Friday, April 8, 2011

Speak Hebrew? מדבר עברית

In 1997, I rented a car with my then boyfriend, Sharon, in New York City on a three week trip. Me - a former Manhattanite - renting a car??

Anyhow, while waiting for a red light to change, we both turned our heads and looked at the driver to our left. We both knew he was undoubtably Israeli judging from looks.

I was never one to speak Hebrew when I visited America. It was like... a secret. I didn't want Israelis who lived in New York City to know that I came from their tribe. I wanted to still be in a position to choose the identity of what I wanted when I wanted it. If I was in Israel, then I could speak anything because I didn't grow up there. But in America, well, I had to be a bit more careful - I had fidelity to my homeland and mother tongue. At the time, I didn't think it was necessary to mix the two languages, cultures, histories and mentalities I had been straddling for so long. That should indeed show a weakness.

So back to our excursion... Sharon shouted aloud so the Israeli driver could hear, "Ze lo yachol lihiot Yisraeli...- that person can't be an Israeli!"

And the passenger shouted with a smile, "Lama lo? Why not?"

I bend my head so low enough so the driver can't see me. As if he's talking to me. And I want to cringe.


Fast forward to March 2011. I walk into Starbucks and it's obvious the server is Israeli. So blatantly obvious, but of course, nobody else figures it out. It's just a server with an accent - just like others with multicultural ethnicities - after all, this is America!

And so... I put in my request in Hebrew. In HEBREW!

He looked at me with a kind of funny look, but with an understanding that I, yes, I...was part of the TRIBE.

So now I'm feeling more comfortable in my Israeli/-American shoes wherever I go.

It seems that there are no cut rules for what language to speak and when. When I first arrived in Pittsburgh, I used to think I was an American and then Israeli. But now I think there are no cut rules for that either.

I guess acquiring a multicultural voice helps the fluidity of transitioning from one hat to another.

And the good news is... I'm not a spy!

1 comment:

  1. Great Post, You help us to understand how important it is to learn from and share with each other our cultural heritage.