My son’s Hebrew teacher told me that Zev’s pronunciation is metzuyan – excellent! His vocabulary is also, metzuyan, and – with some surreptitious help from native-speaking Savta, he has even started reading and writing. All of which is, you guessed it, metzuyan!
What is not so metzuyan, what clearly needs improvement in Morah’s eyes, is my involvement in Zev’s Hebrew education.
“You need to speak to him more in Hebrew,” she admonished me at the end of the school year.
“Yeah,” I told her. “I don’t speak Hebrew.”
“I know. You are not speaking to him in Hebrew. He really needs for you to speak to him in Hebrew.”
What ensued was a five-minute, cross-cultural “Who’s On First” routine. At no point could I convince Morah that my not speaking Hebrew was an impairment, not a parenting choice.
I forgive her the misunderstanding. My name is Mayrav, my parents are Sabras and my mother taught Hebrew to everybody else’s kids for 30 years. Of course I should know Hebrew. My Hebrew should be impeccable. It should be native-sounding. It should be metzuyan.
Instead, it is halting, faltering and flat-out incorrect. During a brief stint as a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, I once tried to apologize to someone for speaking with an accent, a mivtah. Only I didn’t say mivtah. I said matzapah, and, therefore, apologized for speaking with an envelope.
In our teens and twenties we learn to blame our parents for all our deficiencies. If they had only pushed us harder, we would all be concert pianists; if they had pushed us less, we wouldn’t be so afraid of commitment, etc.
In our 30s we learn the harsh truth that, no, actually, we bear some responsibility for the way we’ve turned out. True, my dad had some weird notion that I wouldn’t learn English if they spoke to me in Hebrew, but given the resources around me – native speakers and a teacher, to boot! – I could have been more proactive about learning. After all, I aced geometry, and neither of my parents were right angles.
Determined to correct the mistakes I made as a child, I enlisted the services of Morah over the summer. Each week, Zev and four other kids spend an hour in her living room, reviewing the last year’s worth of Hebrew vocabulary through games, songs and other methods that just barely disguise the not-fun-edness of the whole situation.
Again, Morah is impressed with Zev’s retention, and his progress. But, again, she wishes I would step up my game.
“If you spoke to him in Hebrew, it would be better,” she said.
I opened my mouth to start in on our familiar routine, but then I thought better of it and resigned myself to seeming like a bad parent in her eyes. Then, after a few classes, Zev came home with a startling revelation.
“I speak better Hebrew than Morah’s son,” Zev boasted.
“Wait. What?” I said. Morah’s teenage son helps out with the lessons. He’s a sweet-faced kid with an Israeli name who, I assumed, spoke Hebrew.
“Yeah. He doesn’t know all the letters of the alphabet. I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. I really know more Hebrew than him!”
Well! It looks as though I’m not the only Hebrew school teacher’s kid who can’t speak Hebrew! Next time Morah cuts into me for not passing on my alleged knowledge of Hebrew to the next generation, I’ll be able to smile and know that she’s speaking to herself as much as to me.