By Philologos

Published December 09, 2005, issue of December 09, 2005.
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So Ariel Sharon’s new party is called Kadima. For a while, it was touch and go: Some of his political advisers wanted Ah.rayut Le’umit or “National Responsibility.” But “Kadima” was deemed catchier and won the day.

In Israel, the decades in which parties had dry, politically descriptive names — e.g., Mapai, an acronym for The Israel Workers’ Party; or Mapam, The United Workers’ Party; or the Liberal Party; or the Labor Party; or the National Religious Party; or even the National Solidarity Party, better known as the Likud — are on their way out. Such stodgy brand names are considered hard to market. New parties are more likely to choose names like Change (Shinui), Energy (Meretz) or Israel Is Our Home (Yisra’el Beytenu). Or Kadima.

But what exactly does Kadima (pronounced “kah-DEE-mah”) mean? That’s a good question, because one can translate it in a number of different ways. The name of Sharon’s new party might be rendered in English as Forward, or as Let’s Go, or as Ahead, or even as To the East, all depending on what stratum of Hebrew one looks at. It is multi-associational, with roots in both the most colloquial and most literary levels of the language. This indeed makes it a name for all seasons and perhaps all voters.

In the oldest Hebrew known to us, that of the Bible, kadima, from the root letters kuf-dalet-mem, yields a number of meanings. As the verb kadam, it means to come first or do something before something else; as the verb kidem, to greet someone; as the noun kedem, “east” or “antiquity”; as the adverb mi-kedem, “in front of,” “to the east of” or “of old”; as the adverb kedma, “eastward”; as kadmoni, “eastern” or “ancient,” etc.

The connection between coming first, greeting someone, in front of, and east is not difficult to perceive. It is, after all, in the east that the sun first rises, and to the east that one turns to greet it and the new day. And because the east was also, in biblical tradition, the direction from which the Hebrews originally came — Abraham having journeyed westward from Babylonia to the Land of Israel — it also symbolized what was old or ancient and the civilizations of yore. The expression b’nei kedem, “sons of kedem,” in the Bible can mean either “easterners” or “ancient ones.” As for the word kadima, which appears in the Bible 10 times in Ezekiel and once in Habbakuk, it also means “east” or “eastward.”

Indeed, jumping several millennia ahead in history, “eastward” was still the primary meaning of kadima when, in 1878, Hebrew poet Naphtali Herz Imber wrote the poem whose words became the Zionist, and eventually the Israeli, anthem, “Hativkah.” The anthem’s third and fourth lines are, uvefa’atei mizrah. kadima/ayin le-tsiyon tsofiya, “And far to the east, eastward/the eye [of the Jew] searches for Zion.” And it was undoubtedly in an allusion to Imber’s poem that prominent Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik concluded a poem of his own, written in 1903 in homage to the Zionist essayist and thinker Ahad Ha’am, with the lines:

To his [Ahad Ha’am’s] brave voice let us all assemble proudly

And raise higher and higher our burning torches,

And show with a mighty hand, to all the far corners of the Exile,

The way leading


Although this was not one of Bialik’s better poems, it had a definite effect on the Hebrew language, then just beginning its spoken revival in Palestine, because kadima, which in the poem itself still means “Eastward!” and by implication, “Onward to the Land of Israel!” now began in spoken Hebrew, under Bialik’s influence, also to mean “Forward!” By the time the Jewish Legion fought together with the British army in its World War I Palestine campaign, “kadima tse’ad!” was standard parade-ground Hebrew for “Forward march!” And by the 1920s and ’30s, Hebrew-speaking sports fans in Palestine were cheering on their teams by yelling kadima from the sidelines. A soccer cheer for Hapoel Tel Aviv that went Kadima, kadima, kadima, Hapo’el, hey, hey, kadima Hapo’el! — the equivalent of “Let’s go, Hapoel!” — is still part of Israeli folklore today.

By now, too, kadima had entered spoken Hebrew as a word meaning “Let’s go!” or “Come on!” in just about any situation. Were you hurrying to get to the theater on time? “Kadima, let’s get moving!” Urging your child not to miss the school bus? “Kadima, tie your shoelaces and out the door with you!” Hesitating at the edge of a diving board or at the entrance to an expensive restaurant? “Kadima!” And to this day this is the way kadima is used in colloquial Hebrew, where it vies with a similar expression, the Arabic-derived yallah! (Betar Jerusalem soccer fans cheer on their team with Yallah, Betar!)

Ariel Sharon is hoping to appeal to a broad spectrum of Israeli voters — and the name Kadima is indeed suited for biblical scholars, Zionists, patriots, poetry lovers, soccer fans, ordinary Israelis and perhaps even sun worshippers. How can you compare National Responsibility to that? Kadima, Kadima!

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com.

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