Tuesday, November 4, 2008


My classes at Machon Schecter have started and it feels good to be discovering my new routine. I'm learning Talmud there and taking a Hebrew class, both of which have lots of rabbinical students in them. But I am also taking three classes that are offered as part of the graduate program at Schechter and so my classmates are all Israeli graduate students. At this point I am happy to be just soaking it all in and I'd say I understand about 85% of the proceedings. My class on "Current Streams in Judaism" only has five students total and my classmates were very patient in listening to me explain who I was and why I found the topic interesting (it seems to be a required course for some of them).

I had a very interesting moment in my class on the Book of Jonah yesterday. We were looking at the second verse and the teacher surmised that I had an English translation. The verse includes the Hebrew imperative k'ra al/קרא על/literally "call upon." Usually the word el/אל/"to" would be used with this verb instead of al/על. She felt the JPS (Jewish Publication Society) translation did a good job of translating the import of this seemingly small change. She asked me to read the verse in English and I read aloud: "Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim judgment upon it; for their wickedness has come before me." "Proclaim judgment" was the part of the translation that interested my teacher, but what interested me was my own internal response. I was filled with a feeling that at first I could not identify. Pride? Excitement? And then it hit me: I was filled with a feeling of competence and even mastery. Reading sentences aloud in English; here was a task for which I was so very well-suited. Why, I knew English as well as anyone else in the room and undoubtedly better than all but a few.

It's an odd thing to be excited about, being fluent in one's own mother tongue, but the feeling of competence highlighted for me how much of the experience of being in Israel for a year is about learning to keep one's head up while feeling incompetent in one basic life situation after another.
I hope to learn (and write) much more about the Book of Jonah, whose basic story about trying to run away from God and from ourselves has already inspired me deeply. But in class yesterday, I was mostly just so relieved to be able to answer my teacher's request confidently. Imagine how my joy grew when she asked me to...read it again!

(The mp3 for "Gone Tarshisha," my song inspired by the Book of Jonah, survived my recent computer crash and I'm happy to send it to anyone who wants a copy...unless someone knows how to post the mp3 itself on the blog....hmm.)

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