Chasing Hebrew :SOS#3 4/30/20



 

I’ve been chasing the  mystery of the Hebrew language most of my life and even though I feel at home in any synagogue, praying in Hebrew, honestly, I’m one of those many graduates of  childhood Hebrew School who can recite, even read Hebrew prayers without understanding a word. We learned what others thought we needed. THey weren’t thinking about conversing around a dinner table in Hebrew.

Now I went a bit further, Hebrew was my language of choice at college to fulfill my language requriement.  But wouldn’t you know it that the only college teacher of Hebrew at Hofstra University was totally incompetent.  He was a Rabbi used the language for its prayer functions but he saw that it was also a modern language to communite with but he could NOT teach it and didn’t care if we learned anything so it he was an easy B even A without much effort.  It was pure torture to waste my time but I stuck it out for 2 semesters, maybe more and walked away not getting any closer to breaking the code.

And then in 1979 I had three years of teaching under my belt with tenure and the option to take an educational leave of absense and my brother was living in Israel at the time.  I was off to spend a year abroad as part of a work/study programin israel of all places where most people spoke Hebrew and many could also speak English which was a good thing and then not so good.

For  the first five months I was enrolled in an Ulpan where we learned Hebrew 5 days a week and I tried hard at first to learn, really I did. But I was not one to just start talking unless I was sure that every word in my mentally crafted sentence was correct and by the time I had it… the conversation had moved on… The kids who just jumped in and didn’t care if they were right or wrong, they were successful and soon it was just easier to speak English.  But sitting around the dinner table with a group of bilingual speakers was exhasuting. We might start out in Enlglish and given that Hebrew was the offical language of the country if the conversation moved to Hebrew it didn’t seem proper to force it back and I didn’t pick up much in those situations to crack the code.  I became very good at looking like I understood but it was just sounds.

And then I met a man and fell in love and while he was comfortable speaking English, his first love was speaking Hebrew, especially when we sat around the family dinner table and even though he tried getting the conversaiton to move back to English he was generally the one brought it back to Hebrew.  So we would begin in English and then as everyone else could comfortably switch back and forth, I was left behind to patiently wait until we swung back to English and I hoped it would be soon, so I wouldn’t miss too much… it was hard…

When Tuvia’s grandkids were born and as they started speaking Hebrew as their first language they would look at me like I was a Martian so I tried studying Hebrew again, with e Teacher, an online language program.  There were 3 of us in the hour class once a week with an Israeli teacher. Technology then was hit or miss… no zooming then and we in a  group  of three  even though I stayed with it for a few years, no one in Tuvia’s family or mine ever heard me speak Hebrew and I still faked it in conversations. I knew that I would never break the code this way.

So I’m going to jump to now.  Finally, at 70 I’m ready to learn Hebrew by speaking, sharing stories with my teacher, one-on-one. I bring her a story every week and even though it came be rocky I am speaking, constructing sentences, paragraphs…  I’mstill not ready for family dinner table primetime but with my teacher Rivkah I have become comfortable making mistakes and  around my complex I don’t walk with anyone by Idan Reichel a wonderful Israeli singer (on my phone ).

My brother and sister-in-law and their kids will welcome my  Hebrew and Ami and his family will probably be brought to tears of joy and laughter(Mia).

I’m  just a genuine  life-long learner.

16 thoughts

  1. I think it’s amazing you’ve stuck with it all this time! I’m in a similar situation with French. I know so many fluent speakers and this would be the ideal time for me to learn but I’m just not putting enough effort in. I need to follow your example.

  2. Bravo! I am with you in the belief that learning something new is always available to us even if we weren’t previously successful.
    Yours is an interesting journey with Hebrew. Second language acquisition is a multifaceted endeavor. Many children I taught over my career were involved in the process. Your insights to sitting around the table while others conversed in a language you could not made me reflect on them!

  3. I love your history with this and the way you never abandoned this dream. I’m excited for you in this journey!

  4. Thank you for writing this, for the reminder that sometimes it takes a long time to learn things. Thank you for the reminder of the way learning takes guts, courage and risk. I hope one day you will write of the way you join the family conversation in Hebrew. It will be such a sweet conversation!

  5. Just reading this makes me want to pick up my ukulele again. Life-long learners never give up. And you’ve inspired me this morning. Congrats, you genuine life-long learner.

  6. Okay, I just saw your words on SOS and I’m curious as to how you celebrated/marked Poem in Your Pocket Day. I really wanted to do Poem on a Pole, but some of the kids in our book club aren’t even getting outside (so sad!). So we ended up with a game of Poetry Tag.

    • Ramona since this isolation began our writing Project has been offering weekly Community Forums… where will collaborate to create a writing and sharing program. For the whole month we have been using poems as prompts and on the last day, everyone brought a favorite poem to share and we all created found poems from the words of each poem shared in small groups… it was very cool…

  7. Yeah for you, Bonnie. You inspire me to keep learning. I am sure joining in the conversation by speaking Hebrew will be wonderful.
    Did you know that my Wesley, who drove you to the airport, went to Israel with my dad in November? He absolutely loved his time there. I’m so glad they had the privilege of going together.

    • I do remember Wesley and his buddy driving me to the airport. They were so much fun and so sweet. Wow, that he spent time in Israel with his grandfather. He will never forget that experience. As for Hebrew- a serous adventure… 🙂

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