Bialik and Ahad Ha’am


“The Tel Aviv municipality published an announcement yesterday regarding the poet Bialik’s arrival in Jaffa,” the Do’ar Hayom newspaper reported on March 26, 1924, regarding Hayyim Nahman Bialik’s arrival in the Land of Israel. “A huge crowd came to the train station to welcome him.”

No speeches were given and “the poet Bialik and his wife along with Dizengoff traveled to Tel Aviv and entered the private apartment that was prepared for the poet. Different photographers photographed the details of the meeting,” the report concluded.

Bialik had announced that he was coming to the Land of Israel many times, but he delayed his arrival repeatedly. He did not take advantage of the opportunity to join the immigrants of the second aliyah after which the communist authorities in Russia barred Jews from leaving. The Yevsektsiya, the Jewish section of the Communist party, declared that Hebrew and Zionist activity had nationalistic elements that were anti-Soviet. On the other hand Yiddish was encouraged as the culture and language of the Jews.

Bialik understood that Russia’s vibrant Hebrew culture was on the brink of destruction. He managed to assist his fellow Hebrew writers who encountered difficulties thanks to the esteem he was accorded by the Jews who had ascended to the heights of the new regime in Russia, yet with each passing day, he became more aware of the need to leave. In late 1919, he had the chance to join the passengers of the Ruslan. An exception had been made for this ship, which was permitted to leave Odessa for Palestine with a number of famous Jewish figures on board. Bialik, however, tarried. He was busy promoting ideas regarding Hebrew cultural life in the Land of Israel (a national library, a language academy, and a national publishing house), while simultaneously working to obtain permission for all of the Hebrew writers in Odessa to make aliyah.

Bialik turned to writer Maxim Gorky, who convinced Vladimir Lenin to agree in principle to the emigration of the Hebrew writers, but that was not sufficient. Angry at the Hebrew writers’ lack of faith in the Soviet Union, the Yevsektsiya made every effort to thwart the writers’ exodus. In the end, Bialik turned to a senior figure in the secret police who was capable of accomplishing anything in the corridors of power; after a long conversation, Bialik received the desired permit. However, opposition from Jews in positions of power in Odessa continued to cause delays. It took a while for Bialik to remove all the obstacles, but that summer, 12 families of writers, a total of 33 people, sailed from Odessa to Istanbul. They included Yehoshua Hana Rawnitzki, Alter Druyanow, Avigdor Hameiri, and Benzion Dinur. Shaul Tchernichovsky also received a permit to leave, but family issues in Odessa delayed his departure. The curtain thus fell on the stage of the Hebrew literary center that had flourished in Odessa for dozens of years. Most of the writers continued from Istanbul to Palestine. Bialik himself headed to the twelfth Zionist congress in Carlsbad, Czechoslovakia. He then made his way to Berlin to resuscitate his publishing house, staying in Berlin for two and a half years.

In 1922, the founder of cultural Zionism, Hebrew essayist Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg, primarily known by his pen name, Ahad Ha’am,  made aliyah and settled in Tel Aviv. Bialik quickly declared that the day had come for him to follow in his footsteps. (The two both made their homes on the Tel Aviv streets that today bear their names.) At the beginning of 1924, Bialik set out for Alexandria and from there he took the train to Lod, where hundreds of enthusiastic fans welcomed him. In Tel Aviv, thousands awaited him. The aliyah of Bialik, the most famous Hebrew writer in the world, symbolized the beginning of the fourth aliyah.

One reason for the crisis in aliyah in the early 1920s was the crash of the tobacco market in Palestine. Many had believed that tobacco would put the Jewish economy on its feet. Agricultural land dedicated to tobacco expanded from 1,250 acres in 1923 to almost 7,000 acres in 1924. Some 40% of the tobacco farmers were Jews who employed hundreds of Jewish laborers. However, tobacco did not bring economic salvation. The varieties of it grown in Palestine did not meet the demands of the market and the unchecked expansion led to a large drop in profits.

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