Monday, December 14, 2015

I Started Learning to Read Hebrew!


I've been wanting to learn to read Hebrew for many years.  As a Jewish researcher, I've always known it would be a useful skill.  In addition, as an officer of a Jewish genealogical society, though it isn't a requirement, I thought I really should know something about the language.

So I've had it on my (very long) list of things to do for several years, but there were always reasons I didn't manage to do it (like money, time, and all those other things that get in the way of getting things done).  But then I read about a free (!) five-week class at Congregation Beth Israel–Judea in San Francisco.  And I figured out that I could take BART to the synagogue and didn't have to drive (because I hate driving in San Francisco).  It was perfect!

The Hebrew Reading Crash Course (yes, that's really what it's called; look at my little diploma up there) was a lot of fun.  It teaches one letter at a time and has you practice syllables, then starts putting the syllables together into words.  The next thing you know you're actually reading Hebrew.  I even recognized some of the very few Hebrew words I know (such as the prayer over wine!).

The instructor (the Rebbetzin of the synagogue) warned us that Hebrew as taught in the course is very formal and somewhat archaic, and also that the extremely helpful vowels which are used throughout are not usually found in everyday Hebrew writing.  But I figure I'm off to a great start.

The class is offered through the National Jewish Outreach Program, which also has a Hebrew Reading Crash Course II.  Everyone in the class told the Rebbetzin that we'd love to take the second course.  And there's even a Hebrew Writing Crash Course!

Of course, everything in the textbook is printed Hebrew.  At some point I know I'll have to learn to read handwriting, and eventually I hope to learn to read Yiddish also (which uses the same alphabet but is definitely not the same language, the same way that English and French use the same alphabet).  One step at a time . . . .

10 comments:

  1. Sounds like a great course ... I wish I lived closer to San Francisco! I've been working on transcribing a lot of my ancestors' matzevot lately, and I'm amazed at how much I'm picking up just from that exercise, even though I've never had any formal training in Hebrew. I even surprised myself by instantly recognizing the words "mazel tov" at the top of your diploma!

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    1. NJOP is nationwide, so you might want to check the site and see if you can find a class close to you. And I also was happy to see that I recognized "mazel tov!"

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  2. There are wonderful classes at YouTube University :D That's where I've been studying Hebrew. I've been told that there is an old script Hebrew that is not exactly ancient but not as modern as today's ???? I am unable to translate the death record of one of my German grandfathers because no one I've met can translate the old script ( not to mention the German!) I would love to know where he's buried. I'm only talking about the 1700's. Are you aware of any differences in Hebrew script (s)?

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    1. I know there are differnces in Hebrew script, but I don't know how to read them. Are you signed up on JewishGen.org and for the main e-mail list? You could post a scan and then ask people on the e-mail list if they can help you translate it. People on the list are very helpful and generous.

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    2. I AM a member of JewishGen.org :D Thanks for the reminder! I wasn't aware that I could post a picture. Surely there is someone out there that can help translate at least part of the entry.

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    3. Under the Research tab on the home page, click on ViewMate and follow the instructions there. Good luck!

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  3. I successfully submitted my photo! I suppose they will contact me via email with any responses?

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    1. You will increase your chances of a response if you post on the e-mail list, describe what help you're asking for, and give the URL for where your photo is posted. They people can respond either on the ViewMate page or directly to you.

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    2. I declare! I've already received a response and am overcome with joy!! A member provided Hebrew translation but now the records don't completely jive. My ancestor's death record states he died in 1840 and was 84 and 1/2 years old but the Hebrew notes say that he was born in 1772. Another interesting fact that I've learned is that my ancestor changed his surname to Rosenheim or rather, adopted it as a surname when he moved to Altenstadt. Prior to that he was Yaakov Levi or Levy. I'm wondering if Jacob was the son of Levi since he and his father probably didn't have a surname. Any thoughts? Sorry to hog this blog discussion with my recent experience but I'm SO happy!!! THANK YOU JANICE!!

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    3. Hooray! I'm glad someone translated the stone for you.

      Some variation in birth years is expected, but that's more than ten years. The first thing to do is make sure it's the right person. Then keep in mind that the information on the stone depends on (1) what someone told the stone cutter and (2) how accurately the stone cutter rendered that on the stone.

      It's possible that Yaakov Levi means that Yaakov was the son of Levi, but I suspect it's more likely that the Levi on the stone is simply saying that Yaakov was a Levite, i.e., a descendant of the priestly class. I think normally that's rendered Ha-Levi on tombstones.

      Don't worry about hogging the dicussion. I'm happy for you!

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