Operation Language Instruction

Translation/Interpretation/Caption Text: 

Hebrew translation:

(black text at top)

The Histadrut calls

(white and yellow text at top)

Participate in Operation Language Instruction

(black text just below figures)


Help out (lit: give us a hand) with the registration of students!

Make sure your acquaintances learn Hebrew!


The central visual element of this poster is the large boulder being removed from the back of the burdened man struggling to stand upright. A standing man, wearing clothing that is covered with clean straight lines of Hebrew text indicating that he is a Hebrew-speaking Israeli and a realized Zionist, is removing the boulder. He is, importantly, a worker and a member of the Histadrut: (Hebrew acronym for: General Federation of Hebrew Workers in Israel) the largest of Israel's labor unions.

In this poster the worker represents all the members of the Histadrut labor union. Printed entirely in Hebrew, suggesting a narrowcast distribution strategy, this poster was published as a call for Histadrut members to volunteer for "Operation Language Instruction", one of many union-sponsored efforts to promote Zionist ends. In this case, helping teach Hebrew to recent immigrants, most likely via one of the many ulpanim (Hebrew: adult education courses) set up across Israel to advance Hebrew literacy and integration into Israeli society.

The mass of the boulder is covered with the names of foreign, diasporic languages. These include: Arabic; English; French; Italian; Magyar (Hungarian); Polish; Romanian; Russian and Spanish. Jewish communities living in Europe and the Middle East before WWII spoke each of these languages. In Jewish Studies curriculum these languages are called "host country" or "territorial" languages because they are generally languages that Jewish immigrants had to learn to function in these countries, but were not necessarily their first languages.

Jewish people "in exile", that is living outside of Israel, often had to master three languages:

1) A "host country" or "territorial" language, such as French, or Italian.

2) Hebrew, for liturgical applications.

3) Yiddish or some other Jewish language for routine communications within the Jewish community.

Source: The Languages of Israel: Policy, Ideology, and Practice, by Bernard Spolsky and Elana Goldberg Shohamy

The narrative message of this poster is that the man on his knees is freighted down with an alien load he would be better off shedding. His clothing is made up of a jumble of propaganda—international press reports criticizing Israel and supporting Palestinians "From All Corners". Essentially, he has been defined by others who neither understand nor respect him. The random chaos of these articles is in high contrast to the orderly arrangement of the Hebrew text on the worker's clothing. The subliminal message of this particular visual element is to demonstrate that once the Jewish community sheds its infatuation with foreign languages (assimilation) and adopts Hebrew as its national tongue, the irrationality and negativity of the international press (and by extension, the world outside of Zionism) will be replaced by the ordering and redeeming logic of Zionism. Once a Jewish person learns Hebrew and emigrates to Israel (Hebrew: to make aliyah - "to ascend"), they will be on the path of realizing their true selves and become as strong and as free standing as the Zionist worker removing the boulder.

The kneeling man cannot realize himself because he willingly carries the burden of an alien language. He is forced into the kneeling position by the sheer weight of the other-than-Hebrew language burden. He is crushed because he has failed to reject the notion of "assimilation"—the idea that Jewish people can be fully integrated into any society or culture other than Israel's. According to Zionist logic, it is the willingness of the burdened man to continue using his "host" or "territorial" language that crushes him and forces him into a position of subservience. Only by jettisoning these now-alien languages can he begin the process of realizing his true self, as represented by the Zionist worker.

The Zionist worker by contrast is not only standing, he is in a position to give aid to the other man. The worker, having embraced Zionism is not only strong, he has surplus strength. He is, in effect, a visual metaphor for the "iron man" and "servant of Zion" rhapsodized by Josef Trumpeldor:

"What is a chalutz? (Hebrew: pioneer) Is he a worker only? No!

The definition includes much more.

The chalutzim (pioneer, plural) should be workers, but that is not all.

We shall need people who will be "everything" - everything that Eretz Yisrael (Hebrew: Greater Israel) needs.

A worker has his labor interests,

A soldier his 'esprit de corps',

A doctor and an engineer, their special inclinations.

A generation of iron-men; iron from which you can forge everything the national machinery needs.

You need a wheel? Here I am.

A nail, a screw, a block? Here take me.

You need a man to till the soil? I'm ready.

A soldier? I am here.

Policeman, doctor, lawyer, artist, teacher, water-carrier? Here I am.

I have no form, I have no psychology. I have no personal feeling, no name.

I am a servant of Zion.

Ready to do everything, not bound to do anything. I have only one aim - Creation."

Source: Trumpeldor letter to Jabotinsky (1917)

These two figures might usefully be thought of as a "before and after" comparison. The kneeling man represents the "before" or "assimilationist" trend in Jewish/Zionist history. According to this trend, promoted by Herzl in his early career but later rejected, if Jewish people just worked hard enough to "fit in" with the cultures of their adoptive countries anti-Jewish biases would eventually fade away.

One of the major components of Jewish assimilationist efforts was the study and perfection of the "host" country language(s). The mastery of host country languages by Jewish individuals was so thorough and refined that many became accomplished authors, poets, journalists, teachers and scientists among other professions which demand a keen and encyclopedic command of a language.

The worker, representing the "after" perspective speaks Hebrew and is untouched by foreign conceits. This poster's iconic narrative celebrates the worker as the apex of Zionist pioneering values espoused by Herzl and Trumpeldor. He needs no help or tools to remove the boulder: he is made of iron and will do it himself. He was not told to help the "exiled" Jewish man on his knees: he saw a task and undertook it. His personality is integrated, from the top of his kova tembel hat to the cuff of his trousers by the metaphysical logic of the language of political Zionism—Hebrew.

Text written by Daniel Walsh for an Independent Study course at Georgetown University, 2009 (edited for clarity 2023)