Tag Archives: Hebrew

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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Being Jewish is a Blessing

by Carol Blatter (Tucson, AZ)

Until I take my last breath, I will always remember seeing for the first time the Hebrew words calligraphed with such care on the parchment of the Torah scroll. The Torah is said to be a tree of life, Etz Chayim, for all who uphold it. That morning, standing in front of the Torah scroll, I found myself clinging to each letter, each word, and feeling lifted up with joy in a way I had never experienced before.

I had an epiphany that these were the same words my ancestors had chanted for thousands of years and which had guided our people through years of prosperity as well as years of persecution and threats to our survival. As I touched these letters and words with the yad, the silver pointer that I held in my hand, I committed myself to serving God with all my heart and with all my soul —forever. 

My love of Judaism started a long time ago.

Mom, Dad, I want to fast for Yom Kippur.

They looked startled and worried.

Sweetie, you’re only ten and you are not required to fast, only adults have to.

But I want to.

Mom and Dad hesitated. They really didn’t know what to say.

A few moments of silence.

Ok, Mom said after she got a yes head shake from my dad. You can fast until three P.M. but no later.

Growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn NY, I always knew I was Jewish. But knowing I was Jewish wasn’t the same as observing Jewishly.

I started Hebrew school. I can still see the small blue book with double lines. I can remember making a gimel. I remember dropping out of Hebrew school because of artistic pursuits including acting and dancing lessons several times a week. I couldn’t fit in one more lesson.

Wanting to be more Jewish but dropping out of Hebrew school? How did that make sense?  Looking back, it was a mistake. But this mistake was rectified years later. 

I began to learn Hebrew at the age of thirty-seven at the same time our daughter was a student at the Hebrew Academy. I thought I would help her with her homework but she didn’t need my help.

Over the years of study, my original motivation changed. I became immersed in the joy of learning Hebrew. I could translate most of the prayers and songs at the Shabbat service. I was no longer a transliterator. I was no longer a spectator. I became a seriously engaged Jew. I am a seriously engaged Jew. 

At the age of forty-four, I was called to the Torah for the first time to chant the words written with such care on its parchment.

My rabbi unrolled the Torah scroll to the portion, Re’eh, which means see.

See, be attentive. See, keep learning. See, be a responsible Jew. See, be a viable link to the future of the Jewish people. See, never forget your Jewish roots. See, make the world better.

And after all this time I now see why being Jewish is such a blessing.

Carol Blatter, a recently retired private practice psychotherapist, has contributed writings to Chaleur Press, Story Circle Network Journal,  Writing it Real anthologies101words.org, Real Women Write, Growing/ Older, and Covenant of the Generations from the Women of Reform JudaismShe is a wife, mother, and grandmother, and her greatest pleasure is listening to her precious, clever granddaughter read and create amazing stories. 

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

The Ultimate Truth

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

At a recent and joyous Orthodox wedding,
surrounded by dancing men all dressed in black
with most stylish hats, I was asked by a young scholar
why was I not singing in Hebrew.
“I don’t know Hebrew,” I said, embarrassed,
owning up to my lack of Jewish education.
“So why don’t you learn?” he said,
“The words are  the ultimate truth, the one truth,
the word of God given to His people.”
“But don’t other religions have their truth?” I countered.
“Spoken like an American,” he said. “Ours
is the only truth. We know this for thousands of years.”
Hard to argue with someone so convinced
of the certainty of his belief, while admitting to myself
I was jealous of his steadfast conviction.
Better not, I thought, to get so engaged
into such a theological discussion while
celebrating with cheers the bride and groom.
The search for truth continues for me
long after the final toast is offered.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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At Sammy’s Store

by Brad Jacobson (Columbia, MO)

Today is Shabbat.
I stop in for a Bamba
Peanut snack and Coke.

We do not pay
until after Shabbat.
Sammy wears a Yankees hat.

His first language is Arabic
but he speaks English and Hebrew
to customers.

David visits Sammy every day.
He manages the Heritage House,
the Jewish hostel next door.

Sammy, David and I dream
about sailing around the world.
We will meet at the ship tomorrow.

Or the day after.

 

Brad Jacobson is a volunteer every summer in Israel in the SAREL program. He teaches TESOL at the Asian Affair Center at the University of Missouri, where he has an MEd in Literacy. In the summers he enjoys exploring places with his camera like the Old City of Jerusalem, Tzfat, and the Red Sea where he scuba dives. He has been published in Tikkun, Voices Israel, Poetica, Cyclamens and Swords, and the University of Missouri International News.

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

Born in America

by Bruce Black (Sarasota, FL)

As a boy I learned Hebrew while sitting in
a cramped, stifling second-floor classroom
on Wednesday afternoons and on Sunday
mornings, chalk dust in the air and cigarette
smoke mixed with sweat and the stale smell
of ink and old paper, reading Bible stories
from ancient books with dusty yellow pages
and the smell of an exotic, sun-drenched land
rising from between the lines.

The land was called Israel—Eretz Yisrael
in Hebrew—and I was told to call it home,
even though home for me was a split-level
house in northern New Jersey within sight
of the tall spires of Manhattan where my
father worked, and all I knew about Israel
was that it was hot and dusty, a dry land
covered in sand, a place where refugees with
numbers tattooed on their arms came from
Europe’s death camps to build new lives.

I remember how the Hebrew letters felt so
strange on the tip of my tongue and made
the back of my throat swell so that I nearly
choked on the words, and I remember how
I turned the pages hoping my teacher wouldn’t
call on me to read, afraid I’d stumble and trip
in front of my friends over the unfamiliar words.

In the end I learned what I had to learn for
my bar mitzvah, no more, no less, and memorized
all the Hebrew words and how they were supposed
to sound by listening to a record the rabbi had
made, and I repeated the words over and over again
until they sounded like words that came from my
heart, words that I had absorbed in my mother’s
milk as an infant nursing at her breast.

Only I could never convince myself that Hebrew
was really my language. I always felt like an
imposter reading the words, as if the odd-shaped
letters and words belonged to someone else. I was
an American Jew, after all, and, like most Americans,
I spoke English, not Hebrew. And when I walked down
the streets of my suburban town in northern New Jersey,
I foolishly thought that my friends and I were safe
forever from the horrors of the past, and that Israel
served as a haven for others, not for Jews like us
who had been born in America.

How my friends and I had laughed at the idea that
we needed to learn Hebrew. Instead, we dreamed of
playing basketball and throwing a football in a high
spiral on a perfect autumn afternoon and sneaked
peeks across the aisle at the girls, their heads bent
over their books, pretending that we weren’t there,
intent on learning the Hebrew words that all of us
might need one day to strengthen our bonds as Jews.

Bruce Black is is the founder and editorial director of The Jewish Writing Project. He lives in Sarasota, FL.

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Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, poetry

Looking for Faith

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

A sampling of haikus:

Attending service,
After so many years away.
Would I feel welcome?

Memory wall:
Little lights bright as buttons
Who will pray for me?

Eyes closed in prayer.
My voice feels very small to me.
Need a microphone?

The service rolls on.
I don’t know any Hebrew.
I am full of doubts.

Good Bar Mitzvah friends,
Scattered now into old age.
How the years have past.

Lots of presents then.
My parents so proud of me.
I think of them now.

A community.
Worshipers sing with one voice.
Am part of the whole.

I search for meaning.
I look everywhere for it.
Here is where I find it.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Comfort Food

by Gili Haimovich (Gyva’taim, Israel)

I practice on my kitten what I would answer

If I would ever have a child and he or she would ask me:

“Mum, where do your words come from”?

Well, my Canadian kitten,

My English words come from above,

From the emptiness.

From the void space

In my mouth.

Between the upper and the lower

Gums.

“But where does your Hebrew come from, Mum? With me you always speak Hebrew”.

Well, my child,

(The child would not be Canadian nor Israeli, but just a child),

My Hebrew is lying in my tummy,

Like comfort food.

Waiting for you.

Gili Haimovich is an international poet and translator who writes in both Hebrew and English. She has six volumes of poetry in Hebrew. Her most recent, Landing Lights (Iton 77 Publishing House, 2017), received a grant from Acum, as did her previous book. She also received a grant nominating her as an outstanding artist by the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption (2015). Her poetry in English is featured in her chapbook, Living on a Blank Page (Blue Angel Press, 2008) and in numerous journals and anthologies, such as World Literature Today, Poetry International, International Poetry Review, LRC – Literary Review of Canada, Poem Magazine, Asymptote, Drain Magazine, Blue Lyra, Circumference and TOK: Writing the New Toronto as well as main Israeli journals, newspapers and anthologies including The Most Beautiful Poems in Hebrew (Yedioth Ahronot Books, 2013). You can visit her website for more information about her and her work:  www.poetryon.com.

“Comfort Food” originally appeared in Drain Magazine, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

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Filed under Canadian Jewry, Family history, Israel Jewry, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, poetry