Hebrew Crash Course

14 Oct

I really didn’t want to run the fourth lap. Each lap around the northern section of Gan Sacher is about a mile; having run three already, I felt like I’d made a decent enough showing. But the evening was cool, and as Wednesdays are my lightest day schedule-wise, I had enough energy. As I curved around the bend to begin my last mile, I noticed a girl of about 19 or 20 on rollerblades up ahead. She wasn’t so much rollerblading as wobbling. She clearly had skates on her feet for the first time ever, and things didn’t look like they were going to end well. As I passed her, an extreme wave of respect overtook my initial judgment – when I was 19 or 20, I never would have had the guts to rollerblade in public. I still have a hard time doing things for the first time, and here she was, clearly rollerblading for the first time, and doing so in front of the crowds that congregate in the park at dusk.


Not two minutes later, she crashed into me.


We were on the western side of the park, where the path slopes downhill. She lost control and hit me from behind with tremendous force. She wrapped her arms around me instinctively, and my mind flashed to those drowning people who, in their panic, drown their rescuers. But I was firmly rooted to the ground on feet, not skates. So I wrapped my arms around her and said, “It’s ok, I’ve got you!” I had enough of her to stop her, and we came to a halt just before we collided with a tree. She was shaking. For the first minute she just said, “Thank God.” I too felt overwhelming gratitude, and thanked God for the energy to run that fourth lap. She could have seriously hurt herself if I hadn’t been there to break her fall. She never let go of my hand, and since I wasn’t about to let her continue alone, we ran/bladed together the rest of the way around the park. As if it couldn’t get more amazing, she lives on the very same street as me in Nachlaot. She is #2 and I am #15.


As the saying goes, “If you pray for patience, you will get stuck in traffic.” Well… If you pray for friends, one will crash into you in the park! God works in our lives, sometimes with frustrating subtlety, and sometimes with awesome clarity.


I have been praying to make connections, praying for the strength to build a life for myself here. Jerusalem – an ancient city, a city that resonates with permanence – can be a very transient place. Many of the programs here, like our year at Schechter, are short term. How do you reach out to make friends when you know you are leaving in June? Adding to the frustration, at least for me, is the weakness of my conversational Hebrew. Although I have noted a dramatic improvement after only a few weeks, I can’t make jokes, I can’t tell rollerblading stories, I can’t talk about my teaching position, I can’t… be Jess… in Hebrew. If I can’t be Jess in Hebrew, how can I be Jess in Israel?


It turns out that Hebrew is a lot like rollerblading. And it turns out that I had more to learn from the girl in the park than how to properly brace for impact. She knew she looked silly, but she didn’t care because she wanted to rollerblade. She knew she wasn’t an expert, but she didn’t care because she wanted to learn. Three times each day, I pray for God to open my lips. But it took a collision in the park to knock some sense into me. I need to speak Hebrew in public, on the street, at the store. Things will probably be a bit wobbly. I am certain I will make mistakes. And when I do, my friends, old and new, will be there to break my fall.



One Response to “Hebrew Crash Course”

  1. Yael October 15, 2010 at 3:41 am #

    ALWAYS go for the 4th lap!! (Says your short-legged running buddy/hevruta…)Sounds kinda like that time you saved the drowning child in Brooklyn… You’re like Hero Rabbi or something!

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