The Book on Mom’s Bedside Table when She Died

The Book on Mom’s Bedside Table when She Died

My mom’s sweetest childhood memories and her dearest lifelong friends came from her Zionist youth group–HaNoar HaTsioni.
But by the time I was growing up, that wasn’t a side I saw so much of mom. I don’t remember Israel being a topic of conversation or much interest.
But when I made aliya, all of a sudden I saw a side of mom (or possibly it reawakened a side of my mom) from her teenage years and early adulthood which I’d never seen before. Back then, I found out, she’d been passionate about Israeli dancing, and her Israeli youth group, and had even dreamed of making aliya. A dream she’d held in the back of her heart until she met and fell in love with my father in their 3rd year of medical school.
But even though mom gave up her dream of aliya, she never gave up another dream she’d had since her youth-group days: to learn Hebrew. But this, for mom, was easier said than done. Mom wasn’t good at languages. No, I mean, really, REALLY not good at languages.
For literally 30 years my mom was studying Hebrew, but despite her tireless efforts, she never advanced past kita bet, a bit beyond absolute beginner. But mom refused to give up, repeating kita bet at a local ulpan over and over for more years than I could keep track of.
Maybe a decade ago, mom had a new idea; she would try learning Hebrew one-on-one online. So she took private lessons through an online Hebrew school for a few years, but eventually, even though mom hadn’t even thought of giving up, her teachers apparently had. She was kicked out of the online school. But the next time we spoke I saw that this setback hadn’t fazed her in the slightest, “They said,” she informed me, “that even if I’m no longer a student they would continue sending me the E-tone,” a weekly Email current events newsletter written in simple Hebrew. And Mom read that E-tone religiously for years, looking up words she didn’t know in the massive Hebrew-English dictionary she carried around everywhere she went during her twice-annual trips to Israel.
Mom often tried to speak Hebrew with my kids, but they generally couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. Not only was her pronunciation off, she would also throw in Hebrew expressions that hadn’t been used since her youth group days in the late 50s and 60s, such as “Heidad!” (Hurray!) or “Aineni Yodeah” (I don’t know).
My little kids would furrow their brows and say, “Whaaat?”
But my older kids would humor savta, part bewildered, part awe-struck by Savta’s unwavering determination to learn their native tongue.
And awe-struck was how I felt, as well, when at one point during the shiva, I went into my parents’ room and noticed 2 things laying on my mom’s bedside table: a recent issue of the New Yorker and this Hebrew primer for young children, with which mom, I presume, had been reviewing basic words such as book, kippah, and pencil.


My mom was a person who excelled at most things she set her mind to. She had been a top student in high school, and then college. Graduated med school and became a respected physician.
And what I found most remarkable about the ongoing saga of mom’s Hebrew studies was that even when something didn’t come easily, at all, mom wasn’t deterred. She loved Israel and going to shul and learning the parsha and studying Hebrew. And even if that meant remaining an absolute beginner after 3 decades, so be it.
Mom had grit. As much grit, possibly, as the Jewish people. Struggling and struggling, but never ever giving up. Until her dying day.

9 comments

  1. An amazing spirit your Mom had. She never gave up trying to learn the language. That is really special!

  2. Chanie Belinow

    Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing during this difficult time!

  3. Wow, there is SO much to learn from your wonderful mother, B’H!

  4. May her memory serve as an inspiration and blessing. If there is one thing that was close to your mom’s heart, that can serve as a means of honoring her memory. In this case you might want to sponsor a beginner reader or language class in her memory. The cover of the book looks familiar! I might have used it when I was in second grade….

  5. Your mother was such an inspiring woman!
    I remember meeting her at Nishmat, she so enjoyed learning, and with temimus, the kind that allows you to be a vessel and really receive.

  6. essence…you got it from her

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