Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Geeking out, Jew style

As I’ve mentioned before, James and I are taking an intro to Judaism class together, which we affectionately call our Jew 101 class. The classes (once a week, 16 weeks) cover everything from Jewish life cycles to Jewish history, and everything in between. As someone who has parts of the history and cultural components floating about my cranium- it is fun for me to revisit or learn new things about customs and traditions that have been around most of my life. For James, it is almost all new and wonderfully intellectually stimulating, so needless to say, we have great post class discussions.

Tonight’s class was a very basic overview of Hebrew. I had a bit of an advantage for this class. I moved to Israel with my family at the age of seven and lived there for eight years. When I was 15, we moved back to the States. Over the years since moving back, I have taught Sunday school at my temple, and even tutored kids for their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs (even though I never had my own. I’m a rebel, I know). While I haven’t really fostered my Hebrew skill that much over the last few years, it has always been there, integrating itself with my thoughts/feelings/dreams. In my opinion, there is some cussing out that just sounds better in Hebrew; there are certain words of frustration that simply don’t translate into English. Also, most of my siblings have varying grasps on the language (some, at this point, have a greater vocabulary than me simply from lack of regular use on my part, and more contextual exposure on their part from returning to Israel since we moved back) so from time to time we’ll switch to Hebrew during a conversation. But overall, it hasn't been a big part of my current life.

Our teacher tonight went through some of the basics of Hebrew. For example, Hebrew words usually start from a three letter root word that then have prefixes, suffixes and vowels (In Hebrew, vowels are not letters but rather dots and lines that go around the letter to indicate certain sounds. So cool, right!?) added to imply what exactly you are talking about, contextually. He also gave us each a copy of the Torah (bible).

We started talking about the first word of the Torah- B’reishit-, which is usually translated as ‘In the beginning’. The root of this word is rosh, which I knew to translate as head or start (You may recognize the root from Rosh HaShanah- the Jewish new year, or literally, head of the year). Our teacher explained that it had other translations too- wisdom and feeling. He further explained that some interpretations of the first line of the Torah took into account these other definitions. So, instead of ‘in the beginning, God, created…’ it would be ‘in wisdom, God created…’ and so on.

I sat there, quietly geeking out, and for the first time feeling really excited about reading the Torah. My Torah experience as a kid in Israel was reading it in school as part of our history class. A dry and boring experience, I assure you. We would take turns… mandatory turns, mind you, and read out loud, then our teacher would explain whatever was important to know about that particular passage. The highlight of this class was looking for the ‘bad words’ with my friends, like the word for whore- a very exciting endeavor in 5th and 6th grade.

Tonight, I was reminded of the richness of the language (without having the need to look up the ‘bad words’), and felt wonderfully encouraged to not read the text literally, but to engage with the text and look at what the words/contexts mean or could mean with other definitions.

Besides the blatant ‘I’m a student of LIFE and I LOVE learning new things. ALL THE TIME’ part of my geek out about this, there is another part. Despite (or maybe partly due to) the fact that I grew up in Israel, and was raised in a Jewish home, I have had quiet yet consistent struggle with my Jewish identity. I think part of it was my need to find my own space to figure out what being Jewish meant to me. I’m still not entirely sure what it means completely. But I do know it is important to me. Part of that was getting to a time in my life where life decisions would help me see the shape I wanted things to take. For example, when I became engaged, and started thinking about what kind of wedding ceremony I wanted, I realized without even questioning it, that I wanted a Jewish ceremony. It was like this quiet little part of my soul was waiting for me to see it there, waiting to be recognized. When James and I started talking about future spawns…I mean, kiddos, I realized I wanted to raise them in a Jewish household. Obviously, these topics have been discussed with my future husband, who is in full support of having a Jewish home. While he hasn't affiliated with any organized religion in the past, he appreciates the culture of Judaism he has experienced with my family and this class and welcomes it in our home.

What I am enjoying about this class (particularly tonight) is the awakening/reawakening I am experiencing with Judaism. I was reminded tonight of how much I love Hebrew, a language I first thought at age seven was just a set of pictures and patterns.

(Oooh! Another geek out moment!!! Apparently, each letter in the Hebrew alphabet does indeed have a correlating image that is a part of where the letter originated from!! I had no idea. So damn cool)

For whatever reason, I needed to get to this point in my life to begin looking at myself from a Jewish standpoint, and I am, for the first time (in a looong time, or ever, I’m not sure…) really excited about the process. And, clearly, I need to work on my Hebrew. Otherwise, who is going to teach my kids how to cuss properly?

When we got home from class, I emailed the teacher that led tonight's class, thanking him for a great class. He wrote back a little while later, saying the pleasure was his and, that during class, he could see the joy on my face as I figured things out. It's nice to know that my ability to not hide how I feel can help a teacher appreciate his ability to teach but more importantly, engage his students. The rest of the time, my emotional face just makes it hard to play card games or lie:)


  1. That is so cool! Any idea when written Hebrew came about, in terms of the Rosetta stone?

  2. You know, I don't know the timing on that, but that would be really cool to find out:)