• Dev Friedlander

If I could, I would

Please don’t ask me to speak Hebrew. Yes, I know I live in Israel and Hebrew is the official language. Yes, I know there is a chance my grandkids won’t speak English and that I may not be able to speak with them. Please don’t tell me I sound like a spoiled American who doesn’t feel the need to integrate, because quite to the contrary if I could speak Hebrew, I most certainly would.


My problem with speaking Hebrew is two-pronged: The first, I have a learning disability (LPD- Language Processing Disorder) which makes acquiring any language a struggle. The fact that I can communicate in English is only a result of many years of tutoring I received as a child. Second, I have a phobia of speaking Hebrew specifically. No, it doesn’t come from worrying about how I sound; the root of the fear is much deeper than that.


When I was in grade school, I struggled and battled to simply learn the basics of Hebrew reading. I spent innumerable hours practicing the sounds of the letters and vowels instead of doing what other kids would do in their free time. But the struggle in of itself didn’t create a phobia for me. Instead, it came from an experience I had on the first day of class.


I had signed up for an elective which I was very excited about. I was excited about the class because the teacher was a highly respected Rabbi. On that fateful first day, he asked the students to open their books to the first page of Samuel and to go around the classroom and read aloud. When it was my turn, he stopped me before I began and said, “girls, I taught Devorah’s sister a few years ago. She remains one of the best students I have ever had, her reading was exceptionally good. Let’s see if it’s a family trait.” He then motioned for me to start. I read as best I could, but it was stunted and awful. The look of disappointment and shock in this teacher’s eyes was unmistakable, he skipped over me the next time my turn came around to read. I dropped the class and chose a different elective. But from that day on, I refused to read Hebrew aloud.


Fast forward to Ulpan (Hebrew learning course for new immigrants to Israel) almost a decade later, and I found myself again forced to read aloud. I tried, and while the teacher was patient, I choked on the words. I had my first panic attack in Ulpan when the teacher gave an assignment that was too difficult for my level. I left the building wheezing.


The idea of having to sit through Hebrew classes all my life was unbearable. After much soul-searching, I decided for my wellbeing and happiness that I would not speak Hebrew. Yes, I know that angers some people, but let’s try and look at it this way: Would you like to solve a complex math equation every time you try to order food at a restaurant or buy a bus ticket or even book a doctor's appointment? That’s right, a math equation that is beyond your ability to solve, and if you get it wrong your order won’t come or you'll be on a bus to the wrong destination or your appointment will be with the wrong type of doctor.


Like most people, I don’t like being in school every second of every day. It’s exhausting. As I said, if I could speak Hebrew I would. And yes, I have tried. Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, TV shows, private tutors, Ulpan (3 times for multiple months), friends speaking with me in Hebrew, children shouting at me in Hebrew, and notes placed around the house. I have tried, I have failed. I don’t want the learning of Hebrew to be my barrier to happiness, so I have decided to no longer let it be. This presents its own challenges, but at least I can manage through them.


If you can learn a new language, I encourage you to do so with all my heart. There is much to be said with being bilingual, I love that my children are. But please don’t ask me to be. If I could, I would; but I simply can’t, so I shan’t. אין מה לעשות 😊

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©2019 by Dev's Writing, Devorah Friedlander