Sunday, April 19, 2015

Let's Sing the Alef Bet

First, a fridge update.  New new fridge has arrived and settled in.  We have ice cubes.  We have fresh milk.  It's all good.  :-)

And now, today's topic.

This photo is from circa 1922.  The cross-looking little girl standing between her father's knees is my maternal grandmother, my Bubbe.  The grown-ups are my great-grandparents, the other girls, my great-aunties.  My great-uncle wasn't even born yet. 

(This photo goes a long way towards explaining my Bubbe's preference for extremely short bangs on her daughters and grand-daughters. She was happy to provide these to my cousins and I by trimming our hair when she was babysitting us.  Apparently it's a family tradition.   I now have several generations' worth of photographic evidence.)

My Bubbe is the sole survivor of the group in the photo.  Her last sister, Auntie Betty (on the far left of the photo) passed away two weeks ago at the venerable age of 99.  Although I'm not close with that branch of the family, I attended evening prayers at the shiva (Jewish week of mourning rituals at a family home) last Sunday, to be there for my Bubbe.  To say that there was a good turnout would be a serious understatement.  The little house was packed to the rafters.

As prayer got underway, I felt, as usual, a bit at sea.  My parents never sent me to Hebrew school.  In fact, I may be the only person in my generation who never had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  I know that my mother regrets not having sent me to be linguistically and culturally educated.  It never bothered me much, until this shiva.  That's when it occurred to me that when my parents die, as they most likely will before me, I will be sitting shiva for them with this same family, and even as a principal mourner I would not be able to follow along with the prayers and participate.

I don't mind being unobservant of the sabbath, or skipping Hanukkah, or even having to read from the English translation section of the Passover Haggadah, but feeling like the odd man out at my own parents' funerals does not feel like the right way to go.  It will make everything worse at one of the hardest times in my life.  So, I have decided to teach myself Hebrew.

I'm starting with the alphabet, or alef bet, as it is called in Hebrew.  Some of you may recall that a few years ago I made an attempt to learn Russian, because my workplace moved into an area with a lot of Russian immigrants.  That was tough.  The Cyrillic alphabet has 33 letters.  Yikes.  The Hebrew alphabet is a much more reasonable 22.  That's, like, 30% easier!

I'm making pretty good progress on learning my letters, thanks to watching a lot of videos like this one.  Once I've got the alphabet backwards and forwards, I'll take a crack at words.   I don't even  know Yes and No yet.  That's the next lesson.  If I get bogged down, I suppose I could take a class, but I'm going to get as far as I can solo.  That should be pretty far, with the help of professor Google.  Thanks to the internet, I can broaden my horizons while nurturing my introvert inclinations!  Isn't that why we all love the internet so much?


DarcKnyt said...

I'd love to learn Hebrew. If I ever win the lottery and have nothing but time on my hands, I'll take up as many languages as my li'l brain will hold.

Good luck with this. As you go along, you'll likely notice the similarities between it and some of the Latin languages which borrowed from it. :)

Ginny said...

I love old photos. My mother was also a fan of the very short bangs. She had them as a child and so did it.

I've been trying to improve my French. I took it for years in school so I know a lot of words just not so good at putting them together. I'm trying to watch more french movies. I think it's a great idea to try to learn Hebrew and you're right, with the internet we have so many ways to learn a language on our own.

Jenski said...

Sorry for your family's loss! My grandmother just passed away a couple of weeks ago, and she was the last of her generation. We had a similarly old photo of her family when she was a child. It is nice to talk about their lives and all they saw.

When you learn Hebrew, your family members won't be able to talk about you in front of you anymore. :-)

Jameil said...

That's awesome. Love the photo, love your new adventure! Rest in peace to your aunt!

Warped Mind of Ron said...

My condolences for your aunt. Every time I try to learn a new language it general stops right after I learn the curse words.

Snowbrush said...

I have various family portraits from the late 1800s up until about the time the you posted was made. Whereas your family looks urban and financially well-off, mine lived in the country in rural Alabama and Mississippi, and tended to have their photos made outdoors so that their dogs, cows, and horses, could be in them. The people looked uncomfortable having their pictures made, the women especially.

When my father’s father moved from Alabama to Mississippi in 1908, he and his wife and kids arrived with little money, no letters of introduction, and no relationship with anyone. He went to Abram’s Mercantile, and Mr. Abrams gave him enough credit to get him by until he could start making money. That store passed to his son and his son’s son, but I’ve been away from the area since 1986 and have no idea if it’s still there. That little town had a Jewish mayor when I was a boy. I would assume that this would have been rather unusual for a Deep South small town in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It also had a synagogue that I was never inside of, but which looked mysterious to me and caused me to experience so much curiosity that i dreamed about what it looked like inside, and it was a wonderful dream.

While I’m on the subject of my “Jewish connections,” I’ll mention that, although I never went inside the Brookhaven Synagogue, I did visit Temple Beth Israel in Jackson a time or two while I was in college nearby, and had a great time. Everyone seemed to assume I was Jewish, and I’ve never meant a friendlier or more welcoming group of people. So many of them took what seemed like a parental interest in me, and I needed that then—and wouldn’t mine having it now either. No more than five years before I visited, that synagogue had been firebombed twice, but it sure didn’t sour them on visitors. Someone there gave me a copy of the prayer book—the Union Prayer Book as it was called.

Lynn said...

Good for you for practicing lifelong learning!

My Presbyterian pastor friends had to learn Hebrew in seminary - not an easy thing and seldom used. :)

Lynn said...
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Vanessa T said...

When we were attending a Messianic congregation, the people there really encouraged us to learn Hebrew, and gave me some resources to check out. It's a beautiful language, and I really loved hearing the Torah read in Hebrew. :)