BELGRADE, 12-18 MAY, 1990., Политика
BELGRADE RECALLS PIONEER OF ZIONISM
Street of Rabbi Alcalai
By Julijana Mojsilović
Preka Street in the Belgrade Commune of Zemun, one of the city's most beautiful and historic parts, will soon be renamed rabbi Hai Alcalai Street. The proposal to change the name of the street came from the City Assembly of Belgrde but a plaque commemorating rabbi Alcalai will be paid for by the citizens of Zemun.
Rabbi Yehuda Ben Shlomo Hai Alcalai was born in 1798 (S558 by the Jewish calendar) in Sarajevo. He completed his education in Jerusalem and was rabbi of Zemun from 1825 to 1873.
The poet Raša Livada has been working for years to rescue the name of rabbi Alcalai from oblivion. Two of his poems, "The Letter of Rabbi Alcalai" and "Synagogue" have been published in Israel. Livada is also the editor of two anthologies of world poetry in which the great Jewish poet, Yehuda Amihai, was published for the first time. A book of poems by Jehuda Amihai has recenth/ been published in Yugoslavia. Mr. Livada wrote the introduction. Mr. Livada is also the chief editor of the magazine of modern world litera¬ture, Pismo, ("Letter"), which has its offices in the building of the ashkenazi synagogue in the street whičh will soon be named after rabbi Alkalai.
"Belgrade is commemorating one of the pioneers of Zionism," says Mr. Livada. He considers that the rabbi's work of almost half a century is reason enough for a street to be named after him. "A street in Jerusalem is named after him," says Mr. Livada. "Rabbi Alcalai is buried on the Mount of Olives and Israel recently issued a stamp bearing his portrait."
Rabbi Alcalai devoted his life to the ideal of the return of the Jews to Israel. As early as 1830, enthused with the Zionist ideal, he was thinking of a way to bring his fellow Jews from all over the world back to their homeland. He recognised that spiritual unity was impossible, at least in the beginning, because the Jews lived in widely differing conditions and cultures, and therefore started from material unification. He started Jewish funds which collected money for the purchase of land in Palestine, and reminded his fellow Jews of the words of the prophet Hagaia: "My house is laid waste, but you all run to your own houses," adding, "Hear, Israel, Adonai is one, Adonai is our Gоd."
The next stage in spreading the zionist idea was the foundation of associations throughout Europe with the aim of popularising the idea of a return to the ancient homeland. Rabbi Alcalai offered the necessary spiritual preparation in his books, "Hear, Jerusalem" (1834), "The Gift of Yehova" (1840), and "The Proclamation" (1848).
After that rabbi Alcalai set off on his great tours, visiting Berlin, Leipzig and London. In London in 1852 he founded the Peace in Jerusalem society. In 1857 he published two more books, "The Good Messenger" and "God's Destiny". The latter became his most important and popular work.
In 1859 he went to Amsterdam, and the following year he founded the Alliance Israelite Universale in Paris. He returned to Israel in 1871 at the age of seventy three and founded the General Jewish Association for Migration to Erec Israel. Two years later he went back to Israel again and died there in September 1878.
In addition to his spiritual work and his spreading of the zionist cause, rabbi Alcalai also worked on a grammar of the Hebrew language. In Zemun he built a sepherdic synagogue and two schools for Jewish children. The synagogue was destroyed in 1943 by bombing of Belgrade, but one of the schools remains. The present Ashkenazi synagogue was built after the death of rabbi Alcalai in the same street as the Sepherdic synagogue. Teodor Herzl, who officially founded zionism at the Budapest congress, became acquainted with the works of rabbi Alcalai in Zemun while a correspondent of a Hungarian newspaper (Herzl's grandfather was Alcalai's pupil). He later accepted Alcalai's teaching, although he had previously thought that the Jews should develop within the AustroHungarian Empire, extended it and finally realised it.
It took sixty years from the first zionist efforts of rabbi Yehuda Ben Shlomo Hai Alcalai to the first zionist congress of Teodor Herzl. Now, a hundred and twelve years after the death of the great forerunner, as Jews call him, his memory will again be honoured in Zemun.