Thursday, April 28, 2011

On the Hebrew trail . . .

היום עשרה יומים שהם שבוע אחד ושלשה יומים לעמר
Today is ten days, which is one week and three days, of the omer
תפארת שבגבורה
A day of compassion in a week of strength

It's now been a little over a year since I once again began my quest to read and speak Hebrew with understanding and fluency. I've never been good with languages, and as languages go, Hebrew is one of the more difficult ones to learn. Sure, I know the alphabet, but for many years read the words with little comprehension of their meaning. In the ten plus years I've spent davening, studying scripture, and chanting Torah I've gained a lot of meaning from the prayers and texts. But I would like to read both the ancient writings and the more modern literature through a clear lens, without the filter of someone else's translation.

I am lucky to have now found a great teacher whose methodology of teaching really works for me. Anat Wolins has started her own school, Yad Moshe, to teach Hebrew to adult students. She knows how to build knowledge, not just rote memory. The vocabulary lessons cycle through different subjects, each round bringing more sophistication to our repertoire. In grammer class, she decodes the patterns, so we can start to think in the Hebrew structure and not get stuck trying to force our English forms on the Hebrew.

She is also a teacher who is able to meet students wherever they are and bring them along. She supports us while she's challenging us; encouraging us to take chances and giving us the opportunity to learn through our mistakes. She is sympathetic to the frustrations that bubble up when the learning is just not sinking in, calming the fear.

Last year, at the start of my studies, I wrote a post called "Breathing Numbers," about not being able to count in Hebrew when timing my yoga poses. While I may or may not be able to do that now, I am able to say the blessings and count for the omer without looking them up in the siddur. I even know to use the male form of the numbers because I'm counting days and weeks, which are masculine nouns.

While this may seem like a small thing, it's big to me. It means I am learning, I am understanding--I'm not just memorizing, cramming words into my brain. I've had my meltdowns in class--I'm an A-type personality, and see myself as the "smart girl." I'm very hard on myself when I feel like I'm failing at the task at hand. But if I can see this progress, however small, maybe I can back off and realize how much I've retained. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is coming closer.

Today represents compassion that lives in a container of strength. I have the strength--and the smarts--to learn Hebrew. I need to add in compassion, give myself the time and space to let the knowledge settle in. Maybe one year I'll be able to blog the omer in Hebrew :)

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