By Shira Sorko-Ram
When Eliezer Ben Yehuda decided to leave Europe for Jerusalem in 1881, there was not a single person in the Holy Land, or any place else in the world, who spoke Hebrew as their mother tongue. There was no such thing as everyday, spoken Hebrew—only words to be read from the Bible and rabbinical passages.
But Eliezer fell in love with the Hebrew language. Moreover, he saw it as the tool to recreate a united Jewish people who would return to their ancient homeland. Even stranger, he seems to have been the only human being in the world who grasped the connection between the language and the land.
He had plans to marry Devora Yonas, daughter of a well-to-do family, now in Russia, who had unofficially adopted him when he was a 14-year-old orphan. But then to his great dismay, at age 23, his dreams shattered when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.