Jo Sugarman
A humourous take on making Aliyah

I can’t speak Hebrew

After a year and a half in Israel – I have a confession to make….

I can’t speak Hebrew.

It’s mortifying. Every time a visitor arrives, their first words are ’How’s your Ivrit? You must be fluent by now’. And I stare at them. And I try to decide.

Should I lie? Should I reply ,‘Pah! Of course I am. I mean, only an IDIOT wouldn’t be able to speak Hebrew after A YEAR AND A HALF in Israel. Ho ho ho’. Or do I own up to the truth – that actually – I AM that idiot and that, no, I’m not bloody fluent. I can just about say my name.

It’s a dilemma. I mean, they’re not going to test me, are they. I can order a coffee in the coffee shop, and maybe a cake, and they’ll be none the wiser. I’m excellent at the ‘todah’ and ‘bevukasha’, and if a shop assistant asks me a question, I usually answer with – ‘ken’. It seems to work for the most part, but has got me into trouble a few times. I’ve ended up having to buy special offer items at the till that I really didn’t want. But it was too late to back out at that stage (and the half price hemorrhoid cream has actually come in rather useful).

But I’m likely to get caught out at some point. What if my guests need actual help with something? I could pretend I’m speaking Hebrew – again – they’re not going to know any different – it all sounds vaguely plausible if you get the spitting in the right places – but, it’s a risk. What if they hurt themselves whilst here and it’s up to me to save their life? I don’t know how to say ‘Quick, this lady needs a Thoracic Aortic Dissection Repair. NOW’, in Hebrew. It’s a worry.

I’ve tried. I really have. I went to Ulpan every day for 5 months. I hardly missed a lesson. When my car broke down and I had no way of getting there – I walked. Yes, walked. Those of you who know me will realise what a huge deal that is. I’m not a big one for walking. It’s not my thing. I have been known to drive to my neighbour, two houses down.

I did all my homework. Studiously. I only used google translate when it was absolutely necessary – mostly at midnight, when I’d spent too much time catching up on Greys Anatomy.

I can tell you where I live (B Ra’ananna), and I can recite my telephone number and Identity Number with ease. With only a few pauses in the middle while my brain catches up. But anything else, I’m stuck.

I still try. Every day. I prepare what I want to say…I practice in my head a few times…I reach the shop assistant… I look them directly in the eye and state confidently what I require with a defiant nod of the head for emphasis. I’m euphoric. I’ve done it. I’ve conversed with an Israeli. I Am Fluent.

But they look at me sadly and reply in a perfect North West London Twang ‘Sorry love, couldn’t make out what you were saying. What was it you wanted? Hemorrhoid cream?’

About the Author
Jo Sugarman is a reasonably good mother and wife and just wants an easy life playing Candy Crush. But when her husband informed her that you don't get an ACTUAL prize for reaching level 4,896 she thought she would try writing a blog instead. She is 50, made Aliyah 6 years ago from the UK and lives in Raanana, Israel with her husband and three (roughly) teenage children. She still cannot speak Hebrew.
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