Israeli Stories

One of my greatest wishes  since I began taking conversational Hebrew in college has been to speak Hebrew fluently, well enough to converse with Israelis, read Hebrew newspapers and teach my children Hebrew.

As a singer, I have a particular affinity for languages, and the  classical repertoire in particular, demands we learn at least French, German and Italian ( not to mention Russian) in order to sing the most beloved works in the Western cannon.

When I moved to Israel for the first year of Cantorial School in 2003, I found myself in an introductory level Ulpan ( Hebrew Immersion) at the Yeshiva, but eventually I began skipping class to speak with the Shomer-The Yeshiva Guard- who I spoke with often and whose impromptu Hebrew lessons during our conversations, I found much more interesting and helpful than classroom study.

My Hebrew during that Yeshiva year progressed dramatically and I could have basic conversations with most Israelis on any number of subjects.

But I never did become TV and Newspaper fluent or speak to my children exclusively in Hebrew. I have maintained my speaking ability though, and on my recent trip to Israel I spent as much time speaking Hebrew as I did English. 

After a week, I got motivated enough to walk into a bookstore and ask for some short stories that could help me improve my reading. The clerk introduced me to an author named Etgar Keret. 

Now, I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this famous Israeli writer, but his stories are delightfully bizarre, funny and sometimes very insightful.

You know that feeling when you are reading an article and it’s contents shock you enough that you have to read it again? Imagine that happening in Hebrew; it makes it all the more bizarre and possibly a good deal funnier.

The very first story I encountered was of a man who’s girlfriend harbored a secret from him. It turns out, that at night she becomes a short, hairy, couch potato of a man who binge watches Argentinian soccer games.  But in the end, he figures, it’s worth it!

Another features a girl who wants her eyes to sparkle-literally- like her mysterious classmates, but manages to ruin it by becoming too demanding. 

Such were the delightful and escapist themes that I found in Keret’s writing. It’s been an unexpected benefit of pursuing my love of Hebrew, and goal of greater fluency.

I suggest you check out all of Keret’s wacky and engrossing works, whether in Hebrew or English, and discover another gift the Hebrew language has brought us.

Shabbat Shalom

Hazzan Fradkin

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin

Hazzan Asa Fradkin is the hazzan at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, MD. He is a native of Baltimore.

1 comment

Elaine Smith Genser

Dear Hazzan Asa Fradkin
Thank you for bringing attention to Etgar Keret. I first met Etgar in 2017, during the event where he was receiving The Charles Bronfman Prize https://thecharlesbronfmanprize.org/recipient/etgar-keret/.
My husband Jared Genser received the same prize in 2010 and as a fellow of the group, we were honored to be invited to meet Etgar! We became fans too!

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