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Miriam C. Berkowitz
Helping people navigate and celebrate life transitions

Poem about the Hebrew language

If Russian is a language of snow

With its soft, whispering sounds

Sh, Shch, tz

Rocking, subtle, calming

That evoke snowflakes falling on endless plains,

Grandmothers singing lullabies,

Secrets exchanged under staircases

Careful not to be overheard by ever-present informers,

And the heavy, resonant sounds like oo, yoo, p, g

Are like the thudding footsteps that sink into snowbanks

Under a grey winter sky

Wrapped in a thick fur coat

 

Then Hebrew is the language of the sun

Clear, simple and direct

Almost without exceptions

Rough and brusque likes its Arabic cousin

But attenuated by ripe dates, honey and sweet oranges,

Confident, warm, always conscious of feminine and masculine,

Assertive (future is used instead of imperative- if Moti or Sharon or Kobi tells you to do something, you surely will!)

Connected to the past, like the sign telling you to give your seat on the bus to elders

That is lifted word for word from the Bible: מפני שיבה תקום

Yet full of new modern words created from ancient roots,

Echoes of the prophets, peppered with hints of Greek and Persian.

Compact, efficient, without declensions or complicated tenses.

Everyone has a nickname, every army term has an abbreviation.

Every word has its three letter root (shoresh) and every verb type is an “edifice” (binyan).

We must be on alert for the next war, for an uncertain future.

No time to dally with four or five synonyms

We have deserts to make bloom, sea water to desalinate,

Neighborhoods to build, a society to craft, curly haired beauties to seduce…

 

Come hear the shouting in the marketplace, hear the prayers wafting upward on Friday night,

A re-born language, the heritage of a stubborn, miraculous, resilient people.

The above was inspired by Hebrew Union College Hebrew Immersion week and the DAU film project in Paris

About the Author
Rabbi Miriam Berkowitz is an Israel-ordained Conservative rabbi and certified chaplain. She co-founded Kashouvot: Pastoral Care and is currently the International Coordinator of the Spiritual Care Association, promoting chaplaincy around the world. She does weddings and bar-bat mitzvahs, editing and individual pastoral care/ life coaching for people in transitions, in Israel and remotely.
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