(photo credit: Courtesy )
To mark Theodor Herzl Day on Monday - the Hebrew birthdate of the Zionist visionary - the youth movement Hano'ar Ha'oved Vehalomed has announced plans to translate Herzl's Altneuland ("Old-New Land"), into five different languages, including Amharic.
In addition to translating the book into the Ethiopian language for the first time, the group plans to release copies in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian, in a bid to make the book accessible to more of the country's youth.
"Herzl's vision is as relevant today as it's ever been," said Pesach Hausfater, Hano'ar Ha'oved Vehalomed's director. "And we're of the opinion that it's not only incumbent upon all young people in the State of Israel to become acquainted with the image of a Jewish state as envisioned by Herzl, but that implementing his practical vision in today's society is both possible and correct.
"Ask Ethiopian, Arab or Russian families in Israel if they're familiar with Herzl's ideas about free higher education, for example," Hausfater said. "It's a question that belongs in the national debate, and Israeli leaders need to begin implementing the suggestions offered by Herzl."
Additionally, Hausfater said, Herzl's place in Israeli life has been relegated to "just a statue on the way to Tel Aviv or the name of a city. Israelis aren't familiar with his ideas or his detailed plans for society."
The novel, which was published in German in 1902, depicts Herzl's blueprint for the realization of Jewish national emancipation, as put forward in his book Der Judenstaat ("The Jewish State"), which was published in 1896.
Both utopian and ideological, Altneuland presents a spiritual and ethical model of society that draws partially from the Mussar Movement, while adopting a liberal, egalitarian social model.
Rather than imagining the Jews speaking Hebrew and renewing their Jewish traditions, Herzl's novel presents a German-speaking society that reproduces European customs.
Additionally, the Jewish homeland's industrial and cultural center is located in Haifa, not Jerusalem. Tel Aviv, of course, did not yet exist when Herzl penned the book.
The novel had an immediate impact on the then-budding Zionist movement, and served as a major inspiration for its Socialist stream - the dominant strain of Zionism during its early days.
The cooperative agricultural settlement portrayed in the novel is in many ways seen as an antecedent to the kibbutz, while the phrase "If you will it, it is no dream," adapted from the novel's epilogue, was adopted as an early Zionist slogan.
But the novel was also received with criticism by some, most notably Ahad Ha'am, who sharply criticized Altneuland both for its lack of Jewish identity and Torah content, along with its assumption that millions of Jews could be settled in Palestine without upsetting the local Arab population.
The novel's plot tells the story of Friedrich LÃ¶wenberg, a young Jewish Viennese intellectual, who, fed up with the decadence of Europe, joins a Prussian aristocrat named Kingscourt on a journey to a remote island in the Pacific.
Stopping in Jaffa on their way out to sea, they find Palestine a destitute and scarcely populated land, much like it had appeared to Herzl on his visit in 1898.
LÃ¶wenberg and Kingscourt spend the following 20 years on the Pacific island, cut off from civilization. As they pass through Palestine on their way back to Europe, they discover a land drastically transformed, featuring a free, open and cosmopolitan society, which boasts a thriving cooperative industry based on state-of-the-art technology.
Herzl's book portrays a world in which European Jews had rediscovered and re-inhabited their old-new land, and had reclaimed their own destiny in the Land of Israel.
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