Page 73 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 29

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E L I E Z E R BEN Y E H U D A AND THE
H E B R EW R E B I R T H
On the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of His Death
By
J
acob
K
abako ff
I
n
t h e
spr ing
of 1884, Jehiel Michal Pines dispatched a letter
to the members of the Hoveve Zion society in Warsaw regard-
ing the impact Eliezer Ben Yehuda had made on Jewish life in
the Holy City. He described Ben Yehuda in the following glow-
ing terms:
This man’s personality is remarkable indeed and he is of
exemplary character. His love of his people and of its language
and land borders on ‘fanaticism.’ He constantly speaks Hebrew
to all, including his wife and son who was born in Jerusalem.
He pays no attention to those who mock him and is wont to
say: if there is none to make a start, there will be none to
follow; and none is unworthy of being the first in a worthy
matter. He has truly succeeded in silencing his scoffers who
know that if they wish to converse with him they must do
so in Hebrew.
Pines was one of the select group of friends and supporters whom
Ben Yehuda found in Jerusalem upon his arrival in the autumn
of 1881. He had come to settle in Palestine at the age of twenty-
four, together with his wife Deborah, to vindicate his conviction
that the way to national rebirth was through aliyah and the rebirth
of the Hebrew language. The dramatic life story of this frail and
sickly pioneer who never swerved from his avowed aims and who
lived to see their vindication has been recounted in play and song.
It has served also as material for an engrossing biography by Robert
St. John entitled
Tongue of the Prophets
(N.Y., Doubleday, 1952).
Born in 1858 in the town of Lushki, province of Vilna, Lithu-
ania, Eliezer Perlman received a traditional Jewish education and
early was exposed to Hebrew literature. In common with many
young people of his time he was drawn to secular studies, finally
deciding to go to Paris to study medicine. Under the influence of
Russian positivism, he became a confirmed nihilist. However, as
a result of the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-78 and the rise of
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