Israel in the year 2040

In 1892, Lewinsky predicted how Israel will blossom in 2040. His fanciful predictions have already come to fruition.

By GUSTAVO PEREDNIK
January 25, 2012 22:28
Theodor Herzl leaning over the balcony of the Hote

Theodor Herzl leaning 311. (photo credit: E.M. Lilien)

 
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Between the years 1880 and 1920, around 10 novels were published describing versions of an imagined Jewish state reestablished in the land of Israel. They could be considered to be a literary genre –Utopian Zionism.

The most popular of these novels was Theodor Herzl’s Altneuland (Old and New Land, 1902) whose title was translated to Hebrew with the biblical term “Tel Aviv” and thus gave the name to the city that was founded at that time on shores of the Mediterranean.

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Altneuland’s plot is about two Europeans – the Jewish Viennese intellectual Friedrich Löwenberg and the Prussian aristocrat Kingscourt – who escape from their decadent society to the remote Cook Islands. Unexpectedly they disembark in Palestine twice: on their way to the Pacific Ocean in 1902, and upon their return 20 years later.

Their first impression of the Land of Israel is of misery and desolation, as Herzl himself had felt during his visit four years earlier.

On their return to Europe in 1922, Löwenberg and Kingscourt lay eyes on prosperous, thriving land. They are witness to a lively society, just and free, industrialized and cosmopolitan. This was Herzl’s prediction: Jewish immigration would facilitate the rebirth of the land of the Jews, and Arabs too, represented in the novel by a character called Reschid Bey, would be grateful to the Jewish state that would grant them employment and progress.

This vision of a blissful society didn’t gain the unanimous approval of the Zionist ideologues of those times. Unanimity has never been a Jewish trait. Ahad Ha’am bitterly questioned Herzl’s dream of a Jewish society entirely lacking Jewish culture. A different Zionist utopia was more to Ahad Ha’am’s taste: Trip to Eretz Israel in the Year 2040, written by Elchanan Leib Lewinsky in 1892, a decade before Herzl’s novel.

The whole genre had started 10 years before Lewinsky, with the publication of Ein Zukunftsbild (A Vision of the Future) by Edmund Menahem Eisler, the precursor of Zionist Utopias, who imagined a Hebrew-speaking Jewish monarchy. A copy of Eisler’s book was found in Herzl’s personal library, but Herzl, unconvinced of the possibility of reviving Hebrew, suggested instead a linguistic federation such as that of Switzerland. In one additional aspect Eisler was more on the target than Herzl: he foresaw that war was inevitable.



The young Hebrew teacher Elchanan Lewinsky had just returned from Palestine to Russia an enthusiastic Zionist. In May 1892 he published his vision of Israel in 2040, in Ha’Pardes, a Hebrew magazine in Odessa.

His book stirred one of the great debates of early Zionism, namely whether the priority of a Jewish state should be cultural or political.

The controversy began with Ahad Ha’am’s critique of Herzl’s novel, where he upholds Lewinsky’s cultural vision as more desirable. As usual, Max Nordau came out in the defense of Herzl, and the debate remains open until this day.

One could concede you can uphold both opinions, balancing the Jewish and Western- democratic aspects of the state.

Lewinsky’s novel is a first-person account of the honeymoon in Israel in the year 2040 of a couple of Hebrew teachers from Russia. In the land of their ancestors they discover cutting-edge agriculture, artificial rain in the Dead Sea, the town of Jaffa bustling with a population of over a million inhabitants, electric lights, marble buildings and three-lane avenues. Its port, named Ashdod, competes with Marseille and Hamburg in traffic and trade. The technological features of Lewinsky’s novel make him a forerunner of science fiction in Hebrew.

The land hustles and bustles in Hebrew, and every individual and institution has a Hebrew name. The honeymooners arrive in Israel on a boat called Yehuda Hamaccabi, steered by captain Yonah Ben-Amitai. Even non-Jews have Hebrew names, thus the Minister of the French Legion is Avner Ben-Ner and the chief of the Italian army is Avishai Ben-Zeruriyah.

In Lewinsky’s vision, the Jewish colonization of Palestine began due to Judeophobic persecutions in Europe during which Jews acquired all the territory spanning both banks of the Jordan River. By 2040, Judeophobia is defunct, and the motivation to make aliya is cultural. The Mount of Olives boasts a university and an observatory of world renown.

The Jews in their land are a nation of readers. In Jaffa alone, six newspapers are published, including sections of fashion and gossip. Among the featured advertisements, the “Hebrew Encyclopedia” is offered for the convenient price of one shekel.

While the government is spread throughout the country, the National Council is located in Jerusalem, and so is the president, who is elected for a period of one year.

The Western Wall is still in ruins, but Jerusalem is the heart of the country and the center of its public life.

No taxes are levied in Israel of 2040; the government is financed by its own assets. Small businesses are entirely replaced by big supermarkets.

Interestingly enough, Lewinsky endorses the importance of private enterprise. The state does not aim for equality among the population; it focuses instead on satisfying the basic needs of all citizens. Biblical social legislation is enforced, such as the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee, and the laws of kashrut are highly esteemed by all. Crime has almost disappeared, and the family unit is the center of social life.

According to Lewinsky’s vision, in 2040, Israel stands in stark contrast to Europe in its lack of national conflicts –all the non- Jewish minorities enjoy equality before the law. The Jewish army numbers 40,000 soldiers, serving for one year, and the country is protected by a powerful king and superpower. Peace Parks and Peace Promenades adorn every town.

The year 2040 is 5800 in the Hebrew calendar. Every conclusion of Jewish centuries has stirred the feeling of imminent redemption among Jews. Starting with the Hebrew year 5000 (1240 of the Gregorian calendar) at every turning of the century an apocalyptic atmosphere was felt, with hundreds of Jews coming on aliya. All these dates are mentioned in the kabbalistic literature: beginning with 1240, 1340, and so on until 1840. As each one of them approached, a messianic fervor arose that promoted aliya.

In 1892, Lewinsky predicted how Israel will blossom in the year 2040. The wonder is that his fanciful predictions have already come to fruition.

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