The language may be international – the singer was in name only

The song, “Hebrew My Beloved,” was pre-recorded and could be barely be described as a fleeting cameo appearance.

Famed Israeli transexual singer and Eurovision winner Dana International.  (photo credit: IAN HODGSON/REUTERS)
Famed Israeli transexual singer and Eurovision winner Dana International.
(photo credit: IAN HODGSON/REUTERS)

Anyone who expected to see former Eurovision star Dana International launching her new song at the start of Hebrew language week at the President’s Residence on Sunday was in for a big disappointment.

The song, “Hebrew My Beloved,” was pre-recorded and paired with an animated video in which the diva made what could be barely be described as a fleeting cameo appearance.

Before the event began, one could hear a babble of languages in English, Spanish, Russian, French and more from the many ulpan (intensive Hebrew study) students who helped to fill the hall. It was almost proof of the reason for Herzl’s objection to Hebrew as a national language.

“Who knows Hebrew well enough to purchase a train ticket?” he had asked almost a century and a half ago.An English language film on what it means to be an Israeli cited all the usual reasons, plus the ability to pronounce the guttural ‘r’ and ‘kh’.

The punch line was “To be an Israeli is to know Ivrit [Hebrew].” Herzog in his address used a familiar Hebrew slogan, “Words create reality,” and insisted this is not just a metaphor, but an emphasis on the role of words in creativity.To prove his point he quoted from the story of creation in the Bible: “And God said let there be light, and there was light.’”

 President Isaac Herzog. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) President Isaac Herzog. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Delving deeper into the significance of words, Herzog said, “We are not only the people of the book but the people of the word.” He spoke of Jews returning from exile to their ancestral homeland and becoming connected by the revival of the Hebrew language.

Relating to the Herzl quote about the train ticket, Herzog said, “Today, Hebrew is a living, breathing language. We have to not only use the language but also preserve it. The language of the Bible and the sages is part of our DNA.”

World Zionist Organization chairman Yaakov Hagoel, who is also acting chairman of the Jewish Agency, said he was born in Israel to parents who were born in Israel, and whose culture and history was in Hebrew, an old-new language rooted in antiquity which is constantly reinventing itself.

Hebrew links contemporary Jews with their ancient past “going all the way back to Sinai,” he said, adding that it is a bridge between tradition and innovation.

Marina Rosenberg, who heads the WZO’s aliyah (immigration) promotion unit, said her unit brings a quarter of a million Jews together each year, and their most moving meetings are when they find that Hebrew is their common language.

“It’s a strong unifying factor and a symbol of independence,” she said. “Once we were a people in need of a state. Now the state is in need of Hebrew-speaking Jews.”

Journalist and Hebrew-language expert Ruvik Rosenthal, addressing the ulpan students, told them that they were links in a 140-year-old chain that grows with every immigrant. People don’t even realize the biblical influences in modern Hebrew, he said.