A walking tour of Tel Aviv Focusing on the resurrection of the Hebrew Language
It is common knowledge that the resurrection of the Hebrew Language can be attributed to the actions of one man: Eliezer Ben Yehudah. Despite that, he was not the first to use Hebrew in the modern era. Today we know, that as early as 1850, merchants in the then-new Machne Yehudah market of Jerusalem used Hebrew as a means of communication. They had just immigrated from the various diaspora and had no other common language to use. The year 1856 marked the first publication of a book in modern Hebrew, “The Love of Zion” by Abraham Mapu.
Nevertheless, the contribution of Ben Yehudah to the resurrection of the Hebrew language can not be belittled. As of the year 1908, he started publishing his first modern Hebrew dictionary, a magnum opus that could not be rivaled by any other. Having said that, the project of resurrection was mutual to more than a few.
Hebrew was a dead language until the 19th century. False. Hebrew was commonly used amongst Jewish communities as a written language. While most Jews did not use Hebrew as a spoken language, there is an abundance of Hebrew literature that was written throughout the span of Jewish life in the diaspora. This would include rabbinical letters, communal records, books of wisdom, and biblical and Mishnaic interpretations.
Jews did not know Hebrew. False. Most Jews were polyglots within their respective hosting communities. There were dozens of unique Jewish dialects. These differed from the languages of the surrounding populations. Most of us have heard about Yiddish and perhaps Ladino, but there are many more to mention: Jewish Iraqui, Yemeni, Moroccan, Spaniol, and Jewish Italian. Most Jews spoke the vernacular, the respective Jewish Dialect, and had knowledge of Hebrew as well. Hebrew was taught in the communal education centers, where Bible and Mishana were taught. For example, a Jew from Eastern Europe could probably speak Yiddish, Polish or Russian, and Hebrew for liturgical purposes. Women did not participate in the religious education system, therefore had less knowledge of Hebrew. Nevertheless, there were exceptions. Deborah Baron, one of the authors we “meet” on tour, was allowed to partake in studies at her father’s synagogue and had extensive knowledge of the language’s layers. Later on, she immigrated to Israel, lived, and published her work while based in Neve Tzedek.
A less-known fun fact about Hebrew
By the year 1900, there were 100,000 published books in Hebrew.
The following tour is designed after hearing Author Haim Be’er speak about the Hebrew Resonance Chamber. The goal is to introduce this idea through the eyes and works of the people who lived at the beginning of the 20th century. Neve Tzedek and Tel Aviv housed many of the main characters.
What will we do on tour?
We will walk through the beautiful streets of Neve Tzedek. On our way, we will visit the places where our heroes lived, read short parts of their works, and understand what the Resonance Chamber is all about.
What if I don’t speak Hebrew?
That’s fine. The tour is designed for English speakers as well and we have translated relevant parts of texts into English.
Who are the authors and poets we will “meet”?
We will meet Brenner, Bialik, Deborah Baron, Azar, Abraham Stern, Gutman, Rachel the poet, and Gershom Shalom
What else does the tour offer?
After touring Neve Tzedek we will move on to Florentine. The neighborhood was established in the 1930s, and it is considered one of the world’s most vibrant locations for street art. We will explore the aspects of the Hebrew language as reflected on the walls.
How long is the tour?
About two and a half hours.
What should you bring?
A hat, sunscreen, water, and comfortable shoes. We can stop for coffee and ice cream in the middle of the tour. There are bathrooms at the starting point. Total walking distance- about two miles.
Where do we meet?
The old train station outside Neve Tzedek on Keufman street, or you will be picked up at your hotel.