This past week, my family returned from a trip to Israel that helped me connect not just to the land, but especially to her people and her special language: S’fat Ha’Ivrit. I loved that I could speak “B’Ivrit” with ordinary Israelis as well as friends and relatives who live there. I could also understand when Israelis spoke to me, though sometimes I had to ask them to slow down just a bit. My interest in Hebrew started many years before I was born because my great-great-great-grandfather on my father’s mother’s side, Aharon Shimon Shpall, worked to revive the Hebrew language both in his shtetl in Russia and then in the United States. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda shared this dream. He lived around the same time as my ancestor and immigrated to Palestine in 1881 where he worked to cultivate a Jewish culture that was anchored in the Hebrew language.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence speaks about how the “pioneers, defiant refugees, and defenders…revived the Hebrew language…bringing the blessings of progress to all the country’s inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.” Hebrew is the ultimate connector of the Jewish people. Hebrew gives us access to the Tanakh, our Hebrew Bible. Hebrew is the language of tefillah, prayer. Hebrew also connects us to Jews all over the world and throughout time. Thanks to Hebrew, I know that if I walk into a synagogue anywhere in the world I will be able to join in the prayers because of my growing facility with Hebrew.
I am very fortunate to be in a family that has kept this close connection to Israel and the Hebrew language for generations on both sides. As I celebrate my bar mitzvah and reflect on my recent trip to Israel, I hope to extend this chain of connection and tradition, not just with our history and not just with our homeland, but especially with our sacred language. I can’t wait to go back to Israel myself next year with the 8th grade at Krieger Schechter Day School and many times in the future and to use the Hebrew language each time I go.
Elie Schwartz is a 7th grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.