The night before my online Hebrew class started, I suddenly got anxious. I had the link to the class ready, and the WhatsApp group set up on my phone, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect. I had nightmares that night about racing around Long Island trying to get to my class on time, and, of course, continually missing the class. And when I woke up, the anxieties just multiplied. What if the class was too hard? Or too easy? What if I didn’t like the teacher? Or my classmates? What if I couldn’t stay focused for 90 minutes at a time? What if there were too many students in the class and it was too easy to fade into the background? Or what if there were too few students and I felt like I was being watched and judged the whole time? What if the teaching method overwhelmed me? Or I forgot all of my Hebrew? Or I got bored? Or I was already exhausted by the time the class started and couldn’t keep my eyes open?
The hours leading up to the class dragged by, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything except the endless worries. But, when I sat down in front of my computer and logged into class, it was fine. There were ten students, not too few or too many, and the teacher was friendly; she made sure everyone could participate and she repeated conjugations and sentences as many times as necessary for us to catch on. The class felt a little bit easy, but that was a relief for day one. The only real problem was trying to figure out the tech (I didn’t understand how to use the WhatsApp group or the Quizlet flashcards), but I survived, and the nightmares went away.
The second class, a few days later, was more challenging and moved faster, and I started to feel like a spigot was opening up in my brain and my long dormant Hebrew vocabulary was starting to flow again. Except, I felt kind of bad about how easy it all was, as if I’d taken the easy way out by accepting the level I’d been put in, instead of challenging myself to go into the next level up. And I felt lazy for not pushing myself to study more between classes, or watch more movies in Hebrew, or seek out random Israelis to talk to.
The thing is, I still forget words in Hebrew that I should know, like the word for “to study,” or I confuse the conjugations for You (f) and She. And I feel the squeeze in my gut, and the beginning of humiliation that after all these years I still can’t master Hebrew. And then there’s this old feeling, where I worry that I’m showing off too much and that if I make a stupid mistake my classmates and my teacher will say, Gotcha, you’re not so great after all. But, actually, that hasn’t happened in this class, at all.
Even in the practice groups, on different days, with different teachers and classmates, the overall vibe is eager but non-judgmental; everyone is trying and everyone is making mistakes and it’s kind of great.
We spend a lot of time in our class just repeating the words the teacher gives to us, both asking the set questions and giving the set responses in turn; so not only are we saying the words, but we’re hearing them over and over, creating a sort of muscle memory for common phrases.
My favorite thing is how much we’re learning about the Tel Avivians who created the class materials through the sentences they have us saying. We learn how to say: my back hurts, my teeth hurt, or my legs hurt because I was walking all day; I didn’t get to it because I had a crazy day; I missed the party because the traffic was crazy; and I’m tired because I work all day every day including the weekend. You can get a pretty good idea of a culture from the kinds of things they teach newcomers how to say.
One of my favorite new phrases is Al HaPanim which translates as “on the face,” or “falling on my face” which basically means, I feel terrible. I definitely want to teach that one to my synagogue school students. By the time they get to class, after a full day at regular school, they really, really love to complain; why not give them a chance to do it in Hebrew?!
My social anxiety is still an issue. I feel embarrassed when I have to make conversation about my life and my answers sound childish or uncool. I’m also self-conscious about the way I look on screen, especially because my living room is warm in the summer, even with the air conditioner on (it’s a big room and the air conditioner is far away from my desk), so I get kind of sweaty. Ideally, I would be the kind of person who blow dries her hair and puts on make-up before every class, but I am not, so my hair is usually up in a ponytail and my bangs are either stuck to my forehead or floating in the air willy nilly. So be it.
I still get anxious before every class, of course, and I still hurry up and do my homework right away out of fear that I’ll forget everything I learned within minutes. I’m still me; but I’m trying. And even when I’m anxious or overwhelmed, learning Hebrew still seems to fill up an important place in my heart where my kindergarten self is always hungry for more; so it’s worth the trouble.
My hope is that all of this practice speaking Hebrew, and making mistakes and moving on anyway, will help create circuits in my brain that will be useful in other parts of my life as well. That’s always the goal – that each time I challenge myself to learn something new I’m actually healing my brain, and becoming more fully myself.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?
It sounds like you’re fitting right in. It’s interesting how you see this class and learing as so much more than just learing Hebrew, but preparing you for the next challenge in your life. I listen to the Rabbi speak Hebrew and see it on paper and wonder if I could ever have learned that. My proverbial hat off to you, Rachel!
Thank you! I’m watching a lot of adults learning Hebrew in my class, by the way. I’m one of the only ones who started learning as a kid.
Excellent post, Rachel. Sounds like you will be fine teacher.
Thank you so much!
The great part of taking your class at home is that Ellie and Cricket are listening and learning Hebrew too.
So great to read, “feel like a spigot was opening up in my brain and my long dormant Hebrew vocabulary was starting to flow again”!
Thank you!! Feels pretty good too!
Sounds like you are in exactly the right class. Way to go!
I have a question for you, Rachel…When another student in class makes an error or murders the Hebrew word, what is your first thought about that person? Do you immediately think they are stupid? I’m sure the answer is “no”. Then why would you think that the first thing they think of you when YOU make an error is that YOU are stupid? Honestly, I read and truly enjoy all of your blog posts and think you are way more intelligent than I am (and I’m not stupid), but I’m okay with that fact. I admire you greatly for your skills, your honesty and your vulnerability! Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it – it IS working for you!
Thank you so much!
One cannot feel too comfortable or else complacency sets in.
I do believe you are well on your way to becoming fully you.
Your photos and photo caption are fabulous and fun! Thank-you.
Glad it is working out for you Rachel and that your fears were worse than the reality. I have some of the same problems, not to mention I just want to get on with the task at hand. Waiting is often the toughest part. Stay well and keep on learning. Allan
Thank you! You too!
Glad you made it! Best wishes, of course. It sounds as if you are off to a great start.
Love your earnest blog, cute doggies, and also your honest book. Looking forward to more great work!
Take care. Peace!
Thank you so much!
Our granddaughter’s school will teach Hebrew to all the students. I’m not sure at what age that part of the program begins because she’s really working hard to speak English right now, but I think it will be great for her to have Hebrew as a second language. I’m hoping she learns how to make complete sentences in any language right now at age almost 2. Will let you know how she does.
Just wait for the knock knock jokes to start…
I am glad your classes are going so well, Rachel. 🙂
Good for you! It is brave to take this on even though you do not have to do your makeup or drive across town. Learning a language , even if you knew it before is definitely a good brain exercise.
I can definitely relate to your anxiety about how you look on screen. Too bad one of the pups can’t sub in for you!
Hmm. Ellie might be willing to do it.
Ha! Four years retired from teaching, and I STILL occasionally have nightmares that I didn’t test my students’ reading level, and note the results on the computer. I just think anxiety is normal that way.
Even people who are so good looking NEVER look good on Zoom, so I just don’t even give that a thought!
I’m trying to figure out if that’s reassuring or terrifying.
Oh, reassuring for sure! We are all only human, and we all sorry sometimes
…Oh, that spellchecker! I meant to say we all worry sometimes….it’s just normal.🐩🐩
We all make mistakes. When I was teaching at church I used to tell them if there were no mistakes I didn’t do it. I am now playing keyboard with a very amateur and fun group and I panic before every practise. It is silly but it’s hard to get past it. I try to keep remembering it is ok to make mistakes.
It’s a hard lesson to hold on to!
I love your work Rachel am your fun.
Please please I’ll be happy if you follow me back thank you.
You are so cute, your anxieties sound just like mine! No disrespect intended! See, I worry about how other people take what I say, also! Just flawed and human🤗
I’m just back from Portugal from a holiday. Near the river Douro is a village called Castell Rodriguez. There is an inscription that no one knew the meaning of, till a Hebrew scholar from the USA on holiday, translated it. The guide had him read out the inscription in Hebrew and then translate for the group. I hope you get the chance to do something similar one day Rachel.