Jason Shvili
An Israeli in Canada

Guidelines for Achieving a Semitic Cultural Revolution in Israel

Last month, I wrote about why Jews in Israel should return to their Hebrew, Semitic roots and turn away from the cultural traits that the Jewish people have adopted as a result of thousands of years of exile. I would like to use this post in order to provide some guidelines for how I think we can do this.

I will begin first by saying that although Jewish culture has been corrupted by non-Semitic elements, such as the Yiddish language and other non-Semitic Jewish dialects, or the non-Semitic Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew, just to name a couple of examples, the fact of the matter is that all cultures influence each other and that no culture, including ours, is immune from outside influences.

I want to make this clear for those of you who may have read my previous posts and assumed that my desire is to create a Hebrew, Semitic culture in Israel that is completely free of foreign influences.  This is certainly not my intention as it would be both impractical and impossible for our culture to be free of foreign elements.  I do, however, seek to rid our culture of certain elements that significantly weaken our identity as a Semitic people.

Jews Living in Israel Must Behave Like Yehudim, Not Yids!

I really don’t understand Jews who make the decision to go live in Israel and yet continue to live as if they were still living in whatever country they moved from.  Like I said before, I don’t think it’s right for Jews living in Israel to have non-Semitic names, like Wasserman or Rubenstein.  A couple of people have called me a hypocrite because of the fact that my name is obviously not Hebrew or Semitic.  I admit that I would be a hypocrite if I were to go live in Israel and keep my name as it is. Many of the first Israelis, including some of the state’s founding fathers, didn’t have Hebrew names before they came to live in Israel.  For example, David Ben-Gurion was David Grun and Golda Meir was Golda Meyerson.  But of course, once these people came to live in their ancestral homeland, they took it upon themselves to adopt Hebrew names in order to help them reconnect with the Hebrew, Semitic identity of their ancestors, and I believe that any Jew who goes to live in Israel should follow this example.

Now, just to be fair, virtually all Israeli Jews have at least a Hebrew first name.  Many of them, however, have maintained a non-Semitic last name and I would encourage them to do away with those names and adopt Hebrew family names in order to reinforce their Hebrew, Semitic identities. I make the pledge here to adopt Hebrew first and last names (I actually already have a Hebrew first name) if and when I move to Israel.

I would also encourage Jews who move to Israel to do their best to learn the Hebrew language.  It really makes me nuts how anyone can move to another country and not make a good effort to learn that country’s language.  I see too much of this phenomenon in Canada, where I now live, but I’ve also seen it in Israel. My grandmother living in Jerusalem, for example, had a friend who also lived in Israel for decades, but still hadn’t mastered the Hebrew language.  I’m sorry, but unless you have a learning disability, or something like that, there’s no reason you should not be able to learn Hebrew and be fluent in it within a reasonable amount of time.

Finally, for those of you who happen to be members of the Haredi community, if you’re planning to move to Israel, please shed your medieval Polish garb, the corrupt jargon you call Yiddish, and that horrible, Yiddishized way you read Hebrew.  These kinds of things belong back in the shtetl, not in Israel. Israel is a country for Yehudim, NOT Yids!

Hebrew Must Be Reinforced and Reformed

I would say that one of Israel’s greatest achievements is the rebirth of Hebrew as the national language of the Jewish people.  It’s another reason we should do away with non-Semitic Jewish dialects like Yiddish and Ladino.  We simply don’t need them anymore.  We have our real language back!

Nevertheless, I think that modern Hebrew is still a work in progress and that it has lost some of its Semitic character.  I’m no linguist, but I’m betting that the Hebrew of our biblical ancestors sounded significantly different than today’s Hebrew. I’m certainly not advocating a complete return to the Hebrew that was spoken in the times of David and Solomon, but I do think we could make some changes to it so that it is more Semitic in character.

For instance, the letters  “ט” and “ת” sound the same in modern Hebrew, but I’m guessing that in the past, they probably sounded different.  My thinking about this stems from my study of Arabic, another Semitic language, which also has two “t” letter equivalents with both having unique pronunciations.  The “א” and “ע” also sound the same in modern Hebrew, but if the original Hebrew language was anything like Arabic, and I’m betting it was, the “ע” probably had a distinct sound. Arabic actually has the same two letters, though obviously written in a different script.  But unlike the “ע” in modern Hebrew, the Arabic equivalent has a distinctly different pronunciation.  My point is that we should bring back at least some of the Semitic characteristics that modern Hebrew does not currently use.

Furthermore, I believe that the use of Hebrew in Israel needs to be reinforced.  Yes, I know you’re probably thinking that it’s contradictory for me to be saying this while writing in English, but the unfortunate fact is that most of the Jewish people still don’t speak Hebrew yet.  On my trips to Israel, I see way too many signs written only in English or some other language besides Hebrew and Arabic.

To combat this type of trend, I would propose adopting laws similar to the Canadian province of Quebec, where French is the dominant language and culture.  In order to reinforce the French language and prevent further anglicization, Quebec’s government has enacted laws that require all signage to be in French.  Signs in other languages are legal, but French must be the dominant language on all signage. New immigrants to the province are required to study in French-language schools regardless of their mother tongue, and children in these schools are discouraged from speaking any language other than French.  I would love to see similar laws implemented in Israel, with the only exception being that Arabic be exempted in order to accommodate the country’s Arabic-speaking minority.

Remove Funding and Other Support for Non-Semitic Jewish Culture

The last thing I would like to see is for our leaders in Israel to cut off all support, financial or otherwise, for the promotion and maintenance of non-Semitic Jewish culture.  For instance, any elementary or secondary school in which Yiddish or any other non-Semitic Jewish dialect is taught must not receive funding from Israeli authorities.  No government support of any kind should be given to any festivals or organizations promoting non-Semitic Jewish music, arts or other cultural practices.

In addition, no government support should be given to religious institutions in Israel that promote religious practices or traditions consistent with non-Semitic Jewish practices or traditions. As I’ve stressed before, Israel is a democracy and no one can prevent people from maintaining and celebrating non-Semitic Jewish cultural traditions, but no Israeli government should feel obliged to provide any support to anyone who seeks to maintain and celebrate traditions that are not consistent with the Jewish people’s true Hebrew, Semitic roots.

About the Author
Jason Shvili was born and raised in the Greater Toronto Area. He studied at the University of Toronto and now owns and operates a small business. He is proficient in Hebrew and also has working to advanced knowledge of Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian.
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