Prologue -- The Last Night
My grandfather and my uncle, whose name was Ben-Zion, but who was known by his pen-name Itamar Ben-Avi, were very involved with the early work to create a Jewish state in Israels ancient homeland. The following is an excerpt from "Fulfillment of Prophecy," a book I wrote about my grandfather. Some of the words are not historically recorded, but the incident is actually true.
Abyssinian Street was black and deserted that late Friday night. Most homes, their inhabitants sleeping peacefully, were dark, their windows having long lost the last flicker of candles that announced the Holiday of Lights. Only one house was lit up; only one door was open wide, men and women coming and going, bustle and activities continuing to pierce the dreamlike quality of the somnolent neighborhood. Once through the door, one was in a large room, sparsely outfitted with heavy furniture: a large credenza, a number of chairs, a couple of sofas and a table. A few short hours earlier people had been sitting around a table to celebrate the second light of Hanukkah, the Festival of the Rededication of the Temple in the days of the Maccabees, which was also the anniversary of the hosts release from jail. The house was filled with mirth and joy over a table laden with fine food and excellent wine. The guests had included visiting dignitaries from Holland, Great Britain and America, happy to have been invited to spend an hour in the company of the world-famous Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. Now most of the dinner guests were gone, replaced by doctors of medicine, concerned friends and recently arrived members of the family. The wife, Hemda, was pacing back and forth, filled with fear and remorse. Earlier in the evening she had looked at her husband and noticed a pallor that bode ill. She had dismissed it as only her own hearts foreboding. She should not have dismissed it, she thought now. She should have taken the advice of the family physician, Dr. Maziah, who suggested weeks ago that they keep a tank of oxygen for emergencies. Now Dr. Maziah was there, as well as Drs. Weitz, Nayman, Kagan, Dostrowski, and Katzman, Professor Shatz of the Betzalel art school, and a number of close friends. The governor of Jerusalem, having been notified of the emergency, appeared suddenly, to show his concern for one of his towns most noted citizens. The men and the women milled around, conversations going on in small groups of between two and three people in different parts of the room, in English, French, Arabic, and even Dutch! In the far corner of the room, on a small sofa, lay the object of everyones concern, hardly moving, drawing air in very short and shallow breaths, the movements of his chest discernible only at very close quarters.
Suddenly he stirred, with a strength that no one realized was in him he raised his body and leaned on his left elbow. He opened his eyes and looked around him.
"Ivrit," he said, in a feeble but clear voice, "dabru ivrit! Speak Hebrew! How can one rest when the ears are agitated and provoked by a Babel of languages? Only Hebrew will allow me some rest. Please..." He sank back on the sofa, as all conversation halted. His son Ben-Zion was at his side, comforting him in the Hebrew, the tongue of the prophets,
"Ani letzidkha, avi. I am at your side, my father. Your first born, your Hebrew son whom you dedicated to the rebirth of the tongue, to be the tool of a people resurrected as of old, which you envisioned..." He held his fathers hand between his own two big hands, rubbing the cold, emaciated hand, the one missing the index finger, the hand that wrote a whole language back from the dead.
"Ayafti, bni, hanakh li. I am tired, my son, let me be..." whispered the father in a voice barely audible. His wife, Hemda, came over to the bed and, caressing her beloved husbands head asked if he felt a little better.
"Ken, yoter tov. Yes, better," he responded. "Haivrit menikha li. Hebrew makes me rest." The Hebrew tongue, demanding mistress of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, after more than forty years of holding him in her spell, of driving him night and day, of demanding his complete devotion, his energy, his very essence of being, allowed him to rest. So he drifted off to sleep...
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