Page 10 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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There was no lack in Israel of assemblages and conferences
at which various aspects of the revival of Hebrew were consid­
ered. In America as well attention was focused on the role of
Hebrew and two conferences were convened under academic
auspices to consider it. At the University of Maryland, the em­
phasis of the conference on “Hebrew in America: Perspectives
and Prospects” (March 25-27, 1990) was on the modern period.
At Dartmouth College, the discussions were devoted to “Hebrew
and the Bible in Colonial America” (May 20-23, 1990). The con­
ferences complemented each other and brought together schol­
ars and educators who were concerned with Hebrew as a vital
factor in Jewish and American life.
The University of Maryland Conference, which was co­
sponsored by the National Foundation For Jewish Culture, con­
sidered the whole gamut of Hebrew educational, literary and
cultural activity, from the elementary through the college and
adult levels. The conveners conveyed the feeling that despite
the well meaning efforts of many loyal Hebraists in the past
and the activities of the Histadruth Ivrith (Hebrew Language
and Culture Organization) in the present, little impact had been
made upon the community at large. Despite the many cultural
advances in Israel, a decline appears to have occurred in the
Hebrew knowledge and literacy of American Jews. How to stem
this decline and to put Hebrew back on the communal agenda
was at the heart of the discussions at the conference.
The ideological issue of the viability of Hebrew in America
was sharpened in the session addressed by Gershon Shaked, of
the Hebrew University, and Ruth Wisse, of McGill University.
Shaked pursued his argument that American Jewry was to be
compared to that of Alexandria where Jewish life was practically
submerged by the surrounding Greek culture. He saw little hope
for the development in America of a vibrant Jewish culture rooted
in Hebrew knowledge because of the monolingual nature of
American society. Ruth Wisse, on the other hand, was more san­
guine concerning the possibilities for the further development
of an American Jewish culture. In her paper (reprinted in Com­
mentary magazine of June 1990 under the title “The Hebrew
Imperative”) she attributed the advances made by Jewish culture