Navigating life in a foreign country while learning a new language requires not only patience, but a willingness to look and sound stupid on a daily basis.

Before we moved to Israel two years ago, I was eager to jump in with the Hebrew. I had always regretted not spending a year or semester abroad here in college, as I was convinced this experience would have solidified my acquisition of the language I had spent three years learning in textbooks and classrooms. In my pre-Aliya mind, I thought we’d arrive in Israel, get settled, and I’d immediately begin a formal ulpan program in which I’d enjoy fictitious coffee chats with other immigrants and make believe visits to the bank.

It didn’t happen.

For better or for worse, I got a full-time job quickly after arriving here and my Hebrew studies have remained “by-the-way, on-the-way,” as I like to say.

As a result, I’m completely incapable of cursing out a middle aged woman in the parking lot of a neighborhood grocery store.

I know. I wasn’t expecting that one either.

I thought my greatest frustrations would come from trying to set up playdates or schedule an appointment with the gynecologist.


My greatest limitations in Hebrew are in conversations that normally happen reactively.

As in:

“Who do you think you are?”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Get off my back, lady!”

It’s not that I’m normally a particularly confrontational person. However, I don’t shy away from confrontation…when it’s verbal and in English.

If someone was being a complete idiot in a parking lot in New Jersey as this woman was, for instance, and told me off in front of my 6 year old son, I might have mindlessly shown her who had a superior command of both the formal and impolite English language.

I’m reactive. With a slightly elevated bad temper.

I don’t like being told off by stupid strangers.

But in Hebrew, not only do I not know all the exact phrases used to tell people off; I’m still not sure which one makes me sound like a thug and which one makes me sound like a 5 year old on the playground.

Something is lost in the tongue-lashing when you sound like a character from Phineas and Ferb.

phines book

So when this woman got out of her car and approached my window shouting, “What are you doing!?” as I waited for another car to exit a parking space, there was nothing I could do but smile at her and say, “Patience, please.”

This is a phrase I’ve already mastered with my children … and with myself. It’s one I use confidently in both my thug voice and my playground voice.

“Patience?!?” she screamed back at me. “Move!!!”

“But there’s nothing I can do,” I said to her in Hebew with a smile. “Ain ma la’asot.” And gave her the nice version of my ain ma la’sot” shrug.

She wasn’t having any of it.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid woman!” she screamed at me through the raised window, and slammed her palm against the glass.

My son was speechless in the backseat. I was too, in the front seat, but not for the same reasons as he.

He was insulted for me. Angry at her. Confused that I hadn’t shouted, “stupid!” back to her.

I realized quickly, however, that my blood was not boiling; my head not pounding. I wasn’t upset with myself for not putting her in her place. I wasn’t scanning my mind for phrases to use when I inevitably hunted her down in the produce aisle.

I was calm. Sure of myself.

In fact, I had already let the moment go.

Which, for someone with a slightly elevated temper in a country that regularly frustrates her, is a huge accomplishment.

And I fully have Israel to thank.

Letting go takes practice. Daily practice.

Living here. Working here. Parenting here. Loving here. Israel is my daily practice. It humbles me. It forces me to be mindful in moments I’d otherwise act without pause.

Forget Hebrew. Forget religious observance. Forget army service: Letting go is the ultimate prerequisite for making aliyah. Or at least, the willingness to let go. To be a stranger in this land. To be silent until you have a voice with which to speak loudly and with certainty.

It’s through my journey here that I continue to master the concept of “letting go,” through which I find true freedom and happiness.

Much more so than the momentary pleasure and relief I’d derive in the telling off of a rude, impatient stranger.

That said, I’m open to hearing your suggestions for how to tell her off next time.