January 2, 1927
Ahad Ha’am, the leader of the movement for cultural Zionism, dies in Mandatory Palestine.
He was born Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg on Aug. 18, 1856, in a village near Kyiv, Ukraine, and later adopted the pen name Ahad Ha’am (“One of the People”).
Although he grew up in a Hasidic family, Ha’am was devoted to the study of modern philosophy and science and abandoned his religious beliefs. As a young student, he joined the Hovevei Zion but soon criticized the movement’s settlement activities and instead advocated cultural efforts to bring new strength to the Jewish people. Ha’am created Bnei Moshe, which aimed to transform Hovevei Zion into a cultural movement, including the revival of the Hebrew language.
Theodor Herzl and Ha’am disagreed on the purpose of a Jewish state. While Herzl believed that the Jews needed a state as a home and refuge, Ha’am believed that a Jewish state should revitalize Jewish culture and society around the world.
Ha’am visited the Land of Israel in 1891 and 1892, a decade into the Zionist effort to establish Jewish settlements, and he left with concerns about the dream of establishing an independent Jewish state. Those worries included the ability to purchase land, Ottoman control of the area and the risk of conflict with the Arabs.
Still, Ha’am supported the Zionist movement’s political goals, and, while living in England, he played a part in securing the Balfour Declaration. He also influenced many young European Zionists, including Hayim Nahman Bialik and Chaim Weizmann.
Ha’am immigrated to Palestine in 1922 and spent the last five years of his life in Tel Aviv.