Posts Tagged ‘Jewish’

Testimonials from My Hebrew Students

December 29, 2013

“You’re a terrific teacher, and our students are very, very fortunate to be learning with you. You are really helping them learn.  So thank you!” — Rabbi Andrew Vogel, Temple Sinai, Brookline, MA

“Natasha is a treasure.” – attendee at NewCAJE, August 1, 2010

“I have studied Hebrew with four other people over the past ten years, and none of them match Natasha. I am just thrilled with the progress I am making.” — S.B., college professor of sociology

“Your teaching style and enthusiasm have stayed with me over the years. Now I study by myself, but memories of your class echo in my head. When I started studying with you, I didn’t know the Hebrew alphabet; now I understand most of the Torah portion each week. Thank you for the inspiration.” — A.D., professor of medicine

“This Hebrew class is the highest point of my week.  I look forward to it for the other six days.”  J.L., engineer

“You are an enthusiastic and caring teacher.” — S.L., rabbinical student

People who study with you that I have met along the way over the years are deeply grateful to you for what they learn and how they learn from you. — Rabbi Alan Ullman

“Thanks to your class, I’m more mindful in services and I am actually able to read the real text.” — R.K.

“You made me think, darn you!” — attendee at NewCAJE, August 1, 2010

“I was dead tired and could hardly focus on anything. But learning Hebrew with you woke me up. You could make a dead person learn Hebrew.” — F.P., physician

“This is the first time I got past the place where I always used to get stuck.”– C.C., homemaker

“Wow! I just went to a bar mitzvah and when it was time for the Torah reading, I sat back to enjoy the musical chanting, not expecting to understand anything. I was just sitting there listening when suddenly words and even whole sentences started jumping out at me. I realized, it’s a story and I understand it. Whoa! This is a whole new level! Thank you for that.” — R.L.

“I think there is some magical way that you communicate a knowledge of Hebrew directly.” — P.S., college mathematics instructor

“These days, Hebrew seems to be everywhere.” — J.L.,

“This class is like a cool lemonade on a hot sticky day.” — L.W., general contractor

“Great class. Great group. Great teacher!” — J.H., college English professor

“I have enjoyed your classes very much, as you are an excellent teacher.” — T.B.

“I was able to start reading things I couldn’t read before. I can keep up in services much more than before.” — C.C., Homemaker

“This class is exactly what I need.” — S.G.

“I just love this!” — M.W., rabbinic pastor

“I wanted to let you know that I very much enjoyed the classes. You are a great teacher.” — N.F.

“Now that I know what it (Torah text) means literally, I feel more confident in doing my own interpretation.” — M.A.

“I am thoroughly enjoying the class.” — N.F.

“I like your teaching style — friendly but very professional and focused on task.” — E.F.

“This class is a blessing!” — L.W., general contractor

“Thanks to your class, I am more inclined to try to understand Hebrew words when I read them in the siddur (prayer book).” — A.T.

“You are extremely knowledgeable and you encourage students to try without judgment about outcome.” — M.B.

“I appreciate your supportive and helpful manner. You encourage us without making us feel “dumb” if we make mistakes. You answer questions but stay with your lesson plan. I look forward to coming

“You’re so validating!” — S.D.

“Thanks for introducing me to the miracles of Hebrew!” — L.W.

“This is a whole new world!” — M.W., rabbinic pastor

“I got chills during High Holy Day services! For the first time, I was reading and singing and following along the actual Hebrew.” — L.W., newspaper editor

“I REALLY appreciated all the Hebrew you’ve taught me at High Holiday services this year. I was thrilled that I could read well enough to keep up with prayers I didn’t know or forgot since last year. And, I especially enjoyed understanding so many words and phrases throughout the liturgy; I could actually piece together chunks of what I was reading! It really expanded, and in some cases changed, my understanding of the prayers.” — R.L.

“You are a great, amazing teacher!” — D.P.

“I have enjoyed your dedication, depth of knowledge, patience and encouragement. I would love to continue.” — M.B.

“It was really fantastic to understand a lot of the prayers during the high holiday services. It really adds an extra layer of meaning to my prayers.” — L.W., general contractor

” I will never forget your launching me in learning Biblical Hebrew.” — J.H., golfer

“In the last 30 years I tried to learn Hebrew many times and always dropped out. I have now been learning Hebrew with Natasha for 3 years and I am loving it, really learning it for the first time. The siddur and the Torah have come alive for me.” — S.D., yoga teacher

“I have to tell you that you are such an incredible teacher!!” — S.K.

“During services one Shabbat I glanced at a Biblical selection in Hebrew and was astonished to realize I could understand the whole paragraph, not just a phrase or a sentence. Very exciting!

“I feel grateful to you for the way that you approach teaching, and I feel like I can ask anything and not feel stupid! So, thank you, especially for that.” — S.K.

“I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your classes and how rewarding it is to be able to read the Torah in Hebrew!”

“Thank you for all the wonderful education.” — J.D.

“Many thanks. The classes were wonderful. Interesting, well prepared and taught. You are terrific.”

“Thanks so much for a fabulous class. I really enjoyed it and services really are nicer when I can follow along.”

“There’s something so special and interesting about Hebrew that it’s hard not to think about it regularly.”– S.M.

“I wish to thank you for the opportunity I had to study with you. You helped me move along my path!”

“This is such fun!” — M.W., rabbinic pastor

“I’ve been in many language classes and Natasha stands out as focussed, encouraging, knowledgeable, efficient, curious, and tolerant – way beyond the norm. Natasha is a terrific teacher!” — B.W., author

“Natasha’s classes are outstanding, and I will continue taking them as long as she offers them!” — I.K.

“For the first time in my life, I know where we are in the prayer book and where we’re going.” — S.B., college professor of sociology

“Thank you for your wonderful instruction.” — J.F.

“I’ve taken Hebrew classes for years and never enjoyed it, but this class is one I look forward to each week.”

“Thank you for all of your help in getting me to this point. I can (almost) understand most prayers that I read, and am finding translating Biblical passages (at least in the Torah portion!) easier each week.”

“My mother is so impressed with my ability to read Hebrew. Never too old to be happy if Mom’s impressed.” (from a 50+ – year-old student) — H.S.

I really enjoyed the classes and felt like I made enormous progress — I can actually follow along in services (and understand some of the words!). Thanks again for sharing your wisdom and joy.

“Natasha uses her creativity to integrate Jewish holidays, rituals, and current events with the requisite vocabulary and grammar. She always makes the content vivid and memorable.” — D.M.

“Natasha brings incredible enthusiasm to her teaching. She has motivated me … to make a real commitment to studying Hebrew.” — D.M.

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Thoreau’s Sukkah at Walden Pond

April 16, 2012

Looking for Thoreau’s Sukkah at Walden Pond?  Click here. 

We Were Slaves: Avadim Hayinu

March 30, 2012

Avadimhayinu2012-03-30_16-37-59_586-1

How to Spell “Tu biShvat”

January 18, 2011

Although there are many different conventions for Hebrew transliteration in general — e.g., the various ways to spell Hanukkah — using apostrophes in “Tu biShvat” indicates a misunderstanding of sh’va na’ versus sh’va nah (“mobile” or “voiced” sh’va versus “resting” or “silent” sh’va). This is a matter of correct dikduk (Hebrew grammar), not convention.

I am on a mission to correct this in the English-speaking Jewish world because so many Jewish organizations get this wrong!  They mistakenly use apostrophes and frequently mistransliterate the holiday’s name as “Tu b’Shvat” or, even worse, with two apostrophes, as in “Tu b’Sh’vat.”  Another incorrect transliteration uses ‘e’ instead of apostrophes, resulting in “Tu b’Shevat,” “Tu beSh’vat,” and the like.  These are all wrong, for the same reason.

When you spell Tu biShvat in Hebrew, there’s no voiced sh’va anywhere.  This is because:

  1. Hebrew words can never have two sh’vas in a row at the beginning of a word.  In the middle, yes.  At the end, yes.  But at the beginning, no.
  2. In the situation where you have a word whose first vowel is a sh’va — such as Sh’vat (a Hebrew month), Y’rushalayim (“Jerusalem”), b’heimah (“beast,” “a large domesticated mammal, potentially kosher”), sh’mot (“names of”), etc. — and then you want to add a prefix whose vowel is also a sh’va, a couple of things happen:

a) The sh’va that was at the beginning of the original word changes from sh’va na’ to sh’va nahTherefore, the sh’va under the shin in “Sh’vat” changes from being voiced to being silent.
b) The sh’va that would have been under the prefix changes into a hirik. This phenomenon happens every time.
c) If the original word happened to start with a yud, such as in Y’rushalayim, not only do (a) and (b) occur, but also (c) the sh’va that was under the yud disappears altogether.

Thus, the proper pronunciation of our upcoming Hag ha-Ilanot (“Festival of the Trees”) is, divided into syllables, “TOO-BEESH-VAT.”  There’s no voiced sh’va, so there shouldn’t be any apostrophe in the transliteration.

Likewise, “in Jerusalem” is “BEE-ROO-SHA-LA-YEEM.”  Once again, the sh’va is no longer in the word once the prepositional prefix is added.

If you have contact with the English-speaking Jewish world in any way, please help me with this mission by politely correcting the transliteration wherever you come across it.  If anyone gives you any trouble, just send ’em to me.

Warning: Although Wikipedia gets it right, their detailed information is not for the faint of heart.  But if you love L’shon ha-Kodesh (“the language of the Holy”) as much as I do, you’ll have a field day.

Note: I have deliberately left actual Hebrew lettering out of this post to make it easy to copy and forward by email.  Please share!

Words Matter

January 10, 2011

The Hebrew word davar means both “word” and “thing.”  This is one of the first vocabulary words I teach my beginning Hebrew students. They are often surprised that this single Hebrew word carries both meanings.

In the Jewish view, the words we speak are not just hot air.  They are actual things that we create.  Once we speak them, they go out into the world and we have no control over what happens with them next.  A traditional metaphor about lashon ha-ra’: Think of emptying all the feathers out of a pillow into the wind; there’s no way to take them all back.

In Jewish practice we learn that every word we speak matters. Words can help and heal, words can hurt. Words can even kill.

The rabbis taught extensively about the sin of lashon ha-Ra’, which can be translated literally as “the language of evil” or “the tongue of badness.”  Many call it “The Evil Tongue.”  Or simply “Gossip.”  Lashon ha-ra’ is generally defined as speaking badly about another person.   Three people get hurt: the person speaking, the person listening, and the person being spoken about.  Taking it further, the famous Chofetz Chaim taught that the best way to avoid lashon ha-ra’ is to avoid speaking about another person at all, even with good intentions.  You never know how your words might be interpreted by others.

And yet the temptation to speak and listen to lashon ha-ra’ is huge.  Often we do it by such habit that we don’t even notice.  Every day Jews pray,

My Gd,
guard my tongue from evil
and my lips from speaking deceitfully.
To those who curse me, let my soul be silent;
and let my soul be like dust to everyone.

Last Night of Hanukkah: “These Candles”

December 8, 2010

Finally, a translation of “hallalu”!

It means “these.”

In traditional Jewish practice HaNeirot Hallalu is recited immediately after lighting the Hanukkah candles.  The first two words of this paragraph-long prayer — which occur twice there in the exact same form — are usually translated as “these candles.”

That second word, hallalu, is tantalizingly similar to Hebrew words meaning things like “shine brightly” and “sing praises.”  However, as we discussed in my Advanced-Intermediate Hebrew class last night, the word doesn’t fit grammatically with these meanings, or with any Hebrew verb or adjective.

According to Klein: halah = m. & f. pronoun THAT. [Formed from the definite article ha… plus the deictic element …l. Compare with hallalu.] So “hallalu” is the plural pronoun, translated THESE.

Question: Why doesn’t the prayer use the more common plural demonstrative for “these,” i.e., “ha-eileh”?
Answer: I don’t know.

Still, it was extremely satisfying to find the correct translation.  It was fun looking up the English word “deictic,” too.

After lighting the candles and reciting the blessings, and also after reciting HaNeirot Hallalu, it is traditional to sing songs such as Ma’oz Tzur, Mi Yimaleil, S’vivon, etc.

The Moon and the Month

October 18, 2010
The Moon as seen by an observer from Earth. So...

Look upward and see the almost-full moon.   When the moon becomes completely full, you’ll know it’s the 15th of the current Jewish month.   Right now we’re in the month of Heshvan.

Or, just remember that in the Jewish calendar the new moon is always the new month.  In fact the Hebrew noun for “month” is HOdesh, and the Hebrew adjective for “new” is haDASH. Their shared linguistic root is perfectly obvious.

The new moon/month is always occasion for a Jewish holiday.  It’s called Rosh Hodesh in Hebrew, literally “head of the month.”   (Recall that Rosh haShanah means “head of the year.”)

Paradoxically, the English word “month” comes from the English word “moon,” and yet they are not (any longer) tied together.   Can you look up at the sky and be able to tell that it’s October 18?

Recommended Text Book for Biblical Hebrew

October 6, 2010

The First Hebrew Primer, Third Edition: The Adult Beginner’s Path to Biblical Hebrew, by Simon, Resnikoff, and Motzkin.  EKS Publishing.

This is the text book I’ve used most for teaching Biblical Hebrew to adults over the past thirteen years.  It’s useful to students ranging from rank beginners to advanced, whether you’re studying on your own, working one-on-one with a tutor, or participating in a group class.  NOTE: This is not a hard-core serious grammar such as one might study in a university context; rather, this text is aimed at adults studying Hebrew part-time, who have only a few hours per week to devote to it.

This book starts at the very beginning, with the Hebrew alphabet.  Eventually, over the course of 30 chapters, it provides the advanced student with instruction regarding five of the seven binyanim (Hebrew verb structures), all two and a half tenses of Hebrew verb conjugation, guided readings through the Book of Ruth, and lists of the most-used vocabulary in Biblical  Hebrew.

It’s not perfect, but then no Biblical-Hebrew text book is.  My students keep asking me to write one myself, based on the way I teach; maybe I’ll do that soon.  In the meantime, this is the existing text book I recommend most.

Last Three Days of the Jewish New Year Journey

October 5, 2010

Click to get free emails about the 60-day journey

The first time I read 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, it was summer 2006.  I followed his suggestions for thinking hard about my life, my personal goals, and how to enjoy the Jewish new-year season more deeply.  I made lists, wrote in my journal every day, read the daily essays, asked myself the daily questions, and did my best to do the daily exercises.  It changed my life!  And I learned a lot about the Jewish holidays, too.

Anyone can still sign up for Rabbi Jacobson’s free emails about the 60-day journey, even if you haven’t been following along over the past 57 days.  Just click on the image of the book.

More Jewish Holidays!

September 29, 2010

Three more holidays in our Jewish New Year Holiday Season:

Tishrei 21, which ended at sundown tonight, was Hoshana Rabba (“the Great Hoshana”), which was the final day for waving the lulav and etrog.

Tishrei 22 began at sundown tonight, initiating the holiday of Sh’mini ‘Atzeret (“the Stopping of the Eighth,” i.e., the eighth day, and truly the end of, Sukkot), a less-famous Jewish festival.  Among other observances, we say goodbye to the sukkah until next year.

Tishrei 23 is when we celebrate Simhat Torah, which means, literally, “the joy of the Torah.”  We read from the very end, then rewind the scroll all the way back to the beginning and read from there.

It is truly a holiday cycle.

Hebrew grammar:

Simhat is the s’mikhut (construct) form of simhah. The noun modifies the next noun.

Simhah = joy

Simhat = joy of…