The language adventure continues.
As of the end of March, Marcia and I have lived in Israel for three full years. Hearing of our anniversary, a friend from the US said, “So I suppose you two speak fluent Hebrew by now.”
No. We don’t.
And I’ll bet our friend, just because he has lived in the United States all his life, hasn’t memorized the Federal Tax Code. Oh, we can ride the buses in Jerusalem with careless familiarity; we can read two-thirds of most public signs (which are typically printed in Hebrew, English and Arabic) and we have thoroughly mastered the phrases I don’t know, Excuse me and I don’t understand.
But occasionally successful living requires more than being able to ask for ice, knowing how to find the public toilets or wishing someone well.
It’s not that we haven’t tried. Marcia and I have practiced, studied and at great risk to our egos taken our lowly language skills to the streets. (In a rush of enthusiasm we once agreed to eat only those foods whose names we could pronounce perfectly in Hebrew; but after three days of consuming nothing but salt and yogurt we gave up.)
It’s simply not easy to learn a resurrected language …
The revival of the Hebrew language in Israel is the only example of a language which has become a language with new first language speakers after it became extinct in everyday use for an extended period…
Even in the case of Hebrew, there is a theory that argues that “the Hebrew revivalists who wished to speak pure Hebrew failed. The result is a fascinating and multifaceted Israeli language, which is not only multi-layered but also multi-sourced. The revival of a clinically dead language is unlikely without cross-fertilization from the revivalists’ mother tongue(s).” (language death)
Interesting, even fascinating when you consider that the ongoing restoration of the once dead Hebrew language–the only such restoration that has ever occurred–seems to have been predicted over 2,600 years ago here in Jerusalem by the Hebrew-speaking prophet, Zephaniah…
The day will come when…I will return my people to a pure language so that they all may call upon the name of the LORD, serving him with a united will. (ISV: Zephaniah 3:8-9)
In the markets and malls in Jerusalem one hears ungrammatical Hebrew, classroom Hebrew, street Hebrew, high-Hebrew and Russian- Yiddish- and Arabic-influenced Hebrew. Which is correct? Ask any native speaker… Actually, you don’t have to ask, they will tell you; they are right.
Despite all the challenges posed by our move, our ability to communicate (and fit-in) in Israel continues to improve, in iceberg fashion, toward some certain, satisfying end. On a jaunt in Jerusalem yesterday I ran into several people I knew. We stopped to chat (in English). After a small purchase, the sabra who owns the local hardware store made a point to shake my hand. My native-born Israeli butcher did the same after remembering and making a point to call me by name.
Israelis like to advise, regarding almost any challenge (and especially with regard to learning Hebrew), לאט לאט (lay-ot, lay-ot), meaning, “slowly slowly.”
Of course we agree.
Links of (not enough) current interest from Israeli sources:
The Pope’s Antisemitic Plan for Israel “…The Pope’s visit is taken to mean that Islam and Christianity superseded the Jewish religion and have the right to “inherit” its holy places.” (Arutz Sheva)
What Next for Peace Talks “…[John] Kerry told reporters in Brussels that he simply refused to believe Ramallah had spit in his face.” (Israel Hayom)
The Disasterous Outcome of the Peace Negotiations “…As anticipated, the Obama administration’s efforts to impose a peace settlement have proved to be a disastrous failure.” (Jerusalem Post)
Obama’s Kiss of Death “…Obama has just given the Saudis a kiss-of-death, and the Saudis know it.” (Arutz Sheva)