Riding home on the metro tonight, behind me, two young Israeli girls chatting away. The whole way I was thinking about how much I love Hebrew.
I love it because it’s my mother tongue, although not in the way you think.
It is the language of my people, it has a rich, beautiful history and a language and mysticism all it’s own (no pun intended). It’s the language of the State of Israel and like the Jewish state and the Jewish people, it’s been up and down, it’s nearly disappeared and been revived (and better than ever).
In a manner of speaking it truly is my mother tongue though.
In 1968, in the aftermath of the 6 Day War, when Jerusalem was truly a Jewish city once more, my parents sold their 2 cars, their 4 bedroom-2 bath ranch style house on a tree lined street and with a 9, 8 and 2.5 year old in tow headed to the city of gold.
We set up house first in Katamon, later in Ramat Gan, and I went to gan and quickly lost my English two-word sentences in favor of Hebrew ones.
My mother, who didn’t do ulpan, so that my dad could learn Hebrew faster, often told the story of how she spent hours with me in tears two weeks after we arrived because she couldn’t figure out what I was saying and only spoke Hebrew. According to her she spent a misery-laden morning with me, while I cried and she tried everything to calm me down and had to wait until my brothers came home from school to know that I wanted a glass of water.
These were the days before social media when immigration to a country 6,000 miles away didn’t mean you saw and chatted to your friends on Facebook and Twitter every day. It meant 2 letters a month from your family and friends if you were lucky.
My mother was completely cut off from everyone and anyone, she didn’t know the language and was at home all day while my father worked a full time job at a French speaking company and then spent the evenings in Ulpan.
Six months later they decided to go back.
My Hebrew didn’t last long.
When I made aliyah at age 30, it was tough for me to pick up the language and it took me a long time before I could feel confident enough to speak it. I spent my first year or two resisting learning it and preferring to exist in an English speaking bubble. But after a while, I got the hang of it.
I’ve always loved it though. Its sing-songy rhythm, passion and intonation has always warmed my heart. Even though I didn’t know more than a few words when I got there (and not many more after six months of ulpan), Hebrew has always stirred my soul. It just has a way of finding that two year old girl, with a head full of messy curls and a pure heart.
And on the metro, with these two young girls talking about all the things they wanted to do in Amsterdam as the score to the movie of my life at that moment, I thought about how much I absolutely love it when I hear Hebrew in Europe, especially in Amsterdam.
Because this land, this city was once ruled by the Third Reich.
The Jews here were stripped of their privileges, their leisure time, their rights, their citizenship. They were beaten, starved, experimented on, killed in some of the most sickening ways possible.
But, the Third Reich is gone. Yes, we have other enemies who seek to destroy us, but you know what, we are still here.
WE ARE STILL HERE.
Speaking Hebrew on the ruins of Nazi Europe.