Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Baruch boa'cha habayta, Azzam Azzam. Hikeenoo lecha*.

The bit I liked best about that Julie Burchill article was her reaction to the fact that they spoke to her in Hebrew on the plane.

Some people just have to be negative and so, of course, she was presented with the explanation that no one expects non-Israeli tourists to come to Israel anymore. Well, yes, but I can think of more reasons. One is that Israeli society is so diverse these days that even if you are a blonde Slavic beauty with high cheekbones, or a black African goddess with long plaits, colorful beads all the way down your back, and ethnic tattoos on you neck, you could still be just as likely to be fluent in Hebrew.

People will speak to you in Hebrew on an Israeli plane, on an Israeli street, in an Israeli queue to buy Israeli tickets in an Israeli cinema (to see an American film), because Hebrew is the language Israelis speak. This is what Burchill was experiencing on that El Al plane.

None of my friends read anything I write because all my friends are Hebrew speakers. I have a good friend who I would really like to share this story with. I think she would be highly amused by it. She knows all the characters. But I can't share it with her because her English isn't good enough, dammit. And Our Sis sends me all these great jokes by e-mail all the time, but I have to translate them all into Hebrew in order to forward them. This is very time consuming. Is it any wonder I've stopped blogging regularly?

People who think Israel is some temporary colonial experiment are missing a powerful point. There are about five and a half million of us Hebrew speaking Israelis round here. For the large majority of us (present company excluded), Hebrew is our mother tongue, and a large percentage of us can't communicate very well in ANY OTHER LANGUAGE! Hebrew is our whole world.

Why should Julie Burchill find that so surprising (even in a good way)?

Maybe people who speak widely spoken languages, like English, French, Russian, think languages spoken by just a few million people are superfluous. They could be right, but what they think doesn't really interest most Israelis. Hebrew is the language they dream in. And it doesn't interest them either that Hebrew was a dead language for thousands of years, used only for prayer and study, up till about a hundred or so years ago. It's alive and kicking now. And how.

And guess what? We get to be the favored few who can read THE biggest bestseller of all times as it originally appeared.

You may have read the Bible. You may have been reading it all your life. You may know large parts of it by heart. But, hey, it's like Shakespeare - you've never really read it until you've read the original (I've read Shakespeare in Hebrew. Believe me, it's not the same). The Bible is rich and witty and wise and many faceted in ways you cannot even begin to grasp, if all you're getting is a translation of a translation. And I say that without being such a Bible scholar, just from a taste here and there. What must the real experts be experiencing? The mind boggles.

And that's because Hebrew is this great language. Hey, I'd be learning Hebrew just to read Yehuda Amichai's poems if I were you.

The resuscitation of the Hebrew language IS the essence of Zionism, one of its greatest achievements, if not the very greatest. We brought a dead language to life. We rejuvenated a zombified group of people. We dried the swamps. We won the wars. And here we are. Not a colonial experiment. Not a foreign element in someone else's land.

Us. Here. Now. Speaking Hebrew.


* = Welcome home, Azzam Azzam. We've been waiting for you.

Afterthought: By zombified I didn't mean to knock the present day Jewish Diaspora. I believe the present day Jewish Diaspora doesn't resemble the Jewish Diaspora of the days before the State of Israel existed. I believe the State of Israel rejuvenated the Jewish Diaspora as well as its own inhabitants, Jewish and non-Jewish (and vice versa), in more ways than one.

Afterthought afterthought: So maybe zombified wasn't a very successful description even of pre-State of Israel Jewish Diaspora.

Okay, I confess. I liked the word and I wanted to use it. So launch a Kassam Rocket at me.

Afterthought afterthought afterthought:I was going to say 'So blow me up on a bus', but I thought that would be even more tasteless than 'zombified'.

This is the point where I know it's way past my bedtime.