Wonder of Wonders

I didn't know even know my Aleph Bet, but by the end an eight-hour Hebrew language marathon, I was able to read.

BY: Alan Gelb


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The name of the curriculum derives from the classic story about the great Talmudic sage Hillel, who was approached by a non-Jew considering conversion--but only if Hillel would teach him all of Judaism while the potential convert was standing on one foot. So, while the man stood there on one foot, Hillel said, "Do not do to your neighbor what is hateful onto you." That is the essence of Judaism, said Hillel, the rest is gravy. (Actually, I believe he said "commentary.") Now, go on and study, Hillel instructed the potential convert.

As with that apocryphal convert, we too came to study and, to some extent, to fulfill Rabbi Golinkin's great hope and dream that every Jew the world over would one day learn to read Hebrew. It is a marvelous dream, isn't it? But Rabbi Golinkin hadn't met our ragtag group.

There were five women, all of a certain age, and all with a good excuse--many women of their age were never given sufficient opportunity to learn Hebrew when they were younger. There was another guy who'd had a bar mitzvah but didn't remember anything. And then there was me, who had never even been bar mitzvahed. I had last dabbled in Hebrew at what our Reform synagogue called "Sunday School," circa 1960, where no one ever wore a yarmulke, tallesim were nowhere in sight, and the wearing of tefillin probably would have gotten you arrested.

I was a Sunday School dropout by the age of 10, with nary a Hebrew letter under my belt, and it was more than a decade before I set foot in a shul again. I married into a family where there was a lot of Judaism, a lot of Hebrew, a lot of Yiddish, and a lot of chicken.

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