After nearly a decade living in Israel, I am pleased to say that I am both confident and, I believe, competent in Hebrew. I read the newspapers, listen to the radio and even browse Hebrew groups and posts on Facebook. Moreover, I understand the words of my prayers even more than ever before. But there is no denying, it will be many years, if ever, before I consider Hebrew to be a first language.
Crucially, while I think I speak Hebrew, in reality I speak parts of the language. As a media and campaign strategist, I understand the Hebrew of politics, the media and journalism. As a parent, I would even like to say I have a handle on the Hebrew of parent-teacher discussions. All of which I am proud to have garnered.
Legal Hebrew? Well that is a different question, as is I am ashamed to say is any Hebrew relating to cooking and household chores. And don’t even ask me to translate instructions for an electrical item or computer program.
However, there are parts of the language which I wish I didn’t understand. I certainly wish I didn’t understand so much Hebrew relating to mechanics and car maintenance, yet due to the age and reliability of my car, I have a greater vocabulary than I should wish. I also wish I didn’t understand the Hebrew needed for dealing with Cellcom, Bezeq and the Electricity Company. Yet sadly, these are areas where not only am I fluent in Hebrew, but fluent in complaining in Hebrew.
I certainly wish I didn’t understand the Hebrew of war and security. But I do. I wish I didn’t know the Hebrew terms for terrorism, suicide attacks, incitement, and hatred. But I do. I wish I didn’t know the words for gas masks, bomb shelters, air raid siren and checkpoints. But I do.
Yet, as we near Passover, I am reminded of another area of Hebrew with which I wish I had less familiarity. Medical Hebrew. It is now five years – five whole years – since my wife had to go through a Stem Cell Transplant – hashtala, and round upon round of chemotherapy to treat a relapsed case of Lymphoma. It is now five years since we spent Seder night in an isolation hospital ward – bidud. It is now five years since she endured daily checks of her blood – bedikot dam, checking her white blood cells – ta’ei dam levanim. It is five years since she began her recovery – hitoshashut, and was able to return home to our beautiful boys, and begin rebuilding our lives.
This is Hebrew I don’t just understand, but with which I have a deep relationship. Words which conjure emotions, bring back of smells and sights, and recall the most extreme emotions of both joy and despair. Perhaps more than their counterparts in my native English. Words which, while I hope to never hear again, reverberate through my very core. And on Seder night, as a family, in English and in Hebrew, we give thanks to God for delivering us from slavery to freedom, as well as for giving us the incredible hospitals and doctors of the modern State of Israel, and delivering my wife from sickness to health.
As we say at Passover, ‘In every generation, there have been those that stood against us, and God delivered us from their hands.’ Something that I understand with my security and political Hebrew as well as my medical Hebrew.
This post was also shared on Israel Forever, a blog which brings people together to better understand life in Israel.