Childhood and Youth
Zeev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky was born on 12 Heshvan 5641 (17/10/1880) in Odessa, Ukraine, to Yona Ben Zvi and Hava (Zach), the youngest of three children. One year later his older brother, Meir, died and his father, a wealthy merchant, passed away when Zeev was only six years old. He wrote of his father, "My father died when I was six, leaving us in poverty. I don't remember him at all, or very little, but I heard both stories and legends about him". His mother remained alone with him and his older sister, Tamar, and his family suffered poverty and want. Nonetheless, Hava managed to provide her two children with a high school education. Yehoshua Ravnitzky, a friend of Haim Nahman Bialik, taught them Hebrew, voluntarily.
Jabotinsky began writing poetry at age ten and published in the secret, underground newspaper, 'Pravda' (Truth), that he produced along with his school friends. He sent out numerous translations and articles that he wrote for newspaper editorial staffs, all of which were rejected. "I was already despondent over my future," he recalled years later. "I feared that perhaps it had already been decided for me, from the heavens, that I was destined to be a lawyer or an engineer."
In August 1897 Jabotinsky was surprised to discover that an article entitled "A Pedagogical Comment" (Педагогическая заметка),dealing with the grading system in schools, which he had written under the penname Vladimir Ilyich, had been published in one of the local Odessa newspapers. From then on, many of his articles were published. He was accepted as a foreign correspondent for the liberal and influential newspaper 'Odeski Listok' in Berne, Switzerland, and in Rome, Italy. During a train ride from Odessa to Berne, he was exposed to the difficult life of the ghetto Jews: "There in the train, I was privileged to have my first contact with the ghetto…I lowered my head and silently asked myself, 'Is this our people?'"
During his stay in Berne he participated in a meeting in which he delivered his very first speech and said that he had no doubt that he was a Zionist and that a disaster was about to happen to the Jewish people in the Diaspora. He continued by saying that the people's only redemption was Aliyah (immigration) to Eretz Israel.
In the autumn of 1898, Jabotinsky moved to Rome and enrolled in law studies, as well as courses in political economics, philosophy and history among the top professors at that time. He quickly had command of Italian and published articles in it. He felt connected to Italian culture and declared that this "deepened his superficial Zionism – from an instinctive feeling to a view". He added, "If I have a spiritual motherland, it is Italy, more so than Russia."
Italy's struggle for freedom and unification in the 19th century strengthened his world view concerning national existence. He was greatly influenced by the character of Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought for the liberation of Italy from the burden of foreign rule, and for its unification.
During his time in Rome, Jabotinsky adopted the Italian pen name 'Altalena', and explained, "I chose this name by an amusing mistake: at the time I didn't yet know proper Italian and thought that this translated to 'crane' – afterwards I learned that 'Altalena' actually meant 'seesaw'."