Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg), the founder of “cultural Zionism” who advocated for Israel to be “a Jewish state and not merely a state of Jews,” was born in a Hasidic family near Kiev on this date in 1856. Though he broke with Orthodox Judaism, he retained a deep commitment to Judaism’s ethical ideals. As a writer and frequent visitor to Palestine, he vehemently opposed political Zionism as premature and agitated instead for Israel to become a cultural center that would inspire a Jewish spiritual and linguistic (Hebrew) renaissance throughout the world. This, he believed, would eventually inspire and prepare the Jews for statehood. Ahad Ha’am (the pen-name means “one of the people”) also warned repeatedly about the need for Jewish-Arab rapprochement in Palestine. Ahad Ha’am was a skilled negotiator who played an important role in securing the Balfour Declaration. He moved to Tel Aviv in 1922 and died there in 1927. Many cities in Israel have streets named after him.
“[A] political idea alien to the national culture can turn the people’s heart away from spiritual power and produce a tendency to achieve its ‘honors’ by achieving physical power and political independence, thus severing the thread linking it with its past and losing the base which sustained it through out history.” —Ahad Ha’am