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A COPTIC HAZVI NEWSPAPER?

June 23, 2019

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First (24 October 1884) and last (31 July 1914) issues of HaZvi

In 1884, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Father of Hebrew Language Revival, published his newspaper, HaZvi (The Gazelle) in Hebrew. It is now 2019, and we are 135 years from that momentous event for modern Hebrew, and yet, we, the Copts, have no one single newspaper published in Coptic.

When Ben Yehuda started publishing HaZvi in 1884, he was faced with a huge problem, nay gigantic, similar to what would face anyone of us, we Copts, if we launch a newspaper in the Coptic language: he had no ready words for contemporary political ideologies, conceptions and entities, such as capitalism, communism, socialism, nationalism, revolution, demonstration, public opinion, parliament, prime minster, member of parliament, elections, voting, majority system, state; or Hebrew equivalent to most of the countries and states of the time; or much of the modern innovations in science, arts and literature. But Ben Yehuda was not deterred – he was driven by his national zeal to struggle to produce his paper against all the odds. Its peak circulation, in 1909, reached only 1,200 readers. His work in journalism was accompanied, and actually prompted, by his work on his Hebrew dictionary in which he developed thousands of neologisms. He used many of these newly developed words in the news reports in his newspaper, and in the various articles that touched on modern, secular topics. The head title of his paper was “newspaper for news, literature and science.” In literature, he and his editorial team, worked on translations into Hebrew of works from world literature.

These sections included translations of world literature (Shakespeare, Moliere, Zola, Hugo, Jules Verne, Tolstoy, and others); poetry, prose, and essays written by Hebrew authors (also in Russia) like M.J. Berdyczewski, Israel Zangwill, Joseph Klausner, A.S. Rabinovitz (Azar), and others; descriptions of travel throughout Palestine; and articles on the history and geography of the land.

[There was] a special section for women entitled, “Ezrat Nashim (The Women’s Gallery),” which was the first of its type in the Hebrew press. [A]nother special section appeared on agriculture and the working of the land entitled, “Ha-Ikar Ha-Yehudi (The Jewish Farmer),” which a year later became a separate weekly publication of its own.[1]

HaZvi was first produced weekly but it then became daily from 1908. In 1914, with the break of WWI, the Ottoman authorities that were ruling Palestine at the time closed Ben Yehuda’s newspaper as it agitated for a Jewish homeland.

It is an underestimation that HaZvi helped in the revival of Coptic – it was an essential tool in that process. It is because of this – the importance of journalism in the revival of languages and nations – that we hope to see a newspaper in Coptic language.

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[1] See: HaZvi in Historical Jewish Press, National Library of Israel, Tel-Aviv University.

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