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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Hard Times in Hebrew Class

There is a definite drawback to having a parent as a teacher/tutor, namely, they’ll never let the student forget their more grievous mistakes.  This could not be any more true than our daily foray into the language of the Bible, particularly during this week of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, when families dine outside in small alfresco huts (simple or extravagant), constructed of palm fronds and other natural material which reminds of the Exodus from Egypt.

Our kids are feeling the language squeeze for two distinct reasons:  our youngest, Sashenka, soon turns 12 and will celebrate her Bat Mitzvah in November, reading the Scripture in Hebrew publicly for the first time.  Shortly thereafter, we’ll likely be taking the family to Israel and the children will need to function somewhat in the local lingua.

Both are scary propositions, if you ask me.  An international incident could easily arise from their sketchy Hebrew in either circumstance.

Sashenka reads to me:  “Bereishit? bara Elohim? et ha shamayim? v’et ha aretz?….”

“Okay, let’s hold it there.  Are you asking a question?” I wonder.  “Why does your voice go up after every couple of words?  You’re making a declaration:  ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’”

“Dah, Mama:  ‘Bereishit bara? Elohim? et ha? shamayim? v’et? ha aretz?’ How was that, Mama, better?”

You can see how, after hours of this, over days, weeks, and months, it’s turning out to be less than a spiritual experience for me.  And then she has technical questions of her own, such as whether she’ll be tall enough to see over the pulpit and whether she can eat the candies tossed in her direction when the Torah scroll is held high.

“Can you eat the candies?  In the middle of the service?” now I’m asking my own questions.  “Children can gather them after the service.  You’re not going to be up on the platform scarfing down Milk Duds, or anything,” I warn her, while she giggles.

“I won’t have to stand on a step-stool, will I?” she asks.

“Well, that’s a good question.  I don’t know, let’s go and check it out ahead of time…” she was starting to make me nervous, not to mention that the girls were going to wear royal blue suits and the jackets had just disappeared.  Poof.  Gone.

We had searched multiple closets, bags,  boxes, and garment bags in multiple homes and turned up nothing.  Half of their outfits had simply disappeared without a trace.  Whether or not she could see over the podium was not half as important as the idea that she needed to be clothed, first and foremost.

The other three kids were working on important phrases to use while in Israel.

“Shalom,” I greet Mashenka at the kitchen table.

“Shalom,” she says suspiciously, and for good reason, knowing her tutor.

“Try to sound friendly and pleasant,” I encourage.  “Mah shmech?” (What is your name?)

“Tov, todah,” (Fine, thank you.)

“No—not ‘Mah shlomech?’ but ‘Mah shmech?’”

“Oh- oh- oh – I see….”

“Shalom,” I focus on Pasha, our second boy, not the brightest bulb on the block, but actually pretty good with languages.

“Shalom,” he replies, up for any challenge.

“Anachnu kahn b’aroochat boker,” (We are here at breakfast) I start.  “Mah atah rotzeh le’echol?” (What would you like to eat?)

“Oh, okay, just a moment–.”

“Loh b’anglit!” (Not in English!)

“Ani… gvinah… b’vakashah…” he tries.

“I am a cheese, please,” I translate as the children dissolve into laughter.

I realize about then that, maybe I really don’t want the kids to learn much in terms of Hebrew.  This has always been the language that their father and I use when we don’t want them knowing about birthday plans, or special upcoming meals, or discipline issues.  What’s so wrong about our children wanting to be big cheeses?

“Shalom…” I set my attention on Benedetto as he breezes through on his way to another appointment.

“En lee zhmahn,” (I have no time) he waves me off.  “Shalom, shalom.” (Goodbye.)

Goodbye and God bless.  One thing’s for sure:  we’ll need Divine intervention if we’re ever going to progress in Hebrew.  Meanwhile, the kids seem to have no problem with the words for most food items, so at least no one will starve, while they may stumble over the pleasantries of life.



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2 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Sybil says:

    Oh how we would love to be at that Bat Mitzvah!

    When McKenna became a Bat Mitzvah her interpretation of the Torah portion was the week was regarding Jacob and his twin brother Esau. She talked about how difficult Jacob’s journey was and compared it to the difficulty of her journey. She told of Jacob’s new name and of her new names. She spoke of Jacob’s courage and of her courage. She told everyone that she hoped today’s Torah lesson has taught them something to help them deal with their everyday challenges with courage and grace.
    I was so glad we persevered and McKenna became a Bat Mitzvah. I hope that Mashenka finds the self-confidence to enjoy her day and to learn and grow from it.
    P.S. Need another Russian to tag along to Israel ? lol

    • avatar admin says:

      Thanks, Sybil, for sharing McKenna’s experience. We have been blown away by the kids’ Torah and Haftarah portions and how apropos they are to each child. Mashenka is reading about being “a daughter from afar”. And we have space in our suitcases for anyone who wants to hop in! The kids are so excited about meeting Russians in Israel, I told them that many of the soldiers are Russian young people, etc. I think they’re trying to get out of studying their Hebrew before then, hah….

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