I walked slowly to work that first morning. As I headed toward the general dining hall and kitchen on Kibbutz Einat, near Petach Tikvah, Israel, I practiced these words over and over, “Ani ovedette poe ha yom,” which meant, “I work here today” in Hebrew.
I don’t know why, but my legs quivered with weakness, and huge butterflies flapped against the walls of my stomach as I approached the kitchen.
I tried to remember the reason I hyperventilated as I walked. Oh yeah! I had never worked a job in another language. I had never had to understand and carry out instruction in a language other than English. And unlike many of my American comrades, I had been assigned to a job alone, absolutely alone. I had no friends with whom to share the terror!
I saw the cook, Chaya, waiting for me just inside the large kitchen door. With all the courage I could muster, I stepped over the threshold of the kitchen doorway and mumbled out my Hebrew words. Chaya grabbed my face with both hands, stroked my head and hair over and over (a very Eastern European thing to do), and exclaimed in Hebrew, “I am so glad you speak Hebrew!”
I knew just enough to be dangerous. I had studied for two years formally before arriving in Israel. But I had learned in the sterile environment of a classroom, which was entirely different than the situation in which I suddenly found myself: LIVE HEBREW 24/7 with no subtitles.
Soon I enrolled in ulpan. That is Hebrew language school, developed for new immigrants. The ulpan method of learning language is considered one of the best in the world. Since new immigrants to Israel are from many countries, the common language in ulpan is strictly Hebrew, no lapsing into Russian or English or Romanian or Yiddish, or Pig Latin, nothing!
Ulpan is not for the faint of heart. To survive, you must jump into the rough, white water rapids of gutteral “chas” and rolled “rrrrrrs” knowing the waterfall of fluency is a few miles down river. Once you get over the shock of the cold water of embarrassment, you must paddle, paddle, paddle with strange syllables and dipthongs. Then when the waterfall finally comes, just let go and free fall, all — in — Hebrew!
It’s actually fun when you start laughing at your own mistakes. You might as well, because everyone else is!
Although gutteral, Hebrew is a beautiful and poetic language. When the adjectives, verbs, and nouns are in agreement, the poetic sounds and rhythms abound. I love to hear a native speaker. It sounds like a blend of French and Portugese with a hint of German. And oh how I love the romantic sounds of French. I have always said that if I am going to be martyred, let it be by a Frenchman.
But back to Hebrew.
All words are based on a three-letter root system, although there are some irregularities. From these three letters, all words are formed. You could call these roots the DNA from which all nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are formed.
Unlocking the codes to these DNAs found in Hebrew roots is like finding a buried treasure chest. Since you cannot separate language from culture, it is advantageous to learn some Hebrew if you want to better understand the Bible or the life and times of Jesus.
I thought I would share the roots of two words that I find interesting.
Zachar is the Hebrew word for masculine. N’kiva is the Hebrew word for feminine. The very root of masculine in Hebrew literally means “to remember.” The very root of feminine in Hebrew is “to hope.”
In Hebrew thought, the essence of being masculine is “to remember”–to remember God, to remember responsibility, to remember wives and children. God created the masculine gender “to remember.” Scripture seems to verify this with this rendering from Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you, O man, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Man must remember.
Conversely, the Hebrew thought on the essence of the feminine is “to hope.” The woman is created to hope in her God, to hope in her husband, and to hope for the lives of her children. Her hope is geared to the present and launches forward into the future, but it is centered on God and her husband and family. Proverbs 31:25 says “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the things to come.” The woman who puts her hope in God first learns to have no fear for tomorrow.
These attributes create tension between the masculine and feminine: remembering vs hoping. It seems God set it up that way!
All have had a good laugh at Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on “I Love Lucy.” Many of their sitcoms are geared toward Lucy hoping that Ricky will remember her–an anniversary or birthday or that Lucy needs more money, or Lucy has talent! Lucy is hoping that Ricky won’t forget her! Ricky is hitting himself on the head so he won’t forget or he is teasing Lucy, only pretending to forget.
The “I Love Lucy” situations and plots have served the American people well over decades of sitcoms and films based on this tension of remembering and hoping. The tension is as old as the human race.
But to put this blog where the rubber meets the road:
I, like Lucy, am hoping he’ll remember.