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In a country where the the spoken language is a revived ancient tongue, the first Festival of the Hebrew Language or Hagiga Ivrit will take place next week in Jerusalem.
Today, some scholars and purists of Hebrew are dismayed by what they see as the degradation of the language - the phenomenon that the average Israeli speaks improper Hebrew and sprinkles his speech with slang and street language.
However, Ruth Almagor Ramon, language advisor at Israel Radio and panelist at the festival's session The Face of Language as the Face of the Generation, feels differently: "Although I recognize that there is room for the average Israeli to improve the quality of his or her Hebrew, it is extreme to say that the Hebrew language is wasting away today," she says. "Modern Hebrew is a great success. Today, it is a mature language - a language of literature, a language of social interaction, a language of the army, and a language of slang, all at once." What's more, Almagor Ramon told The Jerusalem Post, she is impressed by the numbers of Israeli radio listeners who take an interest in the status and usage of modern Hebrew.
Poet Miron Isaacson, another festival participant and great-grandson of Dr. Aharon Mazie - who followed legendary Hebrew modernizer Eliezer Ben Yehuda as the second president of Va'ad Halashon, the Hebrew Language Committee - agrees with her approach to modern Hebrew. As he sees it, "the Hebrew language is one of the two greatest acheivements of Zionism. The other is the building of a Jewish state in the land of Israel.
"During the times of Eliezer Ben Yehuda and my great-grandfather Dr. Mazie', very few believed that the transformation of ancient Hebrew into a day-to-day spoken toungue would be possible," he says. "Today we know that it was, and I see this as miracle to be celebrated." Like Almagor Ramon, Miron Isaacson does not overlook today's challenges to the modern Hebrew language. However, he explains that "the phenomenon of an expanding Hebrew vocabulary, including slang, follows the model of natural development of a language."
The Festival of the Hebrew Language will host a wide variety of events, including the first Hebrew theatrical performance of British poet Lord Byron's Cain (1821), an evening of comedy about modern Israeli slang and street language, several musical performances by famous Israeli musicians and numerous panels on the legacies of reknowned Israeli poets and novelists Haim Nachman Bialik, Shaul Tchernichovsky, Natan Alterman, David Avidan and Yaacov Shabtai.
Dates: March 19-23, Yad Izhak Ben Zvi, Abravanel 12, Rehavia, Jerusalem. Evening events, 8:30 PM, NIS 65, students and under 30, 30 NIS. For details: (02) 539-8888 or visit www.ybz.org.il