Hebrew: To Unite All Jews

This post actually began its life as a reply to a comment about how Hebrew unites all Jews, on the FrumSatire blog, until I realized that it was turning into a post.  So here it is.

Esther, you have a valid question.  Yiddish, most recently, is the language which united Eastern European Jews whose parents and grandparents emigrated (those who survived the Sho'ah) from there; it was the vernacular of the Ashkenazim, those Jews who, after the expulsion from Spain settled in Germany and surrounding areas of Eastern Europe.  I too, wish that I knew more Yiddish than I do, which is mainly only isolated words and phrases.

Your question, 'how does Hebrew unite the Jews,' is a very sad one.  There was a time which lasted for centuries, when the Hebrew language--the language of the Torah--was a universal language for Jews all over the world. 

No matter where they lived or what language they spoke in their adopted countries, the lingua franca of the Jews was always Ivrit (Hebrew).  Through Hebrew, they could communicate across boundaries far and wide, which they often did, for all sorts of reasons--such as helping each other in times of great persecution--and also in conducting business and commerce. 

How was that possible? Because of something that is not universal anymore, especially not for the majority of Jews in the United States: a thorough Jewish and Hebrew Education.  There was a time, not too long ago, when most if not all Jewish children attended Jewish schools, even if they were afternoon schools, but they did so on an almost daily basis, where they learned their heritage and the "Alef-Bet," the Hebrew alphabet, and then continued on with the Hebrew language.

Did you ever see the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding?"  At the movie's closing sequence, the protagonist and her husband send their daughter to "Greek School," just as she herself did at the beginning of the film, when she was a child.  This was true for Jews as well, no matter where they lived.  Jewish life in the United States changed, however--ironically, because of the great freedoms we had here, freedom (relative to Europe, as there were still many instances of prejudice and negative discrimination here)  to a free, public education, freedom to pursue a career of one's choice, freedom to advance in life.  Because of this, many, many Jews chose to leave their religion and heritage; they chose to study only secular subjects, and not Jewish ones.  They chose to blend in in order to become like the general, non-Jewish population: why be different, when in the past, 'different' meant 'persecuted'?

Most Jews, for centuries--were Jewishly-literate Jews: they knew their heritage, they knew their holy texts and they knew their sources, including the language of their people.  In the early days of the State of Israel, I remember stories going around on how an ordinary bus driver knew passages from Psalms or the Torah, or could quote Jewish literature.  I fear this is no longer true.  Even in Israel, the generation that is being raised is at most only semi-literate with its heritage, if at all.  Most Israelis don't even know their own Hebrew grammar, dikduk.

This, actually, is part of the problem with Israel's personal 'identity crisis' these days.  Israel doesn't know if it should be a nation "like all other nations," or a "Jewish" nation.  So far, it seems to have chosen the former; and look what that has achieved: almost universal hatred by the entire world, including possibly the president of the United States.  How can the world respect Israel and the Jews, if we don't respect ourselves?

Perhaps it's time for Israel and all Jews to try the latter: to be proud of our heritage and knowledgeable in it.  To learn our universal language of Hebrew, which would strengthen us and unite us again.  In short, to be proud to be a Jew in today's non-Jewish world.  And not to be afraid.

Esther, perhaps it is time to go out and find out who you are: go, learn Hebrew!

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