Valeria Chazin

Celebrate Hebrew Language Day: Host a Book Swap in Communities Around the World!

Photo from our community's Hebrew book swap event.

For those haven’t heard about it, Hebrew Language Day was formally recognized by the Israeli government in 2012. It is celebrated on the 21st day of Tevet, the Hebrew birth date of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who is famously known for being responsible for the revival of the language. Being a fairly recent official date, this special occasion still goes almost unnoticed, especially in Jewish and Hebrew speaking Israeli communities around the world.

I would like to use this opportunity to call to action those who hold the Hebrew language and its continuity dear to their hearts, and to suggest adding the day to your celebrations this year! The Hebrew language is so beautiful being both ancient and modern, and it is an asset that contributes to connecting Jewish communities worldwide, not to mention the connection to Jewish traditions. In different times of history, Jews were even risking punishment while seeking to learn or read the language, so it is our privilege and duty to celebrate it.

If you are an educator at a Jewish school, mark the day with special activities for your students. If you are a parent, commit to reading a book in Hebrew to your kids on that day. If you are part of a book club, schedule a special meeting where you discuss not just the plot but also the language itself.

If you want to celebrate bigger with the community, here is a wonderful and easily executed idea: host a community book swap!

Hebrew readers living outside of Israel are well familiar with this problem: where and how to get new Hebrew books? Shipment costs from Israel can add up quickly, and luggage space when coming back from trips to Israel is also limited, not to mention the added weight to the suitcases. Afterwards, the books that were already read are simply laying untouched at home piling up dust. Hebrew Language Day then is the perfect occasion to refresh these small home libraries, pick the books you do not want or need to hold to anymore, and exchange them for some new reading materials, with all the benefits of the second-hand usage on top.

It is an easily organizable event and free to put together, as all you need to do is to find a hosting space. Public libraries usually can let you book meeting rooms, or an outdoors shelter at a park can do if you live in a warmer location. It is also a great opportunity to come together as friends and community members, talk, socialize, and exchange literary recommendations, and better do it in Hebrew! You can add on some fun to your event by printing coloring pages for kids, having short Hebrew poetry read aloud, or playing some Israeli music in Hebrew at the background. The options to add charm are unlimited, just use your imagination.

Hebrew is the Native language of a tiny fraction of people in the world population, most of them living in Israel. In recent years, Jewish institutions and academics point out to an alarming decline in Hebrew literacy, especially in communities outside of Israel. That can present Hebrew speakers living outside of the country a unique challenge, but also a great opportunity and even responsibility to take part in spreading the knowledge of the language around. Let’s commit then to making sure the situation is not worsening but rather improving on our watch by encouraging reading in Hebrew and circulating these books around. I truly enjoyed organizing a book swap event in my town this weekend, and if more of us will join the call, maybe this can turn into a wonderful annual tradition in our communities, a celebration of Hebrew Language Day!

About the Author
Valeria Chazin is the co-founder and board of directors chair of Students Supporting Israel. She is a speaker on topics of Israel and Zionism, and an activist in the Jewish community.
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