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Symposium Marks 100 Years Since Death of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda – and Start of International Decade of Indigenous Language

B’nai B’rith International will host on Nov. 15 an historic international conference on the Hebrew language at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. The conference, held in cooperation with UNESCO, will be a landmark one on the heritage of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in a United Nations setting.

The conference will open with video remarks by UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, and by Israeli President Isaac Herzog—and will feature the participation of both Moshe Bar-Asher, who served as president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language from 1993 until earlier this year, and his successor, Aharon Maman. The government of Israel established the Academy in Jerusalem in 1953 as the preeminent authority on the study and cultivation of Hebrew.

B’nai B’rith’s conference at UNESCO marks 100 years since the passing of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the Lithuanian-born Jewish lexicographer and newspaper editor who spearheaded the revival of Hebrew as the emergent Israeli lingua franca, as well as the start of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), for which the U.N. has designated UNESCO as lead agency.

The event, entitled “Hebrew as a Treasure of Human Heritage: Past, Present and Future,” will highlight the historic roots of Jews in the Land of Israel and the astonishing success of the modern Zionist movement in reviving as a spoken national language one that had been limited to religious scripture and liturgy during much of Jews’ long exile from their ancestral homeland. It will also showcase the outsized contributions of Hebrew to human civilization, particularly through the Bible; lessons that can be extrapolated for the preservation of other native languages and cultures; and the interplay between modern Hebrew and other languages, including Arabic and English.

The conference will feature simultaneous translation in English, French and Hebrew.

International viewers may register for online viewing here. The proceedings will be livestreamed by UNESCO and by B’nai B’rith on Facebook and YouTube, and later archived for subsequent viewing on those social media channels. The full provisional schedule may be found on B’nai B’rith’s website here.

Next week’s program, following previous B’nai B’rith symposia at UNESCO on two major Jewish diasporic languages, Yiddish in 2012 and Ladino (also known as Judeo-Spanish) in 2014, will focus on the philology, history and rebirth of Hebrew as the quintessential language of the Jewish people and one of single oldest languages in existence. With an audience of diplomats, academics, civil society representatives and community members, it will feature some two dozen distinguished experts from around the world.

December 2022 will mark a century since the death of Ben-Yehuda, who compiled the first dictionary of contemporary and ancient Hebrew and was the first secretary of the B’nai B’rith lodge in Jerusalem, founded in 1888. B’nai B’rith also assumed an important role in promoting Hebrew in the Land of Israel—founding the forerunner of what today is the National Library of Israel and the precursor of the Academy of the Hebrew Language.

The UNESCO conference was initiated and organized by B’nai B’rith’s Office of United Nations Affairs, based in New York, and the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, the organization’s permanent bridge to Israeli policymakers and society, working closely with B’nai B’rith’s representation to UNESCO in Paris. B’nai B’rith has led Jewish communal engagement with the U.N. beginning at the world body’s founding conference in San Francisco in 1945 and maintains official accreditation at multiple U.N. institutions, including UNESCO.