In Israeli lore, nothing more reflects the national rebirth of the Jewish state than the Zionists’ revitalization of the Hebrew language. At the turn of the 20th century in Riga, as Gal Beckerman relates in his magisterial history of the Soviet Jewry movement, “young people dressed in uniforms, marching, singing, learning Hebrew, preparing themselves to be farmers and soldiers in Palestine.” Under Stalin, Jews would gather to study Hebrew, though fear of the secret police mandated that such activity remain clandestine. In the decades that followed, the Soviets would persecute and even jail Jews for teaching themselves the language of the Bible.
These are tales of resistance, of long-distanced Jews desperate to rejoin their people. As Israelis tell their own story, the learning of Hebrew and the quest for freedom are often inextricably intertwined.