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.