The Hebrew Lesson

by Chris Farrar (Columbus, OH)

2:40 Friday. Workshop running over. Hebrew at 3:00. Enough time? Barely.

Sign off Zoom. Run, quick quick like a little bunny. What Mom used to say. Why thinking of that now? No matter. Bathroom. Glass of water. Snack? No time. Mow lawn? Ridiculous. But the grass! Tomorrow, tomorrow.

Get head into lesson NOW!

2:59. Sit down at machshev. Open Zoom. Which button? Four of them in front of me on the masach. Not obvious. What ferkakte engineer designed this godforsaken interface? “New Meeting”? Lo. “Schedule”? Lo. “Share Screen”? Absolutely lo. Ah. Process of elimination. “Join”! Ken, ken, ken!

Let’s see. Drop down box: “Meeting ID or Personal Link Name”. Move cursor to down-arrow using achbar. Will I see it? Sometimes there, sometimes not. Aha. “Ronit’s Personal Meeti”. Rest missing. Not problem, barur as the nose on my face.

Zoom wants password for Personal Meeti. Pull mikledet toward myself, type in password.

Ronit appears, smiling. Sits in white chair, blank wall behind. Shalom Chris!

Shalom Ronit!. I know what she’s going to ask, what her first she’elah will be. How did the week go for you? Same every week. Hate the question, never remember what I did.

Before can ask, I turn it around: Ech avar lach hashavua? Ha! How you like them apples Ronit?

Laughs, answers, tells me about her shavua. After this, no escape. My turn.

For once, not hard to answer. Remember, Ronit? Told you about spiritual writing workshop? Just got out of sednah al ktivah . . . ruchani? ruchanit? Oops. Noun-adjective agreement. Ktivah, “writing,” noun. “Spiritual,” adjective. Masculine or feminine? Ruchani or Ruchanit? Lightning-quick decision. Sednah al ktivah ruchani, I say. Wrong! “Ruchanit” she says. Should have known. Universe gave clue, I ignored it. This workshop all women, except me and Michael. Of course ruchanit. Men spiritual? Ha! Laugh inside at own joke. Linguistic joke. Appreciative audience of exactly one.

Conversation moves on. Lots of things to talk about from the sednah. Diane’s mother Jewish, child during sho’ah, hidden by Polish family. Elise in California, watching sun set, listening to my recording of kaddish yetom. Ruthie, the menaheletprofesorit be universitat Sewanee, new writing prompt every meeting, terrifying. Write a new and fresh ktivah every day? Help help help! Michael scratching his asshole. How to tell her in Hebrew? Rapid mental review of vocab. But who teaches “asshole” in language class? Wild guess: hu hitgared et pi hataba’at. Scratched the mouth of his ring? Seems awfully fancy. Success! She freezes, stunned. Hu be’emet amar et zeh? Ken, I answer, he really said that.

Pace picks up. Makshiv or sam lev? both same thing: pay attention. Decide makhshiv. More elegant. Slightly. She uses new word: tmichah. Quick, the root. t – m – ch.  Same as tomech, he supports. So, noun: support. Got it. Use it in my answer. Move on. Words following words, sentences following sentences; thunderstorm of meaning, each word  a raindrop pattering into place, perfect, distinct, blending together into magnificent whole.

Can’t believe can do this. Mind working like computer – meaning, tense, gender, mood, click click click. Would pass the Turing test – listener would think I’m human. Oh. Am human.

4:00. Shavua haba, ota sha’ah? she asks. Ken, I answer, next week, same time. Goes on my calendar. Need to continue. Not truly fluent. Fluent is not thinking, fluent is just talking, all on autopilot. Will be fluent some day? Perhaps. Will thrill go away? Maybe. Talking is just talking.

But talking in reborn language of reborn Israel? Nothing compares to thrill of that.

Lesson ends, exhilaration lasts rest of day.

Chris Farrar grew up in southern California, earned a doctorate in linguistics, and worked in technology marketing and, eventually, in data analytics. His first novel, By the Waters of Babylon, follows twelve-year-old Ya’el as she’s deported to Babylon after the siege of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The novel is available on AmazonBarnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple Books. If you’d like to learn more about Chris and his work, visit his website: christopherfarrar.com.

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Filed under American Jewry, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism

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