Learning Hebrew

Laura K. Silver is a trustee of the Jewish Light who writes a blog for the paper’s website (stljewishlight.com/laura).  She owns The Paper Trail of St. Louis, a financial and legal concierge service. She is the mother of two elementary school-age children.

By Laura K. Silver

Last year, as I sat through services, my rabbi challenged the congregation to partake in some of the many offerings at our synagogue.  As in years past, I listened; but last year, I also acted. I left services and within days had enrolled myself in beginning Hebrew. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, but I had never followed through with it. This year will be different, I told myself.

It was.  For years, I had attended services feeling as though I was on the back of the bus. Not knowing Hebrew made me feel disenfranchised, disempowered, and disconnected.  I would berate myself during services for not taking matters into my own hands and just learning the language.  Sure, I could say “Baruch ata Adonai” but I faded out as the words became unfamiliar.  It was my own doing, and I hadn’t done anything to change it.  I spent my services feeling remorseful and pretty miserable.

For the past year, I have made a fool of myself nearly every Sunday morning in front of acquaintances (now friends) learning to read and speak Hebrew.  I’ve mixed up letters, learned to make guttural noises, and listened to a CD of my cantor so often that I now hear his voice in my sleep.  And all of us, though not pretty at times, are getting it. My new friends and I are reading Hebrew and believe it or not, thanks to our ever patient teacher, Marci Thal, we’re also having a b’nai mitzvah this May. 

One thing is for sure–I’m better off than I was this time last year and for the first time this year at Rosh Hashanah, I didn’t dread services. I know now what it feels like to go to services and know, not only the melodies, but also the words.  I know what it’s like to be able to follow along in my prayer book and even chime in.  I’ve made it to the front of the bus. 

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I know that I’m not the only one feeling this way, so I’m writing this to those who haven’t yet made the plunge.  This new year, take that leap of faith and learn something new, whether it’s Hebrew or something else you’ve been putting off for ages. You owe it to yourself to come to the front of the bus.

I promise to save you a seat.