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.

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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.

But I never really became interested in Judaism until I moved up to my small town, where I was very much in the minority and so found myself suddenly unable to take my identity for granted.

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Miraculously, less than a year ago, I got involved in the formation of a new shul, for which I am currently serving as a board member. I've been going to shul more Saturday mornings than not, and while I find it very involving, I have become acutely aware that I can't read a word of Hebrew. Make that a letter of Hebrew. Which is how I came to be at the marathon.

Once we all got our coffee and nosh, my fellow students and I took out our workbooks and began from the beginning...which, I soon learned, is aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And did you know that aleph is always silent? I never did, until that moment.

The volume at which such discoveries were hitting us bred a good deal of nervous energy in the room. It is not easy and, in fact, potentially embarrassing to be learning something entirely and radically new at our age. One is not quite so confident about the brain cells as one was, let's say, when one learned to drive 34 years earlier. And some of my fellow classmates did seem to be having a spot of difficulty absorbing the material.

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