Monday, February 18, 2013

Hebrew Takes a Vacation and I Learn a Lesson

When I was in Ulpan, my Hebrew was going great guns.  I mean, I dreamed in Hebrew, I could speak in class, and I was feeling pretty confident as the weeks went by.

Fast forward to 6 months after Ulpan. My Hebrew knowledge decided to take an extended vacation.

The truth is (I know, this is a shocker), if you don't speak it every day at some point, the words, phrases, and grammar start to find sneaky little crevices in your brain and decide to take a long nap in there. 

In order to wake them up and force them to stretch, have some coffee, and actually work for you, you have to be in a situation where Hebrew is needed.  Otherwise, those guys just book a new hotel in your brain, mosey on over, and go back to watching ESPN.

Last week I went to my regular beauty salon for a haircut.  The owner, Ilana, is a lovely lady and I enjoy speaking Hebrew with her.  On my way over there, I realized it would be the first Hebrew conversation I'd had in weeks, if not months.  I was a little nervous.

I was OK until just after "Ma Nishma?"  "B'seder."  That part I have down cold.  Then she asked me something and I came up with my usual brilliant rejoinder, "Mah?"

So she kept talking and eventually the Hebrew started yawning and blinking their eyes, grouchy because they were being awakened, and then begrudgingly started to work for me.  Pretty soon I was talking to her about the elections!  The Hebrew was starting to enjoy itself, I think.

Soon Ilana was telling me about her childhood, having come to Israel from Iran in the 60s, living in a tent camp for many years, struggling, hungry, with 8 brothers and sisters, and finally making a life for themselves.  I was crying with her as she remembered how hard it had been for her as a little girl.

Now for the lesson part.  As we talked, I felt quite sheepish.  You see, recently I've been feeling quite sorry for myself about having to work while many of our new friends here are retired and can travel, do tiyulim, and not have to worry about money.  For us, we always have and probably always will have to worry about money, and coming here, finding new work, earning less, figuring out how much we need - it all causes me some level of panic as I wonder how we will manage over the next years until we can also retire (yes, that was one of the longest sentences ever).  I also wonder if I really WANT to retire.

And here was this woman whose family had left with nothing, come to Israel, lived in a tent with 10 family members, been hungry, and finally, after many years, eked out a living.  All to get away from a horrific life as Jews and live in their own country.  What right do I have to worry?

So the visit to the hairdresser gave me an opportunity to speak Hebrew and get those guys out of my brain hotels, and also to realize that I am pretty darn fortunate to have come here with so much and to find work so quickly, and to be able to live in the only place we really belong.

Because in the end, regardless of the language, the economics, the crazy drivers, and the August heat, we are where God meant us to be.  Nothing, ever, has felt so good.


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