The Eliezer Ben-Yehuda Foundation, Inc.
Founded in 2008
Vision -- Conviction -- Fulfillment
Recently there was a news item on the web:
In Israel, a new biography was published, and a week-end magazine published a report whose front page was:
Who was this Eliezer Ben-Yehuda?
He was born in January 1858 in Luzhky, Lithuania,
to Feyga and Yehuda Lieb Perelman, a Hasid who died when Eliezer was only five
years old. He attended a Yeshivah (religious seminary) in Polotsk, and was introduced
there to the changing ideas in Judaism, Haskalah -- enlightenment, and secular
In an unfinished autobiography which he wrote while in the U.S. in 1917-18, he revealed that “In those days it was as if the heavens had suddenly opened, and a clear, incandescent light flashed before my eyes and a mighty inner voice sounded in my ears ‘the resurrection of Israel on its ancestral soil.’ Because of that voice, which has not ceased from that moment on to ring in my ears day and night, all my thoughts and plans which I had for my future life were shaken up. As night visions pale in the face of the light of day, so were my dreams of dedicating my life to the cause of freedom in the Russian nation replaced with a single ideal, manifest in two Hebrew words, ‘Yisrael b’artzo’ -- Israel in its own land! I was challenged by many, and one argument said that the Jews are not now and could not be in the future a nation -- because they did not possess a common tongue. I tried to argue, as others did, that there are nations such as the Swiss and the Belgians, who speak more than one language -- but the more I thought of the national revival the more I realized what a tongue can do to unite a people. I realized that just as the Jews could not become a living nation except by returning to their ancient homeland -- so also they could not become a living nation except by returning to the language of their ancestors, speaking it not only in prayer and study but also in all matters of life, young and old alike, at all hours of the day and night -- just like every other nation, each with its tongue. That was the decisive moment in my life, when I saw that the two things without which the Jews could not become a nation are the land and the language! ”
Eliezer wrote an article, “She’elah Lohatah” (“A Burning Question”) that was published in P. Smolenskin’s Ha-Shakhar in 1879, under the name “E. Ben-Yehuda.” For the first time the idea of a national rebirth of a Jewish nation in Eretz Israel was clearly propounded. Ben-Yehuda linked the Jewish national revival with the general European awakening and said that the Jewish people should learn from the oppressed European peoples that were fighting for political freedom and national revival. The Jewish people must establish a community in Eretz Israel that would serve as a focal point for the entire people, so that even those Jews who would remain in other lands would know that they belong to a people that dwells in its own land and has its own language and culture. In this essay, the fundamental principles of Zionism were actually anticipated: the settlement of the land for the creation or a national entity, an independent nation designed to save from assimilation and annihilation those Jews that are scattered all over the world and who wish to migrate there.
While studying medicine in Paris Ben-Yehuda contracted tuberculosis in the winter of 1878 and his doctors did not forecast a long and happy life for him. He resolved to discontinue his medical studies and make his home in the more favorable climate of Israel, where he hoped he could continue his advocacy for a national reawakening for a while before succumbing to his illness. In 1881, he left for Jerusalem. He traveled by way of Vienna, where he was joined by his childhood sweetheart, Deborah Jonas. He had written to her of his illness and his dim chance of a long and full life. He bade her forget him -- but she surprised him with a Ruth-like pledge, “wherever you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge...” They married in Cairo, on their way to make a home in the once and future land of Israel. In October 1881, they arrived in Jaffa where Eliezer informed his wife that henceforth they would converse only in Hebrew. The Ben-Yehuda household thus was the first Hebrew-speaking home established in Jerusalem, and their first son, Ben-Zion (who later became known by his pen-name, Itamar Ben-Avi) was the first modern Hebrew-speaking child. Soon after he and Deborah arrived in Jerusalem, before the end of 1881, Ben-Yehuda, together with Y.M. Fines, D. Yellin, Y. Meyuhas, and A. Mazie founded the society Tekhiyat Israel based on five principles: work on the land and expansion of the country’s productive population; revival of spoken Hebrew; creation of a modern Hebrew literature and science in the national spirit; education of the youth in a national and, at the same time, universal humanistic spirit; and active opposition to the halukkah (dole) system.
During the period 1882-85, Ben Yehuda worked on a Hebrew periodical published in Jerusalem, called Ha-khavazzelet, and put out a supplement to the periodical under the name Mevasseret Zi’yon. This journalistic work satisfied his need to be politically active for the nationalist cause. At the same time, he taught in the Jerusalem Alliance school, which post he accepted only after he was permitted to use Hebrew exclusively as the language of instruction in all Jewish subjects. The school was thus the first in which at least some subjects were taught in Hebrew. Ben-Yehuda published a geography book called ‘Eretz Yisrael,’ and translated many texts to use in his classroom to teach everything from mathematics to world literature. Toward the end of 1884, he founded a weekly, Ha-Zevi, which later became a biweekly under the new name, Ha-Or. In his class and in his papers he constantly coined new words for everything that had no words since Hebrew was last used. He published a “list of words” in every paper he published, but before long it became obvious that people could not keep collecting these lists -- there was a need for a “book of words” -- yes, even the word for dictionary did not exist in the tongue of the prophets. Ben-Yehuda thus was launched on his greatest undertaking: Milon Halashon Ha’ivrit ha’yshana vehakhadasha -- the Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, ancient and modern.
In 1891, Ben-Yehuda’s wife, Deborah, died of the disease that he had contracted in Paris. On her death bed she wrote a letter to her sister, sixteen years her junior. “If you want to be a queen,” her letter said, “then hurry to Jerusalem and marry my prince, my darling Eliezer.” Ben-Yehuda was a broken man after the death of his Deborah -- but the sister began her campaign to fulfill her sister’s wish. She wrote to him, pretending an interest in Hebrew -- which he, of course, could not resist. She chose a Hebrew name for herself -- Hemda. It meant “darling” -- and that’s how she unlocked his heart. About six months later he married her, and she became his constant companion in his political and literary activity
After his death in 1922, Hemda and his son Ehud, my father, continued his publication which, because of the ravages of the depression and the second World War and the battle for Israel’s independence, was completed, in sixteen volumes plus an introductory volume called Ha-Mavo-ha-Gadol (the great introduction) in 1959. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda has been recognized by history -- Jewish and non-Jewish, for his role in the revival of the tongue of the prophets. His role in the rebirth of the Jewish nation is much less known or acknowledged. However, it needs to be -- it should be proclaimed from the rooftops daily! Why? Because it lends legitimacy to the Zionist enterprise and dates its beginning beyond any reasonable doubt. His work of the Hebrew was a tool for Zionist success. It is doubtful if the Jews returning from the four corners of the world could have agreed in a national language for their reborn state had Hebrew not been prepared for them ahead of time by Ben-Yehuda. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda is buried in the Mount Olives cemetery in Jerusalem, in a family grave-sight bordered by a wrought iron fence with a gate above which there is an inscription in old Hebrew characters -- the same type of characters that he used on his family crest -- a map of eretz yisrael framed in the shape of a house. In is the Hebrew Homeland -- and above its roof is the legend, “ein zo agada” -- it is no dream! Why is it not a dream, you ask? Maybe because he willed it so much, dedicating his life, his wife and his children to that cause.
Do you want to read more about this amazing man of vision? Look for the book Fulfillment-of- Prophecy, on Amazon books .
Another picture featured in the news magazine in Israel:
The Eliezer Ben-Yehuda Foundation,
Inc. finds its mandate in Biblical prophecy concerning the return of the Jewish
People to their own land - and the consequent historic mission of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda,
who in 1881, following a vision from God concerning the return, moved to Jerusalem
and spent the next forty years working to fulfill the prophecy by teaching,
publishing newspapers and single-handedly reviving the Hebrew tongue to give
a language for a people that he knew will return home from the four corners
of the earth speaking in many tongues.
The purpose of this corporation is to teach and preserve the heritage of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, and to inform the people of all nations and affiliations of the miraculous ways of the Lord, and His grace in fulfilling His promise to the seed of Abraham.
The purposes for which this foundation
is organized are historical, educational and religious.
This corporation is organized exclusively for one or more of the purposes as specified in § 501 (3) (c) of the Internal Revenue Code, including, for such purposes, the making of distributions to organizations that qualify as exempt organizations under § 501 (3) (c) of the Internal Revenue Code, or corresponding section of any future federal tax code.