royal Society. Hechler added legitimacy to Herzl and made great contributions to the acceptance of Zionism and because of Hechler’s connections, Herzl was able to meet with the German Kaiser Wilhelm II.

In 1897, Hechler was able to introduce Herzl to many interested Christian ministers and in August 1897, Theodor Herzl convened the 1st World Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. Herzl invited Hechler to the Congress as a guest calling him the “first Christian Zionist.””

Legacy

Hechler was a friend and confidant of Herzl until Herzl’s death in 1904. He was only 44 years old. At his side was the only non-family member; William Hechler who took note of Herzl’s last words, “greet Palestine for me. I gave my heart’s blood for my people.” Prior to his death Herzl asked that the Zionist community remember and honor Hechler for all that he had done for him and and the Zionist movement.

After retirement, Hechler continued promoting Zionism, Herzl and Restorationism. Hechler was opposed to World War I and warned that European anti-Semitism would continue to grow and what would befall Jews who did not return to Palestine.

He died alone in 1931 and was buried in an unmarked grave in New Southgate Cemetery, London.

His predictions of a coming catastrophe for the Jewish people proved prophetic with the murder of six million during the horrors of the Holocaust.

Hechler’s unmarked gravesite was discovered and, led by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation and the British Christian Zionist Movement, a memorial stone was erected on 2011.

“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.” Jerry Klinger, Jewish historian

Had Hechler just been a student of prophecy only I wouldn’t be writing this now. God expects us as Christions to be involved in a tangible way in what He’s doing in Israel.

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