In the midst of a month-long teacher's strike coupled with a concurrent strike by Israel's senior university lecturers, the Hebrew alphabet – the very core of Israel's culture - is being threatened by additional budget cuts planned by Finance Ministry officials.
According to reports, the devaluation of the dollar, together with the ever increasing cost of peace with the Palestinians has driven Israeli budget planners over the edge and they are now threatening to cut off support for the alphabet.
The Hebrew language had been revived in the beginning of the last century by cultural entrepreneur Eliezer Ben-Yehudah and for many years the renewed language existed independently, growing steadily while relying on voluntary individual contributions. However, with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the language, like many other institutions, was nationalized by the socialist government, claiming that the free market was ruining the language that rightfully belonged to the people. In the words of the immortal Yerehmiel Potz, first chairman of the Committee for the Cooperative Management of the Hebrew language, "Only a well-regulated, clearly defined language, run by a committee, staffed by the country's brightest politicians, can secure the Hebrew language and free it from the tyranny of unregulated spontaneity and creativity."
The Hebrew language, used to fighting for itself, gradually stagnated. Massive budgets were introduced to enhance the language and spread it among the people. New words were invented by the committee and marketing budgets of millions of shekels were poured into publicizing its decisions. Yet, for some unfathomable reason, the popularity of the language declined. Words became mangled, sentences unsure. Support for the language wavered and it was not spared in the great budget cuts of the eighties and nineties. The situation became worse and yet, until now, no one dared do the unthinkable and try to actually cut the alphabet itself.
In the words of Israel's Education minister, Yuli Tamir,
"The proposed cut will entail the removal of one letter a year from the alphabet until the language regains financial solvency," said Tamir, "It is up to my office to decide which letters will "walk the plank" so to speak, and although we will appeal this decision and try to rally the PM's support along with public opinion, we still have to be prepared for the worst."
According to Tamir the letter most likely to be dropped first will be the letter "H".
"It is a widely used letter and also a wildly misused one. Surveys show that it is the most disliked letter in the alphabet by a wide margin (the letter "Caf" came in second and the letter "Resh" was the most loved) and it is also the most wasteful. Half the time nobody pronounces it anyway and the other half it is used incorrectly," said Tamir.
"Our calculations show that by dropping just this one letter and not printing it anymore, we can save over ten million NS annually, considering the ink saved, the space unused, and the words left unsaid, all adding up to a significant sum which perhaps will enable us to save the rest of the Hebrew alphabet for future generations," said the Minister.
Despite Tamir's optimism, critics of her decision have already spoken out against her suggestion, " The letter "H" is a crucial letter, said Rabbi Tannenbaum, who is heading a new "Save the "Hey" campaign, "How will pious Jews be able to pray without mentioning G-d ," asked the Rabbi, who accused Tamir of extreme insensitivity to the needs of the Jewish citizens of the country, "Why can't we drop a letter from the Arabic alphabet?" asked the Rabbi, "Why does it always have to be the Jews who get screwed?"
Tamir replied that the Arabic alphabet already has only twenty letters, making it one of the shortest, most impoverished alphabets in the world, "There is no doubt in my mind that our ancestors, somehow bought or stole away two or three letters from the poor Arabs, so it is only fair that we now give it back to them or at least stop flaunting our bigger alphabet – how do you think it makes them feel?' said Tamir, "In any case, though, nothing has been decided yet. We are putting together a counter proposal that will remove all punctuation marks instead, since no one understands how to use them anyway. Another idea we had is to switch to "Alphabet Savings Time" in which the population will use the alphabet for shorter hours during the winter. This way we will be able to preserve the alphabet just by talking a little bit less," said Tamir, "Which isn't such a bad idea considering some of the things people out there are saying…about me."