Hebrew- Thoughts and Musings

So it appears that I may have solved the great blog crisis of February 2006 in which my page had as much interest in loading quickly as…Aw crap, I had this great analogy and I lost it. I must be getting old or maybe they swapped my brain with a melon again.

I started learning how to speak/write/read Hebrew somewhere around the age of six or seven, but my exposure to it began at a much earlier age. I must have been around two when my parents became friendly with our Israeli neighbors.

They had a son named Ofer who was the same age as me and we quickly became playmates. It was 1970 or ’71 and Ofer’s parents had come to the states for some sort of college program, at least that is what I think it was. To be honest I am not really sure and it is too late to call my folks and ask.

Here is what I know for sure. He and I played together frequently and his parents spoke more Hebrew around us than English. I suspect that this early exposure is part of why I feel very comfortable around it. It feels very natural to me. Unfortunately with the exception of certain words I have a very thick American accent.

Longtime readers may recall that I am a Peace Corps baby. My parents met in Ecuador. When they didn’t want my sisters and I to understand their conversation they would speak in Spanish. Needless to say my sisters and I all gained a certain faculty in speaking/understanding this as well.

Living in LA the ability to speak Spanish is of great benefit. However I placed the majority of my effort into learning Hebrew and as a result my ability with Spanish is not what it could be. I understand chunks and can generally get by, but it is not what it could be.

Unfortunately the same can be said for my ability in Hebrew, although I must add that this was not always the case. There was a point in time in which my Hebrew was excellent and I can remember several times during that famous Summer of 1985 in which my dreams were not in Hebrew but English.

I spent time learning Hebrew in a formal setting for about 13 years or so. From elementary school to an intermediate course in college. And as I mentioned I had a good handle on things.
That second year course in college was great. I was one of 14 or 15 students in the course. But out of that group there were only two of us who did not have Israeli parents and did not grow up in households in which Hebrew was commonly spoken.

Early on in the semester we were told that we would not be allowed to use any English in the class. Questions and conversation had to be conducted solely in Hebrew. It was fabulous and at times a big of a struggle. I was solid, but I simply didn’t have the background that some of the others did. The thing that saved me was that many of them had never learned how to read or write in Hebrew. Or if they had their skills were much weaker than my own. So in this way I was able to provide a little balance and kept my grade at a respectable level.

I’d like to say that my Hebrew is as good as it ever was and that I feel completely at ease with it. In good conscience I just cannot say that. In the years that have passed I haven’t used it with the same frequency and my skills have deteriorated somewhat. My vocabularly is not what it once was and my ability to follow a conversation is somewhat stilted.

I shouldn’t be surprised. It is 17 years since that college course and that was the last time that I was engaged in formal instruction. Like I said, if you don’t work at maintaining your skills you find that you grow rusty.

The good news is that there is a foundation to work off of and that has paid dividends. During each of my last two trips to Israel I found that by trying to immerse myself in it I quickly regained some of my ability. It wasn’t what it was, but I could tell that given a little time it would be.

From a business setting I have also had the opportunity to use my skills on a number of occasions. In one of my prior jobs I worked for a manufacturer of concrete cutting tools and equipment. We sold a number of items to a couple of guys in Yerushalayim. When they needed parts or had any sort of mechanical issues I was always called upon to field their telephone calls.

At times it was hard because I was engaged in some very technical conversations that would have challenged me at the height of my ability, but I very much enjoyed it. There have been other opportunities since then when business has required it. And even outside of business it really hasn’t disappeared.

The last report I heard said that there are around 40,000 Israelis living in Los Angeles. I don’t know if that is true but it is not an exaggeration to say that I hear people speaking Hebrew around me daily. I try to practice by eavesdropping on their conversations.

One of these days I intend to resume my classwork. Given a little time and effort I know that I can take myself back to where I was. Really there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to exceed that.

All I need is a little time.

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1 Comment

  1. Ger Tzadik February 9, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    Ahh yes, time. How I wish I had time to learn more Hebrew. One of the most frustrating things in my life. I hate working from translations, but learning a language is something only the luxury of time can solve. 🙁

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