The subtle traumas of Jewish immigration to Israel don’t disappear – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on July 30, 2021

Forty-two years ago this month, I started learning Hebrew.

Forty-two years later, I finally have a hang of the language (Im a slow learner).

If only my ulpan teacher, and those other scoffers and mockers in my class, could see me now. And this is precisely why I get so aggravated when Im in a store, on the phone with the bank, or ordering in a restaurant, and the salesperson, clerk or waitress speaks to me in English.

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I get it, Ive got an accent. Sue me. But I would rather the salesperson, clerk or waitress have to suffer through my accented Hebrew than me having to suffer through their accented English.

Incredibly, this same twisted dynamic has also penetrated the walls of my home, my castle, my fortress. My youngest son, the one for whom my accent has always been the heaviest burden, now prefers to speak to me in English.

Once, when he was at his high school boarding school, he was in the dining room with the radio on and someone was being interviewed with a heavy American accent.

Jeez, I thought, he tells the tale. Who is that speaking and sounding as if he is speaking English, only with Hebrew words coming out? When he realized it was his dear old dad, he nearly choked on his mashed potatoes, and pleaded with me never to be interviewed on the radio again.

Now that same son with whom we battled constantly to work on his English when he was but a young lad prefers speaking to me in my mother tongue. He likes to say to aggravate me that he just cant take my heavy accent in Hebrew anymore. But thats not the real reason. The real reason is now he wants to improve his English before entering university.

So instead of him having to hear my accented Hebrew, I have to listen to his accented English. Actually, his accent isnt that painful, its just that his pace can kill you. In Hebrew he speaks a mile a minute; in English, about a mile an hour. It takes him two minutes to say in Hebrew what it takes him 10 minutes to spit out in English. Im a busy guy with little patience. Slow talkers get me nervous. We talk much less now than we used to.

I GET how annoying accents can be I really do. But what annoys me even more than an Israeli with eh-eh punctuated English responding to my uh-uh punctuated Hebrew, is when someone in a store or on the street will speak to me in English before I even open my mouth, or a waitress at a restaurant offers me an English menu.

I mean, Cmon! Ive been in this country some 38 years, have native-born children and grandchildren, did the army and reserves, pay my taxes, wear a hat with Hebrew writing on it, devour schug, can name each of the countrys past presidents what is it that makes people look at me and take me for a tourist?

Do I look American? I asked The Wife after a clerk in a Tel Aviv convenience store asked in English for my credit card . Im bald, have a beard and glasses. Half the country is bald with a beard and glasses. That makes me look Jewish, not American.

What annoys me even more, is that this annoys me.

Why should I care if some waitress younger than my youngest child thinks I dont know the language? What does it matter? Why does it get to me? Why do I respond by lowering my voice and answering in the most authentic Israeli accent I can muster? Why ask for the Hebrew menu in an Asian restaurant when an available English menu would be so much easier to navigate, and even then I wouldnt really know what I ordered?

Ive never felt more stupid in my life than when I first came to Israel and couldnt communicate. I felt like a child, and felt constantly as if I was being spoken to and treated like a child. It made me feel small, inferior. Israelis answering me in English triggers those memories.

This annoyance also stems from wanting to fit in, be like everyone else, feel an integral part of the society. In my first few years here I felt that I was being looked down upon and not taken seriously because I stumbled over rudimentary Hebrew. I thought my stature in the eyes of my interlocutors would rise once I learned to communicate better. Now that I can communicate better, I get insulted when people respond to me in English it makes me feel inadequate, as if my integration was incomplete.

And then, of course, there is not wanting to let on that you are born elsewhere out of a fear that if that knowledge seeps out, youll constantly be taken for a ride.

Speak to me in Hebrew, I tell The Wife in stores. That way we wont get ripped off.

To this day if The Wife or my children call when I am in a taxi, I make it a point of answering only with Hebrew monosyllables so the driver wont think Im American. My daughter could call with news that she just won the lottery, and my response would be, Tov [good]. Bye.

Why? Because of a deeply ingrained feeling that if the cabbie whiffs an accent, hell think Im wealthy or clueless, and in either case overcharge.

Relax, The Wife said, noticing my temperature rising when the Tel Aviv grocery store check-out lady spoke to us in English. This isnt about you. Like your son, she probably just wants to practice her English for school, or maybe she is just trying to be nice.

Wow, I said. Those possibilities never even crossed my mind.

To which she replied: That negative way of thinking is what you should really be working on.

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The subtle traumas of Jewish immigration to Israel don't disappear - The Jerusalem Post

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