All Israelis cheered when Yarden Gerbi won the bronze medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, winning against her Japanese contender. It was the first Olympic medal awarded to an Israeli female athlete in two decades. Bronze is neither silver nor gold, but for all Israelis it was the prize to be honored.
Speaking of prizes, we as a nation have won many prizes that other nations have been unsuccessful in achieving.
Our first prize, as a modern state-in-the making was the genius of 19th century Eliezer Perlman Ben-Yehuda, father of the modern Hebrew language. Until he began his efforts to create a spoken language which would unite all Jews everywhere, Hebrew had been used only as a religious language in prayer. Yiddish and Ladino replaced a spoken Hebrew which was consider unholy by the anti-Zionist rabbis.
Our second prize was the establishment of the first all-Hebrew speaking school in the world. I am immensely proud that the Haviv school was built in my city, Rishon Lezion, just around the corner from our home.
Our third prize was the opening of the first all-Hebrew-speaking university in Palestine, on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem on April 1, 1925. The cornerstone was laid on July 24, 1918. Thousands of Jews and non-Jews from around the world attended the ceremony. Among the many speakers were Lord Arthur Balfour, Sir Herbert Samuel, British High Commissioner for Mandate Palestine, Dr. Chaim Weizman, noted chemist, president of the World Zionist Organization and in 1948 the first President of the new-born State of Israel, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook, and the Hebrew poet laureate of Palestine, Chaim Nachman Bialik. This was the second Jewish university founded in Palestine.
There was a great difference between the first university, the Haifa Technion or Israel Institute of Technology. It had been founded earlier than the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, but its language of instruction was German. Its first president was Professor Albert Einstein.
After the First World War there was a “language war” at the Haifa Technion.
Students rebelled against German as the language of instruction and won the battle, insisting that Hebrew was to be the only language spoken.
Our fourth prize was the glorious day of May 14, 1948 when David Ben-Gurion read aloud the Declaration of Independence declaring a Jewish State to be called Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, a nation reborn after two thousand years.
We are the only nation in the world which has redeemed our original ancient language, injecting it with terms of modern technology and living, based upon ancient Hebrew roots.
Our fifth prize was the ingathering of the exiles. Jews from more than one hundred countries moved to Israel bringing with them their languages, cultures, histories and Jewish religious traditions. And from the many, we created one….one nation, one people.
It would take several pages to list the many other prizes we have won. Forty-one percent of all Nobel Prize winners in literature, chemistry, medicine, physics and peace have been Jews or of Jewish descent.
Twelve Nobel Prizes were awarded to Israeli scholars.
No Nobel Prize will be awarded to this author but the one prize, the greatest of them all, is being a citizen of the Jewish State of Israel and traveling the world on an Israeli passport.
“Od lo avda tikvatenu…hatikva bat shnot alpayim… lihiyot am chofshi b’artzenu, eretz Tzion v’Yerushalayim”…. the words of our national anthem, Hatikvah, says it all. We have not yet lost our hope…our hope of two thousand years….to be a free people in our own land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.
The greatest of all prizes.