The Head, Heart And Hand of BBY
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Eliezer Ben-Yehuda died on December 16, 1922, just before this house was complete. His wife, Chemda, lived on the property until her death in 1951. Over the years, Chemda turned the home into a commemoration center of Ben-Yehuda’s life achievements.
A few years later, the Ben-Yehuda family donated their house to the municipality of Jerusalem. In 1965, the municipality rented it to private residents, and in 1971, Jerusalem’s former mayor Teddy Kollek decided to hand it over to Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste (ASF), a volunteer organization based in Germany. In 2004, a new wing was built in the backyard to be used as a seminar space for German volunteers seeking understanding on the State of Israel and what it means to the Jewish people.
In the same year, the decision was made to establish “Beit Ben-Yehuda” as the International Meeting Center and guesthouse we have today. The goal was clear from the start: to open doors to people from all backgrounds, and create a place that is a cultural center for learning and understanding. With a focal point on German-Israeli relations, we do offer a variety of different seminars, workshops, lectures, language courses and other events on historical, sociological, political and cultural topics, including our German, Hebrew and Yiddish courses.
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858 – 1922)
Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was the main figure in the transformation of the Hebrew language. He converted the language from rom a strictly cultural and bible-based discourse, to a living, spoken language that is used in the daily lives of millions of Israelis and Jews all over the world.
Ben-Yehuda made an incredible intellectual and political effort to disseminate his linguistic innovations and modern Hebrew style in Hebrew newspapers by way of writing his Complete Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Hebrew (1908-59) and establishing the Hebrew Language Council (1889).
Born January 7, 1858, in the small Lithuanian city of Lushki, Eliezer Yitzhak Perelman (later Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) received a traditional Jewish education and already started learning the Hebrew language from Torah and Talmud before he was three years old. During the second half of the 19th century, when the idea of modern national status and new political movements appeared, Ben-Yehuda became a supporter of the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment) and the Zionist movement (Jewish national movement).
Together, with many other European Jews in the diaspora, Ben-Yehuda shared the vision of rehabilitating the Jewish nation and its ancient language in the historical homeland: Erez Yisrael (Ottoman Empire at that time). Committed to this idea, Ben-Yehuda left Lithua in 1876 to study medicine in Paris to provide new immigrants in Erez Yisrael with practical medical help. He urged for a rehabilitation of Hebrew as a connecting language between Jews worldwide. Acting on this theory, Ben-Yehuda determined that he should go to Erez Yisrael (the Ottoman province of Palestine) in 1881. At that time, only a very poor, apolitical Jewish population was to be found in the area, mainly living in the cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Teberias. Ben-Yehuda developed all kinds of different methods to enhance the Hebrew language; one was to only speak the modern Hebrew language at home, with his children, because he believed in the power of unity in upcoming generations. (See: Autobiography of Itamar Ben-Avi)
In the first years, success was sparse. Only a few Hebrew-speaking families in areas such as Rishon LeZion were following Ben-Yehuda's lead. In the 1890s, pious community members (Charedim) in Europe were against the daily use of the Torah's holy language. Ben-Yehuda was denounced as a threat to the Ottoman government on account of his continued call toward a 'Hebrewisation' of the county and was imprisoned for a year. Only after a second immigration wave to Erez Yisrael by European Jews fleeing Anti-Semitism in the early 20th century, modern Hebrew became a language of daily life as well as the language of political Zionism. When the first so-called Hebrew city of Tel Aviv was founded in 1909, it became a symbol of a new Jewish self-confidence and Israeli lifestyle. Now the Hebrew language was understood as an advancement, a part of secularization and great form of Zionism.
On December 16, 1922, Ben Yehuda died in Jerusalem of tuberculosis – only a few days after Hebrew was recognized by the British mandate as the official language of the Jews in Palestine. Ben-Yehuda’s son was the first Jewish child in Erez Yisrael that had Hebrew as his mother tongue. Today, numerous street signs in Israel are named after Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his son.
(Quoted from: Dr. Mordechay Mishor, Dena Ordan: Eliezer Ben Yehuda (1858-1922) – Reviver of Spoken Hebrew.)
‘‘Before Ben-Yehuda Jews could speak Hebrew, after him they did’