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The event will take place in the Steinhardt Hall Auditorium at Penn Hillel. Credit: Hannah Lazar

Gil Hovav — the great-grandson of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the founder of modern Hebrew — will speak at an event today about his family’s legacy and impact on history, language, and Judaism.

Hovav, an Israeli celebrity, TV host, and journalist will begin speaking at 5:30 p.m. in the Steinhardt Hall Auditorium at Penn Hillel. Attendees will have the option of attending in person or via Zoom. 

Hovav’s talk at Penn is part of his series of public lectures around the United States at various campuses and venues to mark 100 years since his great-grandfather’s passing in 1922. In his lecture, Hovav will be sharing stories that were kept within his family for more than a hundred years.

Joseph Benatov, the director of the Modern Hebrew Language Program, said that having Hovav on campus is a great opportunity to learn more about the large role that language plays in shaping history. 

For 2,000 years, Hebrew was only used for religious purposes. Ben-Yehuda, who was one of the founders of Zionism, began its revival as a spoken language. By compiling all the words from the Bible and inventing new ones, he published the first Hebrew dictionary in 1910. When the State of Israel was established in 1948, Modern Hebrew became one of its official languages.

“This is a topic in modern history and the contemporary world that is of significance and interest to people, beyond just those who study Hebrew and members of the Jewish community,” Benatov said. “The actual phenomenon of the revival of an ancient language at the end of the 19th century and its extensive usage today is unprecedented and unparalleled.” 

On top of sharing stories of his great-grandfather, Hovav also produced Israeli television cooking and food shows, wrote best-selling novels about his family’s history, and currently works at Toad Communications, his publishing and production company which has hosted several Nobel laureates. 

“[Hovav] is a type of a Renaissance man with multiple interests and specialties which make him a true intellectual,” Benatov said. 

The event is sponsored by seven departments, including Penn’s Jewish Studies Program, the Penn Language Center, and the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory.