Page 55 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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o s e p h
l a u s n e r
21 TEVET 5718 (January 13, 1958) marked the one-hundredth
anniversary of the birth of Eliezer ben Yehuda, a man whose life’s
story is truly a wondrous, noble epic.
World history has recorded no comparable instance of an
ancient and hallowed language surviving for almost two thou-
sand years as a purely literary vehicle, and then, after a hiatus of
nearly twenty centuries, being resurrected as a spoken language
and again becoming dominant in the land of its birth. This mi-
raculous revitalization of a dead language is bound up with the
career of a single great man, who cherished a vision of the revival
of literary Hebrew as a spoken language and who was haunted
by this vision for the rest of his life. In consequence of his un-
flinching devotion to the cause of the Hebrew revival, this great
man suffered ridicule and contempt, and experienced failure and
frustration. But in the course of his forty years' struggle, he never
despaired of the “mad idea” which had captivated him; and
eventually, he emerged victorious over all obstacles.
There were, to be sure, other factors that contributed to his
signal victory: the changing times with their new ideas, but
above all, the loyalty of the Jewish people to their Homeland and
to their sacred literary heritage, which enabled them to produce
works in the national-religious tongue of the Jew. Many other
accomplished writers, poets and scholars also played a conspicu-
ous role in this extraordinary miracle. In the final analysis, how-
ever, it was this remarkable individual, Eliezer ben Yehuda, who,
in devoting his whole life to this great cause, revived the half-
dead corpus of the Hebrew language, prepared the ground for its
renaissance both in literature and in science, and gained recogni-
tion for it as the official language of the State of Israel.
Is not this the eighth wonder of the world, dramatically en-
acted in our own day and before our own eyes?
The Prophet of Spoken Hebrew
When Eliezer ben Yehuda first came to Eretz Israel, he landed
at the port of Jaffa. From Jaffa he went by coach—there being
no railways in Israel at that time—to Jerusalem. The coachman,
a graduate of “Mikveh Israel” agricultural school, spoke Hebrew,
and Ben Yehudah was profoundly moved. It appeared to him
Translated by Yaakov Reuel.