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All Those Cooking Shows

            I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows lately (mostly in Hebrew, as language practice) but I haven’t been doing much cooking, to Cricket’s great frustration. I am a messy cook, and as I chop, many pieces of red pepper and carrot and sometimes even chicken land on the floor right in front of her, where she is, conveniently, waiting. Instead, I am microwaving frozen meals, and all she can do is fight with her sister for the leftover sauce in the bowl (Cricket always wins).

“It’s all mine!”

            It’s not that the cooking shows aren’t inspiring. In fact, I feel like I should be making long lists of ingredients to search for, and printing out recipes for Shakshuka with eggplant and Kibbeh, or five kinds of Chummus, and instead I’m eating oatmeal for breakfast, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and anything I can warm up from the freezer for dinner (unless I’m lucky and Mom does the cooking, but she is not a messy cook, sorry Cricket).

“Harrumph.”

            I should at least be ordering out from Wild Fig (a Turkish restaurant with multiple locations nearby), or buying readymade Falafel or Bourekas from the international supermarket, but I’m not doing either one, and I’m not sure why.

            My first theory for why I was struggling was that most of the recipes, like the shows, are in Hebrew and measure in grams, which makes them largely incomprehensible. So I went online to look for similar recipes in English and found a treasure trove on Jamie Gellar’s site (she’s an orthodox, kosher cook who covers a wide range of styles of cooking, including Israeli).

But now I have a pile of new recipes that I have no energy to make.

            I don’t think it’s depression that’s holding me back, if only because once I take my afternoon (or morning) nap my moods are pretty good, even if my energy level still stinks. But there’s something about knowing how little energy I’m likely to have tomorrow, or next week, that has changed my calculations for what kinds of plans to make, if any.

“Plan to take a nap.”

            I’d like to believe that I’ll be able to do some cooking over the summer, when I won’t need all of my energy for teaching, but there’s also a long list of writing projects and exercise goals and doctor visits and household tasks that I need to catch up on over the summer, and even then, we don’t have air-conditioning in the kitchen to make it bearable, just a fan that tends to read between 80 and 95 degrees all summer long.

But I keep watching these cooking shows and wishing I could just walk down the hall to the kitchen and make an Israeli salad, or bake my own pitas on the top of the stove. I need to believe that something will improve soon so that I’ll be able to use all of this inspiration to actually make plans and follow through on them, or else I’m afraid I’ll get so stuck in my reality that I’ll forget how to hope for more.

Some links:

From Jamie Geller – Machane Yehuda Recipes (in English) (10 min.) https://youtu.be/lgjdy7VQJ0I

From Piece of Hebrew (with English subtitles) A SABICH recipe (14:18) https://youtu.be/nY29TRUh_MY

From Anachnu Al HaMapit with chef Michael Solomonov in Philadelphia (mostly in English with Hebrew subtitles) (53:15)https://youtu.be/EH-WpezAOTg

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?

Piece of Hebrew/Piece of French

            I recently found a YouTube channel called Piece of Hebrew and I’m a little bit addicted. I’ve been making YouTube lists for everything lately, for videos about Jewish history and Israel for the teenagers at my synagogue, for guided meditation and exercise videos for me, for Hebrew language shows of all kinds for me (and for any of my students who eventually want to improve their Hebrew). And each time I find one good thing, I find ten more that are sort of on topic, or not really, like videos to add background to my Jews around the World curriculum (there were a ton of virtual tours during Covid), and videos to help people plan trips to Israel (I found a really good Israeli tour guide whose videos are helpful and entertaining), and, of course, as soon as we watch a new show in my online Hebrew class I have to go to YouTube to see if I can find more episodes (there’s a great series about Israeli chefs in cities around the world and a bunch of the episodes are on YouTube, with Hebrew subtitles).

“We’re never going outside again.”

            So, somewhere in there I found the Piece of Hebrew videos, hosted by an Israeli Hebrew teacher named Doron, where he talks about Israeli musicians and TV shows and movies, all in Intermediate level Hebrew with English subtitles. And then I watched some episodes that included Elsa, his live in girlfriend who made Aliyah to Israel four years ago from France and became fluent in Hebrew, and then I found out that she has her own YouTube channel called Piece of French, which is in intermediate and advanced French and all about her life in Israel, and in France, and on vacation, and with her family.

            So now I have five or six pages of links to videos, all of which I want to watch right now. Part of the fun is getting to know the two of them and their dog, Bilhah, and how they met, and how and why they started their channels, and then what their lives are like in Israel on a daily basis: with videos on gardening and shopping and camping and whining about random things, all in French or Hebrew, with English subtitles.

“Does Bilhah bark in Modern or Biblical Hebrew?”

            My current online Hebrew teacher was even mentioned in one of Doron’s videos, listing his five favorite Israeli female singers, which probably encouraged me to watch more videos early on, now that I think about it.

            Of course, now I feel like I’m way too far behind in my French, much farther behind than I thought I was, and I worry that I’m not far enough ahead in Hebrew either, and I should be watching these videos for hours every day to improve. And I’m already overwhelmed with my actual work, and trying to figure out how to get everything done between naps, which is probably why I got so deep into the YouTube videos in the first place, because I could watch them on my phone, lying down.

“We love nap time.”

            It’s so nice that the world has adapted to my chronic exhaustion by providing so much passive entertainment, but I wish I could be well enough to actually go to France and Israel (and Italy and Spain and Japan…) and see everything firsthand. Especially the food. I’d really, really like to taste all of the food for myself.

“Me too!”

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?

The New Hebrew Semester

            I’ve been in the same online Hebrew program from Tel Aviv for more than a year now, but each semester feels like a new experience, with new challenges. For the first session of this semester, back in late October, our new teacher spoke quickly and mostly in Hebrew, only clarifying a few words in English here or there, and yet, I was able to follow most of it. A year ago I would have been lost and intimidated and now I’m not. I’m still not fluent, but I’m much closer.

“Mazel Tov.”

            One of the obstacles to overcome each semester is the renewed feeling that I’m the worst student in the class and have the least interesting life and the least impressive resume. My teachers keep telling me that I’m underestimating my fluency, but I’m the one inside my head, grasping around in the dark even for the words I thought I knew well. I do fine with homework and conjugations and vocabulary, but making conversation is hard enough for me in English, with all of my social anxiety, it’s that much harder in Hebrew, with the words endlessly trying to escape from my brain. Generally it takes me a few weeks to remember that everyone in the class is a flawed human being, just like me. I wish I could have mastered this lesson by now, but I guess I should be grateful that it eventually kicks in at all.

I’m still not sure what my goal is in studying Hebrew. Is it about going to Israel for a visit? Or just wanting to learn about Israel in more depth? Is the next step in my journey secular or religious, an activity, or more studying? I just don’t know.

“Don’t go anywhere without me, Mommy.”

This semester we’ve started to read Facebook posts in Hebrew, and other instances of natural Hebrew existing in the wild, to build our reading comprehension, but it has the effect of making me feel like an alien and uncool, now in two different languages.

            One of the new things we’re doing this semester is that instead of watching one TV show from beginning to end, we’re watching single episodes of reality shows (not like “Married at First Sight,” which we watched in a previous class and that I keep trying to wash out of my brain), getting to hear different accents and different vocabularies with each show.

            The first thing we watched was an episode of a show called “Makers,” where a team of creative craftspeople made new hearing aids for a hard of hearing singer, so she wouldn’t have to deal with so much static when she put her headphones on in the studio, and then they created a smart house set up for a pair of born-deaf adult twins who needed help knowing when someone rang the doorbell or when the alarm clock went off. They put light strips in every room, even in the bathroom, and programmed the lights in different colors for each alert: like the phone, or the door, or the sirens telling them to find shelter when rockets came from Gaza. And for one of the sisters who struggled with getting up on time, they attached a light fixture to her alarm clock that gradually grew brighter the longer she ignored it, and then if she was still sleeping, a fan would go on and blow in her face to finally wake her up.

Makers

We also watched an episode of a show called “On the Napkin,” about Israeli chefs, and the episode we watched was about a Japanese cook in Israel, married to an Israeli man for forty years with three adult children, and now she’s serving homestyle Japanese dinners in their dining room/restaurant every night, sourcing tofu and mushrooms and greens from nearby farms.

But the story that really got to me was from a show called “The Recording Studio.” The episode we watched was about a twelve-year-old autistic boy who wanted to record a song for his longtime teacher’s aide. His parents came with him to the studio, but he explained everything himself, telling the host of the show that his aide was so special to him because she’d spent years teaching him how to relate to his non-autistic classmates, teaching him how to speak their language so that he could live in their world and make friends. He said that it would take a degree in psychology to learn the autistic language, so he had to be the one to learn how to understand them. During rehearsals, he not only played piano and sang, he also made sure to communicate as clearly as possible with the host and musicians about what he wanted, and confronted them when they were making assumptions about what he could and couldn’t do, or which truths he could and couldn’t handle.

When his aide finally came into the studio, he hugged her and introduced her to all of the musicians, and then he sang the song with the band, and his teacher and his parents were in tears. It was so clear that she really had set him free from a lonely place, and that she had taught him how to relate to other people and feel connected to them, while still being himself.

Sometimes, out in the real world, I feel like that autistic boy, trying to translate all of my thoughts and feelings into a language other people can understand, and wishing they could speak my language instead, whatever that is. So maybe that’s why I am so drawn to learning languages in the first place, and why I’m working so hard to learn Hebrew in classes full of other people with their own internal languages and stories to share. Hearing about the countries they live in (Israel, Holland, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Poland, America, Croatia) and the reasons why they want to learn Hebrew (planning to move to Israel, already living in Israel but wanting to speak the language, discovering a Jewish identity, trying to make peace with a Jewish childhood, wanting to talk to Israeli grandchildren, joining an Israeli dance company, or, very often, marrying an Israeli), helps me to feel hopeful that one day I will find the words to say what I mean and, in the meantime, other people will work hard to understand me, just like I work hard to understand them. And the hard work feels worth it, whether I become fluent in Hebrew or not, because the process itself is helping me create connections all over the world, and in my own brain, to help me understand 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?

An Israeli Reality Show

            I’m not a huge fan of reality shows. I do watch things like Project Runway and Top Chef, because I like watching what the contestants can create and how they are able to create it, but even the commercials for any of the Real Housewives of Wherever shows or The Bachelor and The Bachelorette make me nauseous. So I wasn’t thrilled when my current Hebrew teacher (in my online language classes from Tel Aviv) said that the Israeli show we’d be watching as a class this semester, to practice our Hebrew listening skills, would be a reality show called Married at First Sight (Chatunah MiMabat Rishon, in Hebrew).

            Oy, God help me.

            The logic behind her choice was that she wanted us to practice listening to how people really speak Hebrew in daily life, with all of the repetitions and slang and run on sentences, as opposed to the scripted Hebrew of the comedy and drama shows I watched (and loved) in previous classes. And I can see her point. But…

            The gimmick of this particular show is that the couples don’t meet until they are under the Chupah (the wedding canopy). There’s a three member team of psychologists who interview the candidates and choose the pairings based on their deep knowledge of humanity, I guess, though they are limited in their choices by who is willing to be on a reality show like this in the first place.

“Are we on a reality show?”

            And then we, as an audience, get to know the future bride and groom and where they work and who their friends and families are, and we watch them trying on wedding dresses and suits and talking to the psychologists, and then the families and friends meet at the wedding venue, and then the bride and groom come out and finally meet each other for the first time under the Chupah.

The wedding ceremony itself is sort of Jewish-wedding-lite, except, they still have the “groom” stomp on a glass (an important symbol meant to remind us of the loss of the first and second temples in Jerusalem, so that even on our happiest days we still remember our saddest days), and even that much feels icky.

            We’re watching the fourth season in class, which means that this show has lasted quite a while, and a lot of people seem to enjoy it. This season was filmed during Covid, so there are face masks here and there, and they probably did a lot of Covid testing behind the scenes, and the only place the couples could go on their honeymoons, outside of Israel, was the Seychelles, for some reason.

“Can we go to the Seychelles? Do they have chicken there?”

            So far, every time one of the brides has been introduced at the wedding, her soon to be groom has been blown away by how beautiful she is, which gets under my skin. The women that are chosen are all thin, of course, and the makeup and hair people are excellent, and the dresses are beautiful too. The guys look a bit more average, though none of them has a beer gut. For me, all of this adds to the ugh-factor, because I am not skinny or perfect, and I don’t have a team of makeup and hair people on call, and I’d still like to believe that someone could fall in love with me, but shows like this keep telling me it’s not possible.

            Following along with the almost-like-a-Jewish-wedding concept, the couple first gets to spend some time “alone” together, with a cameraman, when they go to the Yichud room (the togetherness room) after the ceremony. This is a custom in orthodox, or strictly orthodox, weddings, where the Yichud room is the first time the bride and groom are allowed to be alone together without a chaperone, and therefore finally get a chance to hold hands, or even kiss (there isn’t much time for anything else, but now that they’re married they can do whatever they want). On the show, this really is just a time for the new couple to talk to each other for the first time and exchange small bits of information, like, I have a dog, I have ten tattoos, or I smoke (which, I guess, is still a thing in Israel).

            Then there’s the party, with all of the music and dancing and friends and such, and everyone comments on how wonderful the match is, just to reassure themselves that this whole thing isn’t crazy.

            Then the couple goes to an apartment for the night, to talk and eat and put on their wedding rings and find out where they’re going for their honeymoon (The Seychelles? Oh my God! Who knew!), all filmed by a camera person, or camera people. And then, at some point, the camera people leave and the door is closed for the night. Thankfully.

            So, each week in class, after we’ve watched the week’s episode on our own, we discuss what we liked, didn’t like, didn’t believe, laughed out loud at, wanted to scream about, etc. It’s such a silly show that our conversations about it end up being mostly fun and silly too, though there is quite a lot of backseat diagnosing (because some of the brides and grooms are crazy), and there are always a lot of questions about what the team of psychologists could have been thinking by putting these two people together. Oh, and all of this discussing has to be done in Hebrew.

            Not surprisingly, I can’t relate to most of the people on the show. They are presented to us as the most charming, gorgeous, successful and ambitious people, almost as if they are all the same person, though, clearly, they aren’t. The one thing they do have in common, though, is a willingness to have their intimate relationships recorded and aired in public, which I don’t understand.

I remember how awful it felt when I had to do a sleep study at home, and along with wearing all kinds of monitors I had to keep a video camera aimed at me twenty-four/seven, in case I had some kind of cardiac or neurological event and they needed to see what I was doing when my numbers went wonky. I hated knowing that some stranger might eventually be watching me sleep, eat, or watch TV, though the likelihood that even one person would ever watch a small part of the tape was really low.

“That was a really boring movie.”

            And even if I could tolerate being watched all day and night, I would be deeply suspicious that my “groom” would just be saying that nice/patient/compassionate thing because the cameras were on him and he wanted to look good on TV, and once the cameras stopped the real person would be an asshole and I’d feel like a fool.

            My teacher this semester is a beautiful, young, charming, funny actress/student from just outside of Tel Aviv, so in a way this show fits the energy of the semester overall: lots of silliness and fun, and nothing too deep or serious. She herself, she says, has not been tempted to try out for the show, and prefers making fun of the people who do, which makes her more relatable. She’s always friendly and full of praise for our attempts to speak Hebrew, and never negative or hurtful, but still, part of me worries that this reality show is telling me what real Telavivians are like, and if I go there, which I really want to do, they will rip me apart. Though that could be my old stuff playing up again, from back in elementary school when the beautiful, competitive, well-dressed girls in my class hated my guts.

There’s also the disorienting fact that while this is a reality show taking place in Israel, there is no sense of the politics, or violence, or the social divides between Jews and Arabs and between secular and religious Jews. Even in my lovely, fun, cheery Hebrew class this semester, we still had to talk about the terrorist attack that happened in Tel Aviv recently, where sirens and ambulances and death took over the city for a while. But those things don’t come up on the show, or at least, they haven’t so far.

Hopefully, as the season goes on, there will be a little bit more reality in this reality show, and maybe one or two people I wouldn’t mind meeting in real life. But even if nothing improves on the show, I’m definitely improving my Hebrew listening skills, and learning more about how real Israelis talk when they don’t have a script; which has been reassuring, actually. Clearly I’m not the only one who struggles to find the right words.

“Don’t worry, Mommy. I have trouble with words too.”

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?

Speaking Hebrew

            I’m in my third semester of Hebrew classes with the school in Tel Aviv (online), and I’m still loving it. Each semester is ten weeks long, with about a month off in between, and it’s work, but their method lowers the stress level from where it would be in a regular academic class (no tests, short lessons, lots of repetition and variety). And I love that I’m meeting so many different people: from Italy, and Germany, and South Africa, and France, and India, and Australia, and, of course, the United States and Canada. It surprised me, at first, that aside from the fact that we’re speaking Hebrew, and we don’t have class on the Jewish holidays, there’s almost no Jewish content to the class. I don’t even know if all of my classmates are Jewish, because it never comes up. Sometimes I miss the Jewishness I was expecting, but this way I’m getting a real sense of what it must be like to be in a country where Jewishness is so much in the background, and so taken for granted, that it doesn’t need to be discussed.

            My original goal in taking these classes was to overcome my fear of speaking Hebrew, and especially of making mistakes, and I still feel a pinch when I get something wrong in class, or forget something I should have remembered, or lose focus for a second and have to ask for instructions again – but the pinch is so much smaller than it used to be. The accepting, non-judgmental style of the classes seems to be helping to change the wiring in my brain in a way that will, hopefully, translate into the rest of my life as well.

            I keep trying to figure out why I like these classes so much, despite the amount of time and money I’m spending on it that I should be spending on more practical things. I think part of it is that I like getting a chance to meet new people in a controlled environment, where I know what’s expected of me and where the boundaries are. But I’m not sure that that would be enough to push me to take a French or Spanish class, even in the exact same format. There’s a little girl inside of me who fell in love with Hebrew early in life, and she’s reveling in this chance to speak her language.

“Shalom!”

            But maybe my favorite thing about these zoom classes, especially since in-person gatherings have required face masks for so long now, is that my facial expressions are visible. There’s so much of who I am that comes through on my face and it’s been such a relief to be  seen again and to have people say – oh, Rachel doesn’t like that – without my having to say a word!

“Hmm.”

            I’m still – three semesters later – finding stores of vocabulary and grammar that I haven’t accessed in decades. The more I practice, the less time I have to spend rifling through the dusty attic of my brain, with its sticky closets and creaky drawers, for each word I want to say. But I still get anxious when I first log onto the zoom class and the teacher asks each of us how we’re doing and I have to think of a simple, polite answer to the question, in Hebrew. Even in English I would struggle to eke out an everything’s fine, but in Hebrew I feel even more tongue tied.

And yet, given how awkward these opening conversations are for me, it’s ironic, or perfectly reasonable, that I decided to teach my synagogue school students how to have a simple opening conversation in Hebrew. Person one: Hi, how are you. Person two: choose from everything’s fine, very good, and terrible. The kids love saying Al HaPanim (I feel terrible) so that’s been a hit. I love that the kids giggle and smirk when they say it, because that means it will stick with them. And I know from my own experience that there’s such relief in being allowed to say, “I feel terrible,” if only because we are usually expected to say we’re fine when someone asks. And when I explained to them that the literal translation of Al HaPanim is “on the face,” as in “I’m falling on my face,” or “I’m covering my face with my hands because it’s so bad,” they loved it even more. For me, just saying, “it’s on my face,” when my emotions often are right on my face, resonates.

            We’ve also started watching Israeli TV shows for homework between Zoom classes, and it’s exciting to see how much I’ve been able to understand (because even the subtitles are in Hebrew!). The first show we watched was a romantic comedy about the fashion business, and now we’re watching a drama about a group of army buddies with PTSD getting back together to solve a mystery. The TV shows are much more my speed than a lot of the Israeli movies I’ve been able to find, and it’s giving me a better sense of what Israelis themselves might choose to watch.

She has it/The Stylist
When Heroes Fly

            And, as a result, it’s getting more real to me that I may, eventually, be able to visit Israel. Even a few years ago it felt like a dream, or something for my bucket list, but now it feels inevitable. I feel like these classes are giving me the solid ground under my feet that I will need on the trip, in order to really appreciate the experience and not feel unmoored and overwhelmed. I still worry that Israelis won’t like me, because I am too soft, too American, but I’m learning more and more with each class about how Israelis, at least in Tel Aviv, think and speak in real life, and I’m finding that, just like Americans, they are all different, almost like real people.

            In the meantime, I keep practicing my Hebrew, reading slowly through My Hebrew copy of Harry Potter, watching Israeli TV shows and movies, and speaking Hebrew at home, at least with the dogs. They really seem to understand what I’m saying, though they might just be humoring me. It’s hard to tell. They can be especially inscrutable when they’re overdue for a visit to the groomer.

“We don’t need haircuts, and we understand every word you say.

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?

Egyptology and Hieroglyphics

            I took two Egyptology classes in college, basically because they fulfilled requirements for my philosophy major and for my honor’s scholarship. One class was on Hieroglyphics and learning how to draw them, and the other was on Egyptian philosophy. I hated my teacher, but it turned out that I actually loved the class where we learned how to draw the Hieroglyphics. There was something magical about seeing the origins of the letters in actual objects, like the ground plan of a simple house is the Hieroglyph for “house,” and an outline of a mouth stands for “mouth,” and a pair of legs in motion means “to come.” But there were also Hieroglyphs of animals, like an Egyptian vulture for the letter A, and a horned viper for the letter F, that hinted at even more meaning to be discovered.

Hieroglyphic translation chart from greatscott.com
“Why so many birds and no pictures of me?”

            The Ancient Egyptian language was written in four scripts, over the course of time. First Hieroglyphics, then Hieratic, (meaning “priestly”) which was a simpler cursive form of Hieroglyphics written mainly by priests, and then Demotic (meaning “popular”) which was a more rapidly written form of the Hieratic script, first appearing in the eighth century BCE and used by the common people, and finally Coptic, which was the final version of Egyptian writing, using the Greek alphabet in addition to seven Egyptian letters representing sounds that didn’t appear in Greek.

            Ancient Hebrew would probably have fit in between Demotic and Coptic, because it was a language that could be written quickly and by the common man, but it wasn’t yet filled out with vowels and spaces to allow for easier reading.

            One of the important differences between ancient Egyptian and ancient Hebrew, though, is that Hebrew continued to develop into what is now Modern Hebrew. Hebrew was eventually given vowels, and spaces, and punctuation to help modernize the language and allow people to read it and speak it more widely. Whereas the ancient Egyptian language stayed in Egypt, ancient Hebrew speakers were exiled from Israel, multiple times, and chose to bring their language, and their religion, with them into the diaspora.

            Despite not liking my Egyptology teacher, I still learned a lot from his class, especially about the influence of ancient Egypt on the development of Judaism. Take for example, the Egyptian belief in magic. In the Hebrew Bible, when Moses goes to Pharaoh to ask him to let the Israelites go, he turned his rod into a snake to show God’s power, but then the Egyptian magicians were able to do the same thing, and Moses had to level up, with the plagues. Was Moses using magic? He was raised by Egyptians after all. The Hebrew Bible is full of magical things, like burning bushes and the splitting of a sea. The magical realism of Egyptian religion and literature definitely influenced the stories in the Hebrew Bible, but then, in the minds of the writers of the Hebrew Bible at least, these acts of God took on a deeper meaning, a poetry, that was beyond magic.

“What’s beyond magic? Is it food?!!”

At the high point of Egyptian civilization there were 2500 gods, with different main gods in charge in different eras, and each god had a place to dwell and a personality and a backstory. And while we think of Judaism as absolutely monotheistic, early on, even though Yahweh was the main God of the Jews, other gods were still acknowledged and worshipped by the Israelites. Prophets eventually came along to yell at the people to stop worshipping other gods and only to worship Yahweh. But even then, Yahweh was considered the god of a particular place. It took exile for the Jews to invent the idea of a god who can travel. When they were exiled to Babylon, after the destruction of the first temple, they realized that they could take their religion, and their concept of God, with them. Eventually, this image of a God who can go wherever you go, became a God who can be whenever and whatever you need God to be. And if your god can be everywhere and anywhere, maybe your god is The God. Period.

            But this transition took a long time, and a lot of wrestling with the gods and ideas of other people and places. Many of the values we think of as particularly Jewish, or Judeo-Christian, were already there in Egyptian writings. One of the most obvious borrowings from Egyptian literature shows up in the book of Proverbs, in the Hebrew Bible. Proverbs is a collection of wisdom literature, addressing morality and good behavior, and is made up of six sections. Each section seems to have been composed at different times, but the third section in particular borrows directly from the Instruction of Amenemope (a piece of Egyptian literature composed between 1300 and 1075 BCE). Some lines are taken almost verbatim and others come very close in their messages, for example: give charity to the poor, avoid the “strange” woman, avoid harmful speech, use fair business practices, and tell the truth. These are all values embraced in Proverbs, and in the Hebrew Bible overall, but in no way unique to the ancient Israelites.

            Somehow, knowing some of the influences on the Israelites, and seeing what they chose to keep and what they chose to change, makes the ancient Jews feel more real to me. They didn’t appear out of nowhere; they were a product of their time, and interacted with the ideas around them. I can relate to that process of sifting, and it gives me more confidence in my own right to reassess their ideas, in order to determine what I believe in, and who I want to be going forward.

“We believe in the power of chicken.”

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?

The Hebrew Class, Continued

            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?

Huh?”

            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.

Sweet Dreams

            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.

“Yeah!”

            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.

“Woof.”

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.

“MY hair looks fine.”

            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.

“Like me!”

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?

The Hebrew Class

            My first fear about taking an online Hebrew conversation class this summer was the half hour Zoom interview and assessment I’d have to get through first. I was afraid I’d be convinced to spend more money than I wanted to spend, because my social anxiety would kick in and get me to agree to terms I wasn’t okay with, just to please the interviewer. But as one of my readers recently pointed out, Duolingo can only take you so far, and I really wanted to overcome my fear of speaking Hebrew (or any of my other foreign languages) out loud. My hope was that pushing my boundaries in this way would help me make progress in my life overall, but I also just wanted to become more fluent in Hebrew; it’s been a life-long dream.

         “I dream of chicken.”

   I was nervous about the interview for days ahead of time, and tried to think of every excuse to skip it, but in the end I forced myself to sit in front of my computer and click the Zoom link.

            First there was an initial greeter, a young Israeli guy who smiled at me and asked about my background in Hebrew and where I lived and if it was anywhere near the Five Towns (it depends on what you mean by “near.”) And then he sent me off to a breakout room to meet with a teacher for an assessment. The teacher was another young Israeli guy who smiled at me and asked me about my background in Hebrew. I thought I was supposed to answer him in Hebrew, since he was assessing me, but it was a struggle to find the words and he said I could use English to start with. Eventually, though, he started asking me to translate things, and answer questions in Hebrew, and then he had me repeating phrases in rapid fire scripted conversations. When I had trouble hearing him a few times early on we both assumed that the problem was coming from his computer, and he was apologetic and tried everything he could think of to fix the problem. Some things seemed to help for a short period of time, but then the problem would come back, and go away, and come back. We doggedly made it through the whole interview, though, and he told me that I’d be at the third level, out of eight. He told me that I’d be a little advanced at the beginning of the class, but it would be good for me to get a chance to build my confidence, rather than feeling too challenged right away.

I had to remind myself that the levels he was talking about were Israeli levels; being a good Hebrew student in America is not the same as being an Israeli native speaker. But it still hurt my pride.

“Harrumph.”          

  Anyway, then I was sent to the third young Israeli guy who smiled at me and asked about my background in Hebrew and then gave me an overview of the program, including the costs and class schedules. When I had trouble hearing him he said that the problem was coming from my side, and it turned out that he was right. I pressed every button I could think of and then unplugged my headphones, just to see if that would change anything, and the problem went away. I’d never had problems with those headphones before, so I hadn’t even thought of them when I was having my assessment with the teacher, but discovering that the problem had been coming from me all along sent me into a shame spiral. That poor guy had worked so hard to fix a problem he had no control over, and it was my fault. I get into shame spirals very easily, and I was already feeling guilty about not being more advanced in Hebrew, and for being uneasy with all of the young male energy, and for just being so uncool. But I was able to keep my head up and when the third young Israeli guy tried to convince me to sign up for a year of classes at a time, saying there would be discounts for each added semester, I was able to politely and firmly say No, I only want to sign up for one class right now. Even so, the cost of the class was more than I’d expected, and I felt guilty for spending so much of my salary from synagogue school learning advanced Hebrew that I wouldn’t really need in order to teach my beginner classes.

And yet, I decided to take the class anyway, because I really really wanted to. There would be two one-and-a-half hour sessions per week, for ten weeks, plus up to four hours a week of more casual conversational zooms for practice. There was also something about What’s App and Facebook, but at a certain point I wasn’t able to take in any more information. It was a relief when the Zoom was over and I could shut off my computer and take a breath, but almost immediately the shame spiral sped up and I went over and over my internal transcript of the conversations and worried that I’d said and done a million things wrong, especially signing up for the class at all.

  “You could have bought more chicken treats, Mommy.”       

   When I got the follow up emails, reiterating all of the information, there was also a video explaining how they used What’s App in their program (which was helpful because I’ve never used What’s App in my life), and even better, the teacher in the video was female. The tidal wave of young male energy on the Zoom had clearly been more overwhelming than I’d realized, because seeing a relatable woman, not my age but not twenty-two either, was an incredible relief.

            Why do I want to do this now? Because teaching synagogue school has been reminding me of how much I loved learning Hebrew growing up, and how much more I want to learn; and because I want to push myself to build my social skills, and my tolerance for being uncomfortable. But there’s also the extra push of the recent situation between Israel and Hamas, and even more so the media and social media reactions to it.

            I’m not an Israeli, and I have no plans to move to Israel, but the existence of a Jewish state has always been important to me. Israel is the only place in the world with a Jewish majority population and where Jewish holidays are celebrated as state holidays. In the United States, Christian holidays are the default holidays for school vacations and days off from work and national celebrations, etc., but in Israel, being Jewish is the default. It’s kind of like being a Trekky and going to a Star Trek convention, and suddenly you’re not a weirdo anymore. Or at least not the only one. Just knowing that a place like Israel exists makes me feel more acceptable for who I am.

            But a lot of the barbs thrown on social media recently have been questioning Israel’s right to exist at all, and have used many old anti-Semitic tropes and even outright support of the Holocaust in their arguments for why the country should be wiped off the map. As a result, anti-Semitic attacks in real life, in America and Europe, have increased, on top of the four years of rising anti-Semitic incidents during the Trump era.

            I can’t fix anti-Semitism. And I can’t fix the problems in Gaza and Israel and the West Bank. But I have had a lot of feelings about all of it, and the answer for me has been to deepen my understanding of Israel and the people who live there. There has been solace in spending time in Jewish spaces and reading articles from many different perspectives, and listening to Israeli music, and remembering my childhood joy when I first learned about the State of Israel.

            So, I’m going to take this very scary online Hebrew conversation class, and try to build my tolerance for things that are uncomfortable: like grammar, and making mistakes in public, and talking to people I disagree with. Because all of my reading and listening and thinking and remembering has left me believing that Israel is strong enough to withstand the criticism, and to correct her mistakes and accept multiple viewpoints in order to find a new way forward. Just like me.

“That sounds exhausting. We’ll just wait here.”

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?

Duolingo Yiddish

            My Duolingo adventure started a few years ago, when I was looking for a way to learn Yiddish online. I wasn’t up to going to an in-person class, and the Yiddish for Dummies book didn’t do much for me, but I couldn’t find a good, free Yiddish app. Instead, I decided to brush up on my Hebrew and learn German on Duolingo, in the hopes that the two languages would mush together in my brain and magically become Yiddish (The Yiddish language is written in Hebrew letters, but is largely based on German, with words also borrowed from many other Eastern European languages, like Polish and Russian).

“Voof.”

Earlier this year, after I wrote a blog post on my difficulties with visual learning and “reading” pictures, someone suggested that I could try learning an ideographic language, to see if that would be a useful step for me. I’d actually spent a semester in college learning Egyptian Hieroglyphics, but since Duolingo didn’t have a course in that, I decided to try Chinese, just to see if the pictures really could help me to remember the sounds and meanings of words in a way “regular” letters could not.

            And I discovered that Chinese is really, really hard. I don’t know if it’s the unfamiliar ideograms or the wide variety of subtly different sounds in Chinese that make it so hard for me, but I kept trying.

            Not long after I started my struggles with Chinese, Duolingo started to advertise a new Yiddish program, and I was thrilled! I immediately had plans to read Sholem Aleichem in the original Yiddish and connect to my Eastern European Jewish roots and maybe even work on my Yoda impression. But every time I checked through the language options on the Duolingo app on my iPhone, Yiddish wasn’t there. Finally, I went to the Duolingo site on my computer, and there it was: Yiddish. It seemed that the Yiddish program was still in the Beta phase of development and that meant it only worked on my computer for some reason.

            I tend to do my Duolingo practice in bed, as a way to relax before going to sleep, so the idea of having to sit up at the computer to study just seemed wrong. But I did it. And I found that my Hebrew/German mishmash really had helped me, because I was able to test out of a bunch of the early lessons of Yiddish, despite the fact that letters that were silent in Hebrew were used as vowels in Yiddish, and vowels that made one sound in Hebrew made another in Yiddish (though I found out later that that may not be universal, but specific to the dialect of Yiddish taught on Duolingo).

“Oy.”

            Despite all of the differences, the lessons were addictive, and I was racking up points on my Duolingo account that I was ready to spend on Chinese lessons, except, when I went back to my iPhone app that night the system got confused and logged me out. I had to reset my password just to get back onto the app, and I realized that, for some reason, using the Beta Yiddish program on the computer made my iPhone angry, or jealous, or something, and discombobulated the whole system.

“Grr.”

            So, I’ve been staying away from the Yiddish program, mostly because I’m too lazy to sit up at the computer to study when it’s so much easier to lie down, but also because I’m too lazy to come up with yet another new password when I inevitably have to reboot the app on my phone. In the meantime I’m still practicing my German and my Hebrew, and French, and Spanish, and every once in a while I get up the nerve to try another lesson in Chinese, but only when I have a lot of points saved up so I can make a thousand mistakes and still finish a whole lesson.

            Continuing to study German has its own benefits too, beyond prepping for Yiddish, because I discovered that there are a lot of German language murder mysteries on Hoopla, the streaming service I get through my library. I was running out of English language mysteries to watch, so being able to tap into all of the shows in German has been a life saver.

My hopes are still high, though, that once I can do the Yiddish lessons on my phone, in comfort, I will progress quickly to spouting yiddishisms everywhere I go and annoying everyone I meet. I’m a patient person, if not an energetic one. I can wait.

“Me too!”

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?

Hebrew Through Movement

            This year at the synagogue school we are trying out a new way of teaching Hebrew, called Hebrew Through Movement (HTM). The idea behind HTM, and James J. Asher’s Total Physical Response before it, is to try to follow the process by which infants acquire their first language. The examples Asher gives are: parents will say “take the bottle” and then put the bottle in the baby’s hand, or they’ll say “wave bye bye” and then model how to wave a hand. The child then responds physically, rather than verbally, with a long silent period before words are spoken out loud.

I watched a ton of videos on how to teach Hebrew through Movement, and I read the background articles exploring the whys and wherefores, and I studied the official curriculum multiple times to create my lesson plans, but I still wasn’t sure if it would work in real life. I even tried to practice with the dogs ahead of time, but they were not especially enthusiastic. Cricket resented having to follow any command at all, and Ellie was constantly in a distracted (squirrel!) frame of mind, and I was worried that their reactions were a harbinger of things to come.

“Who me?”

            So, I was nervous on the first day of synagogue school, when I would have to try out HTM on actual children. I modeled stand up and sit down, while saying the commands in Hebrew, and then I asked for volunteers to try the actions with me, but no one raised a hand. I took a deep breath and smiled and asked one of my teenage teacher’s aides to do the actions with me instead, so the kids could see someone else following along and not falling on her face. The kids started to follow along, anxiously. Part of the problem was the mask muffling my voice, and part was that we’re in a social hall instead of a classroom this year to allow for social distancing, which also creates an echo, but most of the issue was stage fright with their new teacher. Me.

            One girl in the back of the room told me straight out that she wouldn’t be participating, and I told her that was fine, because I always accept No as an answer. I want synagogue school to be fun, but more importantly, since we don’t have tests or homework or grades, I don’t really have the leverage to convince someone to participate if they don’t want to, and I refuse to yell or shame someone into going along.

            Gradually, I added the commands for walk, and stop, and the kids decided that stop meant stop exactly where you are, even if one foot is up in the air and you are about to fall over. When the giggling started I knew we were onto something. Within a few more minutes everyone was participating, including the girl in the back who definitely didn’t want to participate, and it had become a game, and fun!

            When we went outside for a mask break a while later, we did another session of Hebrew through Movement, adding the commands for run and spin to our repertoire. We added balletic arms to our spins, and funny faces to our walks, and each time I said the Hebrew word for run the kids acted like they’d been shot out of a cannon.

“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!”

            The only downside was that, with all of the standing and sitting and walking and stopping and running and spinning, my body started to rebel and I got very close to throwing up a few times, despite filling my thermos with gingerale before I left home. When I finally left the building for the day, I felt like I’d been run over by a truck.

            But still, it was so much fun!

            By week three I was getting into trouble for the noise level, because the kids really like to shriek while they are running, and then they fall on the floor and giggle hysterically, but it’s such a joy to see them having fun that I’m reluctant to tell them to keep the noise down.

            When I realized that my remote students were having trouble participating (even for our in-person day we still have some kids who zoom into class), I planned some doll-participation exercises, and suddenly stuffed animals were launching into the air, spinning themselves dizzy. I don’t think the kids even noticed that they were learning Hebrew, because they were so busy putting face masks on their Sloths and Teddy Bears and action figures, and racing around their bedrooms.

“I didn’t do anything.”

            Eventually we’ll move on to more complex sentences, like, walk slowly to the door, or run to the window and touch your head, or point at the Rabbi, laugh, bark, and run away, but for now we’re still on simple commands.

            I would love to invest in cushioned Hazmat suits, with helmets, for the in-person students, or better yet, full bubble wrap for each kid, and sound proofing for the walls so we can make as much noise as we want, but that’s a little bit beyond our budget, and some of the parents might object. Party poopers.

“Harrumph.”

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?