Even though I haven’t been at home in NY, I have still had some interesting adventures and met some interesting people! One of the physical therapists I met with over the course of my time at the National Institute of Health in Maryland was a Jewish man originally from good old Brooklyn! He had also spent time studying and living in Israel and was curious to know about my experience living in the country and studying the Hebrew language. In one of our conversations he informed me of a fact regarding the language which I found fascinating and somewhat amusing.
Apparently, as Americans, if Benjamin Franklin had had his way, we could all be speaking Hebrew right now! When the US broke away from England and wanted to sever ties with the nation, the founding fathers contemplated what should be the national language of this new country. Good old Benjamin Franklin suggested Hebrew because it was a language that virtually no one was speaking! Obviously, his idea was never carried through, but it is interesting to think what it would be like if all the other leaders had agreed with him!
Hebrew is an ancient language, but it nearly died off years ago. Daniel Bensadoun wrote an article published on www.jpost.com on the revival of the language. He said that Hebrew had not been spoken as a mother tongue since the second century CE, but now it is one of the official languages of the nation of Israel. This process of revival was started by a man name Eliezer ben Yehuda who, along with his friends, agreed to exclusively speak Hebrew together in their conversations in an attempt to reawaken the ancient language. Ben Yehuda also raised his son exclusively in Hebrew, not wanting him to have exposure to other languages and Bensadoun says that “It is said he once reprimanded his wife for singing a Russian lullaby to the child. As a result, his son Ben-Zion became the first native speaker of Modern Hebrew.”
Hebrew is a complex yet extremely beautiful language. However, modern spoken Hebrew contains differences from Biblical Hebrew, so knowing one does not necessarily mean you will be fluent in the other. It is one of the three official languages of Israel including Arabic and English. If you are considering learning Hebrew a term you will probably come across is the word Ulpan. This is a class which is dedicated exclusively to the learning of Hebrew. While you might find some in other countries (I know of several here in NYC) there are many throughout the country of Israel. These are very popular among returning Jews who have made aliya and are hoping to start a new life in the Holy Land but need to learn the language as quickly as possible.