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Ahad Ha'am
Ahad Ha'am with his wife Rivke Ginzberg, the Schwadron Collection

Ahad Ha'am

Asher Zvi Ginzberg (1856–1927), known as Ahad Ha'am, was an influential writer and intellectual and a leading Zionist thinker. He is considered the father of "Spiritual Zionism" and advocated strengthening the cultural and spiritual life of the Jewish people.

Ahad Ha’am was born in Ukraine to a Hasidic family. In adulthood, he moved away from religion and independently pursued various fields of study, including mathematics, Hebrew grammar, literature, science, philosophy and languages. In 1884, began attending the meetings of the Hovevei Zion movement. In 1896, he founded the Hebrew monthly Ha-Shiloaḥ and became its editor-in-chief.

In 1889, in the weekly newspaper Hamelitz, Ahad Ha’am published his poignant landmark article, "This is not the way!" in which he vehemently opposed the path of Hovevei Zion. In his view, the movement was too hasty in its encouragement of world Jewry to immigrate to the Land of Israel before giving the embryonic idea of ​​settling the country time to develop naturally in the hearts of the people and in the Yishuv (the Hebrew term for the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel) itself. As a result, he explained, living conditions in the Yishuv were very difficult, making the absorption of masses of new immigrants impossible.

Instead, Ahad Ha’am called for cultivating the Land Israel as a spiritual-Jewish center that would work toward cultural and moral renewal, while strengthening national sentiments among the world’s Jews, until the time when a Jewish state could eventually be established in the Land of Israel. Ahad Ha’am saw Judaism as a national-cultural identity with a certain affinity to ancient Jewish tradition. In publishing the article, he established the stream of "Spiritual Zionism" that defined a secular Jewish-national identity. This was the first article he signed with the pen name Ahad Ha’am ("one of the people"), which expressed his personal sentiment of representing the simple Jew who is troubled by the fate of his people.

In the following years, Ahad Ha’am worked to realize his doctrine, which included helping to found the Technion, promoting the establishment of Hebrew schools and contributing to the revival of Hebrew as an everyday language. In the early 1920s, he immigrated to Mandatory Palestine and lived in Tel Aviv on a street that was named for him during his own lifetime. Ahad Ha’am died of tuberculosis at the age of 70.

The National Library preserves Ahad Ha’am’s personal archives, as well as many items documenting his life, thought and work. The abundance of items come from a variety of sources and archives from around the world, and include his published writings; letters he wrote to Zionist activists and authors; reports he compiled following his visits to the Land of Israel; posters; photographs from various stages in his life; and books and articles about him. Many of these items are digitally accessible.