Image: A golden key. Public domain.
What single thing could most strongly improve the quality of your Jewish experience? It’s simple: learn some Hebrew.
Hebrew is as essential to Jewish citizenship as English is to American citizenship. Sure, there are American citizens who don’t speak English well, but much of the American experience is closed to them. The same is true for Jews and Hebrew: a person can certainly be a good Jew and not be able to read a word of Hebrew, but they will forever be on the outside looking in.
Total fluency takes time and effort. Fortunately, every little bit you learn has a big payoff:
Learn the alef-bet and reap these rewards:
- The letters will cease to be squiggles and become familiar.
- You will have the essential tool to move forward.
Learn a few greetings, and you will:
- Be able to exchange greetings with fellow Jews from all over the world.
- Have something to say to any Israeli you meet.
- Begin to feel more connected to Jews everywhere.
Learn to read and understand a few simple phrases and you will:
- Be able to order coffee on Dizengoff St. in Tel Aviv.
- Know more Hebrew than most American Jews.
Take a conversational Modern Hebrew class and you will:
- Be able to visit Israel and feel like mishpachah [family], rather than a tayar [tourist.]
- Have the tools for ever-expanding conversational skills – just keep at it!
- Open the door to Modern Hebrew literature.
Take a Prayer Book Hebrew class and you will:
- Understand prayers, rather than just mouth them.
- Be able to follow along as the Torah and Haftarah are chanted.
- Open the doors to Jewish spirituality.
Take a Biblical Hebrew class and you will:
- Discover that there’s much, much more to those stories in Genesis.
- Begin to enjoy the rich poetry in every line of Hebrew.
- Hold your own in any discussion about “what the Bible really says.”
Keep on studying and the vast universe of Jewish texts and experiences will open to you!
“But I’m not talented at languages!”
So what? You have probably learned many things in your life without being “talented” at them. One can learn to make toast without being a “talented” cook.
In Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, the rabbis tell us that one good deed leads to another. So too, with Hebrew, every bit of progress leads to more progress. The sooner you begin, the sooner you will learn your letters and their rewards will begin!