Last night, I took Matan and Yehuda on an adventure. Every year in Israel, they have “The Week of the Book” all over the country. It’s a fantastic series of events which includes lectures by Israeli and international authors, a number of huge book fairs and other activities. I arranged for a babysitter for the three little boys so that we could head out before Josh got home from work, and we took off for Jerusalem.
The entire time at the fair I was thinking about Ben-Yehuda. No – not the street that has a ton of foot traffic and great shops – but the man. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.
The Jerusalem part of the book fair was held in a huge park in downtown Jerusalem and featured thousands – and I mean thousands upon thousands – of books. All in Hebrew. There was Harry Potter next to “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie;” the complete works of Shakespeare coupled with “Moishe Goes to Town” and so on. Every type of Israeli that you could possibly imagine was at the fair, snapping up books left and right, and even sitting in the aisles pouring over their various finds. The atmosphere was as festive as a circus, a circus of literacy and a love of books.
So, while enjoying the atmosphere and ambiance, I reveled in thinking about Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Ben-Yehuda is considered to be the father of the modern Hebrew language. In 1881, Ben-Yehuda made his way to Palestine and settled in Jerusalem. He made it his life’s work to develop a new language that could replace Yiddish as the means for everyday communication in the Holy Land. Much, I’m sure, to his family’s chagrin, he demanded that they speak nothing but Hebrew in the home. He was an ardent Zionist – and an ardent defender of the need for a universal language to unite all Jews.
And somehow, miraculously, it worked. Just ask my kids.
100 plus years later, here we are, in our own homeland, speaking a language that lay dormant for thousands of years and that was never used as a practical, everyday form of communication until recently. Ben-Yehuda’s frustration and dogmatic insistence has paid off. I’m always amazed when I listen to my children talk in Hebrew, or when I watch them reading this crazy collection of symbols (how do they read it without the vowels?). They are living, breathing examples of the revival of a dream – and of the fulfillment of a mission. They are speaking the language of all of our most Holy Texts – speaking it every single day as if it’s the most casual and normal thing in the world.
And there we were at the book fair, surrounded by… drenched in… and basking in books in Hebrew.
Hebrew – and Israel – are alive and well, thank you very much Helen Thomas and so many others like you. We are here to stay and we prove this each day in this vibrant, amazing land that we are continually building and cultivating for ourselves, for our children and for the future of the Jewish people.