I am a Hebrew
Manifesto of the Struggle for Israeli Linguistic and Cultural Independence
Buy a plane ticket to Israel, fly for five or eleven or sixteen or however many hours, disembark, go through passport control, exit the airport – and discover that you never left your American or British point of embarkation. The same English language plastered all over the storefronts, the same designer jeans plastered all over everybody’s behind, the same McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants in every mall, the same abominable rap music issuing from the taxi driver’s radio – even the same English graffiti scrawled all over the walls. Spend a little more time in the country – a few days will suffice – and you will discover the, appalling, mind-boggling, disgusting truth that in nearly every walk of life, public and private, an increasingly large percentage of Israelis are busy jettisoning every aspect of Hebrew and Zionist culture in favor of a wholesale adoption of a language and lifestyle hailing from across the Atlantic.
Now, if you think that it is a good thing that the cultural and ideological foundations upon which the State of Israel was built are being ripped out from under this fledgling polity at a dizzying pace, then stop reading here. If, on the other hand, you realize that no political entity in human history has survived the disintegration of its underlying raison d’etre, let alone a country the size of teeny-tiny Israel, surrounded on all sides by over a billion people who want it gone yesterday; and if you understand that virtually all of Israel’s major problems, whether in the political, social, military or diplomatic realms, are a direct result of the disconnection of the country’s leadership and an ever-increasing proportion of its population from Zionism and Judaism – then read on. Because we have to do something about this, and we have to do something big, and we have to do it now.
I AM A HEBREW
Statement of Purpose
The Zionist movement was created over a century ago by young, giant hearts in order to goad the Jewish people to return to its land and celebrate its identity without fear or shame. Its goal was not only political independence for the Hebrew nation, but cultural independence, without which there can exist no nation in the first place, and without which there is no point to the entire enterprise. Tremendous, creative strides were made in this realm, but they did not suffice: for many decades now Israeli public (and private-personal) space has been stuffed to the gills and completely overtaken by foreign content, and our children in the so-called Jewish State – including those in the religious communities – grow up on an imitative, imported culture which is neither Jewish nor Israeli. This all-engulfing mega-trend is thoroughly undermining the central and most essential objective of Zionism: the return to ourselves. More than this: it is undermining our existence as a nation, living and building its future in its old-new land. With all the challenges surrounding and threatening us – and they are legion – there is no threat greater than this one, for it erases our inner meaning, our raison d’etre, our will and our ability to struggle on behalf of our land and our people.
The two most momentous transgressions – transgressions that almost brought about our extinction – perpetrated by the Children of Israel on their way into the Land of Israel (as well as for many centuries after they arrived) were: (a) the imitation of the ways of the peoples that surrounded us, and (b) a lack of faith in our ability to prevail over those nations despite their immense power, and lead an independent existence.
“The deeds of the ancestors are a sign for their descendants,” as our rabbis taught. How can we – after having risen like lions from the depths of ultimate destruction, returned to our country and redeemed our land, sharpened our swords and revived our long-dead language so that we might live in peace in our national home according to our unique, Hebrew-Jewish lifestyle – how can we, only two or three generations after this incredible and unprecedented accomplishment, throw up our hands and get down on our knees and surrender and join, like sheep to the herd, the craven present-day worldwide trend which has seen hundreds of once proud nations forfeit their national-cultural identity in favor of dissolution into the international-Western goop?
How can we? It seems, unfortunately, that we can and how. Open your eyes and look around: in every conceivable field of life, English is unseating our beautiful Hebrew, the language of our forefathers and foremothers so recently revivified, and slowly (indeed: rapidly) removing our national language from our lives. And together with Hebrew, the Jewish-Zionist-Israeli cultural identity of large portions of our people here in Israel is disappearing. The younger generation of Israelis is suffused with foreign music, foreign phone content, foreign television series, foreign advertising. Our children’s heroes are almost entirely Americans, or Israelis who have “made it big” abroad and left Israel permanently for the U. S. “Our sons and our daughters are given unto another nation and our own eyes bear witness to it,” and we stand helpless in the face of this massive tsunami, like Saul and his soldiers in front of the Philistine Goliath.
“English is the Only Way”
It gets worse. A great many of us here in Israel have even lost the motivation to fight this poisonous phenomenon, since – so we have told ourselves over and over like a broken record for a good fifty years now – “English is the only way! English is the International Language, and everyone and anyone who wants to succeed and become a part of the big wide world (etc., etc.), simply must move over to English!” Even the Hebrew University in Jerusalem – pride of the Zionist project, founded by towering figures of the Hebrew renaissance like Ahad HaAm and Hayyim Nachman Bialik – recently declared, with no shame whatsoever, its intention to gradually transfer its entire curriculum and teaching language over to English (other institutions of higher education in Israel are following suit; some – like the Weizmann Institute – are already there).
On top of the thoroughgoing lack of national self-respect evinced by such a plan, not to mention the abject defeatism reflected in the notion that “this is the direction the whole world is taking, so we have no choice but to follow,” there is another dimension to this problem which is both sad and ridiculous. For we live, after all, in a time when exponentially improving simultaneous translation programs are rapidly rendering English as the world’s lingua franca entirely unnecessary and obsolete. In less than a decade, all languages will be translated into all other languages, instantly and perfectly, on both the written and spoken level (and I say this as an academic who makes a decent part of his living teaching Arabic and Persian, and whom this new technology might well impoverish). In other words, we are annihilating our newly reborn Hebrew language, and the Jewish-Zionist culture to which it is so tightly bound, for absolutely no reason at all: because we cannot look beyond the immediate present and see what’s coming right around the corner.
And moreover: since when do we Jews “join up” so easily? We are not, after all, “a nation like all the other nations.” We are the children of our father Abraham the Hebrew (Avraham Ha–Ivri): even if the whole world runs like a bleating herd to one side (ever), we for our part are commissioned to remain steadfast with two legs planted solidly on the ground on the other. Even if all the peoples on the planet are ready and willing to erase their uniqueness in the face of the Western economic-linguistic-entertainment juggernaut, we Jews will cling with all our might to our heritage, our sources, our language, and our Torah, as the People of Israel have done consistently, no matter what the sacrifice, for thousands of years.
This is the secret of our survival and our prosperity despite all odds: in the face of the direst circumstances – even during centuries of slavery in Egypt – we stubbornly refused to change our names, our dress and our mother tongue. But today, the disgraceful capitulation of the vast majority of Israeli society, including large portions of its religious element, to endless foreign influences, and the extinction of our own essence and its replacement by the essence of others, will soon lead – indeed, is already leading – to mass assimilation on the national level and an emptying out of Jewish Israel through an ever-growing movement of emigration. An entire generation of Israeli children currently lives in the West in their minds; it is only a matter of time until they live in the West in their bodies.
(We interrupt the translation into English of this manifesto in order to note that we are currently sitting in the Sukkah in our backyard, and the next-door neighbor is blasting Galei Tzahal, Israeli Army Radio. After an adulatory interview with a young Israeli singer named “Jenny,” who immigrated from Russia as a child, “sings on principle only in English,” and is all excited about her impending “reelokayshun” to New York City Estas Tonne style [how ‘bout that for a successful klitat aliyah?], the DJ has now played – count ‘em – seven English pop songs in a row, followed by the news, which opened with the death of yet another Israeli soldier at the hands of Arab terrorists – the third this week, including one young woman – all of whom died…for what!? If we are not building and maintaining and defending the Jewish-Hebrew-Zionist State, what in God’s name is the point of remaining here in the crazy violent Middle East and sacrificing young peoples’ lives and destroying their families’ happiness for ever over and over again?).
It does not matter which government is in power; it does not matter how strong the Israeli army is; it does not matter how many billions are earned by our much-feted start-up companies. If the up-and-coming generations of Israelis no longer know why they are here in the midst of hostile populations who number in the hundreds of millions and want nothing more than to drive us out of this sliver of territory; if they have lost the underlying connection to the Land and People of Israel that constitutes the sole motivation for remaining here and continuing to struggle; if they no longer know and feel this all-important “why,” then all the “hows” in the world will not save us.
Will an entire Israeli generation that has been raised on a sound-track, a scenery and an ideological discourse hailing from overseas, from cultures that have nothing whatsoever to do with Judaism or Israeli reality, and indeed for the most part reject the very notion of nationalism – will such a generation be able to defend a polity whose entire reason for being is the security, continuity and prosperity of one particular nation: the Jewish people?
(Another interruption – the last one, although the material for such is unfortunately endless. The Israeli parliament, despite the many acute crises the country is facing just now, made sure to find time just before the holiday to debate and vote on the “package” of the new Disney Channel for Israeli homes. The debate concerned how much it would cost the consumer to add this new component to a national television network already suffused from top to bottom and warp to woof with American and other foreign material. Out of one-hundred-twenty members of parliament – hailing from parties both religious and secular, on the right and on the left, the whole gamut – it did not enter the mind of even a single supposedly Zionist MP to raise the question what effect it would have on the future of the Jewish State when this added element brought the percentage of foreign content upon which our children are raised here in the Jewish State to something like 95%. The bill passed without any serious objections. Here he comes to save the day…).
The entire Bible – our people’s constitution, its founding document – is one long admonition against imitation: “Do not follow in the footsteps of the nation that I banish before you” (Levit. 20: 23); “After the manner of the Egyptians among whom you sojourned thou shalt not behave, and after the manner of the Canaanites to whom I bring you now do thou not behave, and do not follow their statutes” (Levit., 18: 3); “Lest you seek after their gods, saying: ‘How do these nations worship their gods, so that I shall do likewise?” (Deut., 12: 30). Indeed, certain commentators go so far as to explain history’s first murder on this basis: “And Cain brought from the fruits of the ground an offering unto the Lord; and Abel also brought an offering from the choicest of his flocks.” Abel was a copycat, and paid for it with his life. We, too, as a state and as a people, have become copycats, and we, too, shall pay for our interminable, abominable imitation with our national life. Because every state or people over the course of human history that has forfeited its unique culture has withered away. No exceptions.
It is important to emphasize: we are not advocating a “parochial” or “provincial” Israeli society (au contraire! Only a “provincial” people suffers from an inferiority complex so acute that it is willing to disgrace itself by means of widespread imitation of another people). We are not xenophobes. We do not advocate isolationism. Exposure to the cultures of others and the taking therefrom of enrichment and even inspiration? Terrific! Trade and commerce with other countries in order to strengthen the Israeli economy? Fantastic! Strategic cooperation with the United States and other Western powers in order to combat the burgeoning threat posed by Islamism? Essential! Rendering our considerable contribution to humanity in a whole gamut of fields as countless generations of our forefathers and foremothers have done from time immemorial? Capital!
But the thoroughgoing erasure of our Jewish-Hebrew-Israeli culture and the thoroughgoing adoption in its stead of an imported culture? The adoration of all that hails from beyond the ocean and the belittlement of all that has emerged from within us? And all this in the country that was built only yesterday with the blood of our loved ones and the sweat of our parents and grandparents for the sole and express purpose of returning to ourselves??
This no. This never.
We support with all our hearts the concept of “multi-culturalism,” the “international cultural mosaic.” But what are they thinking, those who endlessly bandy about such slogans, but simultaneously ignore the necessity of decorating and embedding their own special stones in that international mosaic? In order to contribute to world civilization, we have to possess what to contribute, we have to preserve and cultivate and celebrate our own particular heritage, customs, language, literature, worldviews and ideas! Thus must we do if we wish to participate in the enrichment of humanity, thus must we do wish to continue to exist at all, let alone thrive, as an old-new people in its old-new land. It is fine and desirable to go out into the big wide world. It is fine and desirable to bring the big wide world back into our home. But only on the condition that we first make sure to pour into our foundations the cement of our incomparably profound and colorful tradition.
The great Zionist philosopher Ahad HaAm praised what he called “self-emphasizing imitation” (hikui shel hitbaltut): the natural and healthy inclination of all human beings – individuals as well as collectives – to selectively adopt the ways of others and exploit them in order to strengthen and further throw into relief their own unique personalities. But he condemned, at the same time, what he called “self-effacing imitation” (hikui shel hitbatlut): the diseased and contemptible tendency to empty out the “I” of a given person or group and to fill the resulting lacuna with unoriginal, foreign content, and thus, in effect, to disappear. Upon this second phenomenon, so common in Israel today, the eye looks and weeps.
Perhaps you will say, “Stop making such a big deal – it’s human nature! The ‘other’ is always more interesting, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence!” This excuse might be convincing, but for one minor fact: in the United States or in Great Britain, the population doesn’t stampede like lemmings after foreign languages and cultures; in the United States and Great Britain, they think that their own grass is greener. And if you respond: “Well, I guess then that American and British culture really are the best of all cultures!” – if you say this, then the ailment from which you suffer indeed has no remedy. Whoever makes such a claim prefers another people over his own, another family over his own, whoever makes such a claim prefers a comparatively superficial, comparatively junior culture of relatively recent provenance (and we do not deny that it harbours many impressive elements) over a vast, deep, multi-layered heritage spanning almost four thousand years. Whoever makes such a claim evokes pity: he is like a person who sees another who is wealthier or handsomer than himself, and longs to trade identities with him. He who does not want to be himself, who would rather become someone else, is a sad and miserable soul.
Be Strong and of Good Courage!
Perhaps it appears impossible to you that we could ever reverse this destructive trend. Perhaps you believe that “there is nothing to be done” in the face of this tsunami of non- and anti- Jewish content that is sweeping our nation and drowning our young people, including via their ubiquitous mobile phones (may God create a virus that destroys them all, amen)? Perhaps you are convinced that the phenomenon is too pervasive, too deeply rooted, too powerful, and we are utterly helpless before it? Perhaps you long ago reached the conclusion that there is nothing to be done but to bend the knee, bow low, and surrender?
If so, remember that the Maccabees found themselves in the exact same situation. Hellenization in their time was rife and rampant not just among the Jewish population of the State of Israel, but throughout almost the entire inhabited world around them – just like today. But the brothers Hasmona’i did not give in, they did not lie down on their backs and allow the avalanche of alien ideas and institutions to flow over them and bury them alive. They rose and fought; rose and drove out the unbearably disgraceful phenomenon of thoroughgoing imitation of the other arising out of a lack of national self-respect that characterized large segments of our people; rose and reclaimed for us our identity, returned us to ourselves. “The deeds of the ancestors are a sign for the descendants”; the deeds of the Maccabees are a sign for us. May we be strong and have good courage – nitkhazek veh nit’ametz – and with God’s help, we will succeed.
Some of us have started the ball rolling:
We have been touring the country for several months now, speaking at every possible venue to sizeable crowds of young people, inspiring them to love who they are and take a fiery stand against assimilation. (Full disclosure: Mark Twain once said that if you use the first-person plural to refer to yourself, you had better either be a member of the royal family or, alternately, have a tape-worm. One could also be a character in Ayn Rand’s dystopian novelette Anthem which expands on the evils of collectivism, or an individual who employs a gender-neutral first-person pronoun because they is non-binary. Alas, I have none of these excuses. I say “we” because it sounds a lot better than the real truth, which is far closer to “I.” But yours truly really has appeared in front of literally thousands of young people over the past nine months or so, a fact which I attribute partially to my Ciceronian oratorical ability, but far more to the fact that we are in the Jewish State and the lectures are…free).
We (I!) have created challenging literature and designed and distributed thousands of provocative signs and stickers with which students present at our (my!) lectures have begun “decorating” Israel’s city streets at night in order to promote awareness in the days and weeks that follow.
We have set up a neat new website: www.עברי–אנוכי.com (this time it really is “we” – I created the content, others built the platform. My own tech savvy is limited to sending an e-mail – with an attachment, mind you). We have also started a social media campaign, and are preparing a professionally made, “subversive” video of the ugly phenomenon of Israeli identity abdication that we hope will go mega-viral.
We are gathering thousands of electronic signatures on petitions calling on Israeli companies, mall and cafe owners and others to abandon their craven “cosmopolitan” (i.e., Americanized and Anglicized) marketing campaigns – directed solely at Israelis – and come back to Hebrew and Jewish themes, if, that is, they want our business.
We are planning to picket a particular store-chain known as the MASHBIR – founded by none other than David Ben-Gurion expressly for the sake of “serving the needs of the Hebrew nation coalescing in Zion” but recently overtaken by marketing gurus who removed every last element of Hebrew from its logo and advertisement – in order to force it to change course, thereby scoring a symbolic victory that will hopefully create a ripple-domino effect.
Remember Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies? Remember what they did with those fistfuls of dollar bills on the Wall Street trading floor? (For the young and blissfully ignorant: they rained them down on the heads of the be-suited brokers, causing a momentary dip in the U. S. economy as the avaricious finance majors lunged to grab the moolah). Well, we have produced tens of thousands of fake 200 shekel bills, on the opposite side of which store owners are encouraged – if they want us to spend such large pecuniary denominations in their establishments – to change their signs, slogans and music back to Hebrew, and customers are encouraged to patronize only stores that do so. These bills will be handed out at all malls and shopping centers, and if our kids are possessed of the requisite mettle, will also rain down onto the mall floor from the second story like manna from heaven…
We are hard at work building Massive, Portable, Outdoor Bible Games – incredible amounts of fun! – which will be transported to schoolyards and neighborhood parks throughout the country from Dan to Eilat, so that Israeli children will have the time of their lives deep down inside of our incomparably rich Jewish heritage (see the final section of our – my! – essay on Israeli education, above).
We have taken for our masthead the words of the prophet Jonah: “Ivri Anokhi – I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord of Heaven.” We are just at the beginning, and there is a boatload work to be done. We plan to cooperate with any and all genuinely Zionist organizations (and individuals) in order to forge an army of those who actually give a damn, and deploy it for the purpose of returning Israeli society to itself. May we be strong – in the words of Moses to Joshua – and of good courage!
(Hope someday you’ll join us, as John Lennon sang, and then it will actually be “we”…)