Gefilte Fish Out of Water

Study Sesh
July 11, 2009, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Cool Things, Friends, Identity, Infrastructure


Went over my friend Leah’s today to study Hebrew.  This is my 4th consecutive Saturday studying Hebrew.  First week I did it solo.  Week Two was me & Leah.  And last week was me & Anna & Eric.  There’s just so much to learn that I don’t feel like doing anything else on my Saturdays.  I guess that means I’m really dedicated, but I just know that I don’t want to do anything else but study Hebrew on my one day off.  [Nerd Alert !!   Nerd Alert !!]

Leah and I decided to study verbs.  Specifically, התפעל שלומים


We kicked ass, using Leah’s awesome method from two weeks ago.

1) First, we each took a sheet of notebook paper and folded it in half, lengthwise.  We wrote the Hebrew verb infinitive on one side and the corresponding English translation on the other.  About 25 verbs in all.

2) Round One:  One of us quizzes the other on the whole list, giving the person the Hebrew, and you have to answer with the English translation.  Then, we switch roles.  Even when it’s not your turn to answer, you are still totally learning, b/c you’re staring at the answers the whole time.  So we both start to get better as we go on.

3) Round Two: We go through the whole list again twice (she quizzing me, then me quizzing her), but this time we give each other the English, and you have to answer with the Hebrew.  This is harder.  That’s why it’s Round Two, Dumbass.

4) Round Three: We didn’t do this two weeks ago, but today Leah wanted to add this round, where we’d say it in English, and you’d have to answer by conjugating in the four present tense forms (masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural, feminine plural).  This was totally good, b/c that’s been my biggest problem: being able to connect a verb’s present form to its infinitive (b/c most of the times they’re nothing alike).  This round goes quicker, b/c we take turns quizzing each other back & forth as we go down the list only once.

5) Bonus Round: We take turns going through the list, giving the person the English infinitive and asking them to conjugate it in the past tense in a particular form (I, you (masc), you (fem), him, her, us, y’all (masc), y’all (fem), them).

6) Global Thermonuclear War Round: Leah really wanted us to then use the conjugated form in a sentence.  She was totally right in that this would be a really awesome way to just take our mastery of Hebrew to a whole other level, but my braiin was just so tired from all the other rounds, I whined like a baby that I didn’t want to.  But I gave in, and we did a few of these.  They were really intense!  [Nerd Alert !!   Nerd Alert !!]  But she was right, in that it totally felt like we were learning at warp speed.  But after a few of these, we went back to just the Bonus Round, b/c it was taking too long.

So, all that is really the prelude to the cool part of the story.  Guess I’m not such a good storyteller if I made you wade through all that first.  From earlier conversations, I knew that Leah was familiar with a New York storytelling nonprofit that used to be a client of mine at my last job.  The nonprofit’s name is The Moth.

You just have no idea how supercool The Moth is.  They do a Mainstage Show once a month in New York at The Player’s Club.   A mix of celebrities and literati  (Ethan Hawk, Rosie O’Donnell, Malcolm Gladwell) and regular people (retired NYPD detective, former junkie) will tell a 10-minute story on a bare stage, without any notes.  All the stories are connected by a theme (e.g. stories about smoking, stories about revenge, stories about second chances). And you’re not allowed to go over 10 minutes, or else a musician sitting onstage begins to play you off the stage.

They also have Story Slams (in NY and LA, and soon they are expanding to more cities), which are basically like the Open Mike version of the mainstage shows.  Anybody can show up and put their name in a hat.  Somebody calls out names, and if you’re called, you have to go on stage and tell a 5-minute story (same deal – the nights are themed).   The winners of each month come back twice a year for a Grand Slam, and then once a year the Grand Slam winners from NY & LA face off.

ANYWAY, between Round Three and the Bonus Round, I suggested we take a break and listen to a Moth story from their totally awesome, free, subscribable podcast on iTunes.  I had five episodes on my iPod and offered Leah and her BF Itay the choice of which one to listen to.  I felt a little pressure, b/c the stories are always so different.  Some are pee-your-pants funny, and others are so emotional that they blow you away.  I wanted the one we heard to be a good one that would hook them.

Nobody had a preference, so I chose the one that was chronologically next in the cue on my iPod:  Nathan Englander – “Man on the Moon.”  We didn’t have any idea what the story was about from the title.

Straight out of the gate, the storyteller makes a Jewish joke that I miss.  But I hear the word “Jewish,” and I’m like What did he say?  Leah’s like Something about being Jewish.  Well, it turns out to be a story about making Aliyah and being in Jerusalem in the year 2000 as it looked like peace was finally going to be negotiated between the Palestinians and the Israelis…until it didn’t.

But anyway, how crazy that the story we randomly put on turns out to be about a guy who made Aliyah and wrestled with staying in Israel forever (which is what Aliyah is supposed to be about) vs. returning to the U.S. for a more comfortable life?  Plus, he even mentioned Minneapolis, which is where Leah is from?  Leah, Itay and I enjoyed the story very much, and it sparked a great discussion among us afterwards.  I felt certain a Higher Power had a hand in us listening to this particular story on this particular day.  For me, it was just an awesome, awesome experience.

One more thing:  when Leah and I were in the middle of the Global Thermonuclear War Round, and she was struggling with her sentence, and Itay was in the room helping us out, I had like a visualization or a flash-forward or whatevs.  I feel like I saw into the future (or a future), where Leah was totally speaking fluent Hebrew.  As I was leaving, I told her this, and I was like If that comes true, and that is our future, to remain here a long time and totally speak the language and really build lives in Israel, then one day we’ll look back on today as the period when we did it – when we actually learned Hebrew from scratch, and we’ll look back on today like it was a very important time for us.

Cool, right?

Hafta add, Leah totally prepared really nice snacks for us – watermelon, grapes, water, coffee (and diet coke for me).

Meanwhile, 5 hours of studying or not, this post totally took a long time to write, and it’s 11:45 p.m. now, and I am supposed to do my offical homework for the weekend now.  Grr.  But whatevs – it was a super great day.  Thanks, H.P. !


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[…] tell you how this came about.  So, last week, I was doing my post on studying with my friend Leah.  And, as I was getting to the end of it, and I was really working hard to describe this sort of […]

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