Jason Shvili
An Israeli in Canada

The Case for a Semitic Cultural Revolution in Israel

I have had a number of responses to my last post, It’s Shabbat, Not Shabbos!, some positive and some negative.  The folks who don’t like what I have to say accuse me of racism and advocating ethnic cleansing. I honestly don’t understand the hostility, because I am not advocating anything that Israel’s forefathers didn’t advocate themselves.

All of Israel’s forefathers from Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the founder of modern Hebrew, to David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, advocated a return of the Jewish people to our Hebrew, Semitic roots. If this were not the case, Ben Yehuda would not have taken it upon himself to modernize the Hebrew language so that it could be used in the contemporary world and David Ben Gurion would still have been David Grun. So by advocating a return to our original cultural roots, I don’t think I’m doing anything different than Israel’s founding fathers, who did not originally have Hebrew names or even speak fluent Hebrew.

I think that the folks who don’t like what I say have forgotten where we, the Jewish people, the Nation of Israel, came from. We are a Semitic people, just like the Arabs, Assyrians, Arameans and Phoenicians. Our roots are not in Europe, but in the Middle East, where Israel first became a nation. Yes, it is an indisputable fact that the Jewish people spent centuries in Europe and have been a major contributor to European civilization for two millennia, but we did not do so willingly. We were expelled from our ancestral home in the Land of Israel by a succession of enemies, from the Babylonians to the Romans.  Now that we have returned to the land of our forefathers, it is only natural that we try and reclaim our Hebrew, Semitic heritage – something that modern Israel’s founders have been trying to do from the beginning of the Zionist movement right up until today. I am simply trying to carry on this legacy.

Besides, now that Jewish independence has been restored, many cultural traits that we had developed during our time in exile have become redundant. Take the Yiddish language for example. It was created so that Jews in Europe could communicate with each other, regardless of where on the continent they came from. But now that we have modern Hebrew, we don’t need Yiddish anymore. Furthermore, many of Israel’s founders and pioneers routinely condemned Yiddish as a corrupt jargon, so I am certainly not the first person to say this.

I am not trying to impose anything on anyone. I am just encouraging my fellow Jews who are already living in Israel to be Israeli and embrace the Hebrew, Semitic identity that Israel’s founders promoted. This is no different than people in any given country telling immigrants to embrace that country’s customs, language(s) and values. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” goes the old saying.  We certainly don’t want to give ammunition to the other people in the Middle East who say we are nothing more than European colonizers.  But by not embracing a Hebrew, Semitic identity, that’s just what we’re doing.

If anyone is trying to impose an identity on anyone, it’s the people who are the most reluctant to assimilate and embrace Israel’s modern Hebrew culture.  We call them Haredim, or so-called ultra-Orthodox Jews.  If it were up to them, we would all be walking around in black hats and black coats speaking Yiddish.  These are people who burn Israeli flags, spit on women for dressing “immodestly” or refusing to sit at the back of the bus, and say that modern Hebrew is an abomination.  They are the people who spit and throw rocks at cars on Saturdays, chanting “Shabbos! Shabbos!”  It is they who would have us once again become a nation of paupers and priests as if we were still living in the shtetls and ghettos of Europe. It is they, not I, who are saying that their way is the only way.

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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