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Reprinted with permission from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky–Zionist leader, writer, orator, journalist and soldier–and the Zionist Revisionist movement he founded have been steeped in controversy, but have left their own distinct mark on the course of Zionist history, despite years of anti-establishment status.
Childhood in Odessa
Ze’ev Jabotinsky was born in Odessa in 1880. Odessa was at its height as a center of Jewish and Zionist activity; still Jabotinsky grew up steeped in Russian, more than Jewish, culture. At age 18 he left Odessa for Switzerland and later went to Italy to study law.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s promise as both a leader and a critic had already surfaced at the age of 14–in a critique of the grading system, which he published in a local paper. In Bern, he began a lifelong writing career, serving as foreign correspondent for two Odessa newspapers (writing under the pen name “Altalena”). He joined a Russian student group and became interested in both socialist and Zionist ideas.
Jabotinsky’s articles were so popular that in 1901, his paper recalled him to Odessa to join the editorial staff. Under the impact of the 1903 pogrom in Kishinev, he soon became immersed in Jewish self-defense as well as Zionist activities. Elected as a delegate to the Sixth Zionist Congress, Jabotinsky was deeply impressed by Herzl. Envious of the fluent Hebrew he heard spoken at the Congress, Jabotinsky–who already spoke Russian, French, English, German and various Slavic languages–set about gaining mastery of Hebrew, becoming an accomplished orator and translator. His writings include both original works–poems, plays and novels as well as polemic and philosophical tracts–and translations of classics, including an unparalleled rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Raven” into Hebrew, and the works of Hebrew national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik into Russian.
A Gifted Orator
Jabotinsky rose to prominence as a professional journalist and provocative publicist–but first and foremost as a gifted and passionate orator. As a speaker his tone and message introduced a sense of urgency, not always shared by mainstream Jewish leaders, to Zionist deliberations and aspirations.
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