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The Break

Capital of La Palma, Santa Cruz de la Palma

Let me tell you about the best part of my holiday this summer. I didn't hear Hebrew for the entire week I was away in Europe. I can already hear you saying: "Impossible, Israelis have infiltrated every single part of the world." Yes, it's true. Usually you hear Hebrew just about anywhere you go, but I went to La Palma, a tiny Spanish island in the Canaries. There, I strained, I tried, I cocked my ear, I listened carefully to every foreign sound around me, ready to be delighted and disappointed at the same time, but nothing, no Hebrew. I heard Dutch, German, French, English and lots of Spanish. This island is mostly filled with Spanish tourists.

Hebrew is a distinctive sound. It's a Semitic language like Arabic and to my uninitiated ears, when I first arrived in Israel, both languages sounded very similar. Walking down Shuk HaCarmel, I heard the harsh chet, chaf and reish provoking the image of two men spitting at each other and the guttural ayin of Arabic reminiscent of upchucking a meal. And that's how I experienced Israel, spitting and throwing up.

Moving to a new country is hard in and of itself, but Israel is also about learning a new alphabet, a new language, and a new culture. I mean, Jews with Jews living alongside. Can that actually work?

I was also besieged by philosophical questions. Where is my home now? Is Israel my new home? I am forgetting words in English but I am not speaking Hebrew that well. What's that all about? What's going on with me?

Learning Hebrew is a Sisyphean feat. Will I ever be able to tell the difference between yud and nun, or mem, mem sofi and samech?

Every day is a battle that I conquer and I don't forget how incredibly challenging it was that I have learned Hebrew as an adult. I pat myself on the back.

I was sitting in the business lounge in the Madrid airport when a couple sat down a few seats away. The lady, in her mid-60's, grabbed her phone and among the reverent quiet of the sophisticated lounge, her voice shattering the old world quality, she proceeded, like an unleashed bull in the arena, to bellow to her family back home: "Shalom. Mah nishma?" Ah, there it is - Hebrew. Again.

I settled in my seat and smiled. The familiarity of home. The break was over. 



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Saturday, 13 July 2024

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