Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who arrived in Palestine in 1881 and there almost single-handedly revived Hebrew as a spoken language, was born and spent much of his early life in what is today Belarus. Recently the country commemorated his achievement with a monument and a boisterous public ceremony complete with dancing and musical performances.
I asked Boris Gersten, the chairman of the Union of Belarusian Jewish Public Organizations and Communities, why locals seem to find Ben-Yehuda’s legacy so important. “We don’t get a lot of international interaction,” he said of his country, which is sometimes called Europe’s last dictatorship and is subject to sanctions by the European Union for alleged human-rights abuses by its all-powerful president, Alexander Lukashenko. “So whenever there is some point of interaction with people from abroad, it is interesting, attractive,” he said.