Saturday, June 07, 2008

We will do, then Understand (because I can’t learn Hebrew!)

Shavuot is heartening –not just for all the dairy, but also because Israel said, “we will do” before understanding what it was we were agreeing to. The holiday celebrates the will to do something that you don’t yet understand.

That's fantastic! because I don’t understand anything around me, unless it’s a number, a fruit, or one of the animals in my daughter’s books.

I can’t learn Hebrew!

I quit ulpan because my teacher spoke more Russian than Hebrew in class, and we only learned about ten new words a week—but we were in class18 hours a week. Eighteen hours for which I paid a babysitter and then had no time for studying let alone research, writing or teaching. Plus I don’t like a teacher calling me “mama-le.” As in “Mama-le, why you want I teach you grammar?”

I speak 6 other languages, but let it be officially noted: my ass has been Hebraically kicked.

This is, more or less, a map of my Hebrew-language learning curve.

Week 1
Stranger: Hi, how are you?
Me: Maya, how are you?

Week 2
Stranger: How old is your little boy?
Me: Thank you.

Month 2
Stranger: How old is your little boy?
Me: a year and thirty months.

Month 3:
Stranger: Is it a girl or boy?
Me: No
Stranger: What? I asked if it is a girl or boy!
Me: How old is your little boy?

Month 4:
Stranger: Is it a girl or boy?
Me: A girl
Stranger: How old?
Me: A year and four months…no, five months. Wait….yes, five months! Thank, G-d!
Stranger: blablablabla (fast Hebrew—could be anything)
Me: Uh….No?

Last week:
Stranger: Your little boy looks sad.
Me: Do you speak English?
Stranger: yes, of course.
Me: (in English) —it’s probably because I’ve dressed him a frilly little red and white checked dress and pink shoes, like a girl!

Don’t you think there’s something deeply suspicious about a language with no present tense for the verb “to be”? It certainly explains why Israelis are late for everything. At least then you can say “I was,” which is better than nothing, in a moment of existential crisis.

For example
“So sorry I no here on time.

I WAS in Tel Aviv on time, but I looked for parking for 45 minutes!”

Notice how you just don’t exist in the moment? It’s only when you are excusing yourself that you take on a full verbal dimension.

So I’m looking madly around for a tutor. It’s too late to learn anything really useful. But it doesn’t matter: I’m not doing it to enhance the last few weeks of my life here. No, I’m doing it because I’ll never live down the shame of returning to the States able only to name fruit and animals, sing “nad-ned” and the birthday song, and ask how much it costs.


lsw said...

This will give you a giggle:

Chag Sameach!

Lynn Anne said...

Hi! I usually only think of myself as a couple years behind on the tech-savvy thing, but I can't figure out for the life how to email you and I want to ask you something off comments! Would you pretty please email me? owner (at) jewish-scrapbooking (dot) com.

I found this blog this morning on a search for cinnamon challah recipe -- I want to say thanks for the recipe, but I guess I'll wait and see how it comes out first ;) Happy Shavuot!