Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: Back to School

This week marked my return to school.

To Hebrew School, that is.

For awhile now, I’ve wanted to rebuild–and, with luck, perhaps surpass–the limited ability I once possessed to read, write, and speak Hebrew. But now that I’m a “grown-up,” I’m not all that confident in my ability to learn languages. Not to mention, now that I’m a grown-up, I don’t have a whole lot of time to spare for “hobbies.”

But you know what they say: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

The way, for me, is to begin slowly. And to do some research. After finding a variety of possible programs to try, I chose a “Hebrew Crash Course” offered locally. As far as I’m concerned, the program I chose offers two big advantages over its competitors:

1) It’s free

2) It’s a six-week course, with one 90-minute evening session per week. (I’d love to take an intensive “Ulpan” model here in NYC, or, even better, go spend an extended spell in Israel, but for a variety of reasons, neither of those options is possible at the moment.)

And summer, with longer days and that air of possibility, seemed like the perfect time to finally dive in to this project.

I’ll admit that even after the first session, I’m still not certain what, exactly, I’ll get from this class (much less, what my writing practice will get from it). But that’s part of the fun–it’s a change to my routine. It’s not entirely predictable.

Plus, this return to “Hebrew school” evokes my childhood and a whole slew of associations and memories of my first rounds of Hebrew lessons. By starting (again) from scratch, I’m (re)learning an alphabet, letter by letter. I’m being prompted to think carefully about consonants and vowels, nouns and verbs. I’m absorbing new words and constructing sentences with added effort. My brain is flexing muscles it hasn’t used in a long time.

The Hebrew Alphabet (or “Aleph-Bet”)

Of course, it’s possible that at some point, I will write an essay or a poem about studying Hebrew. Or something I observe in the class (or on my commute to and from class) will inspire a short story.

But maybe the influence will be much more subtle than that. Maybe I won’t see “results” in my writing practice for months. Or years.

Doesn’t matter. Call it curiosity. Call it a yearning. Call it a calling. Whatever has brought me back to the classroom is powerful. There’s no way it won’t show up in my writing. Someday.

10 thoughts on “Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: Back to School

  1. Erwin K. Roberts says:


    Good luck with your studies.

    I went back to school in my early 30’s. Not for the sort of reasons you are, I admit. (Did it for the G.I. Bill money.)

    Classes two or three nights a week with a day job, wife, two kids, & being a National Gurad member, made my schedule & life crazy. But it also sent my mind in new directions. I’m still following some of those directions today.

    I plan to retire at the end of the year. I’m looking at taking some art classes then. Classes I now wish I’d had the wisdom to take as an undergraduate in the 1960’s.

    1. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story, Erwin.

  2. Mike Hooker says:

    Hey, Erika,

    Good for you. I took one semester of Hebrew nineteen years ago. I got a A, strictly out of the goodness of the professor’s heart.

  3. Joan Bailey says:

    Classes are a great way to stretch and exercise the mind. As someone living and working in a foreign language, I find much to ponder and new words to chase. It often gives me new insight into my own language, as well, a new perspective on things I took for granted like pronunciation, my role in society, etc. Good luck with yours!

  4. Erika Dreifus says:

    @Mike–Somehow, I suspect that you deserved a good grade! @Joan–yes, there is definitely a sense of new insights and perspectives in this process. Thank you!

  5. Hi Erika,

    I’m so glad to hear you’re going to do this. I’ve been trying to learn French for about three years now, so I know all about lack of time and lack of confidence is one’s language-learning apparatus. But it’s so worth it, no matter how it turns out. I’ve loved finding out how the French language adds up to a perception of reality, and I cherish what French I can now use correctly. It’s a lot more than three years ago, even if still a paltry amount. It’s never a bad thing to dive more deeply into the world, which is what learning a language finally is about. I think this is something we Americans desperately need to do more of. Go for it! And enjoy! And don’t be embarrassed. The worse embarrassment is those who never try.

  6. Rabbi Akiva didn’t start until he was 40. He saw a hole in a rock – worn there by a water dripping, drop by drop, for years. He said, if water, with patience, time and consistency, can make a hole in a rock, then surely Torah, if I study it with patience, time and consistency, will penetrate my mind. (I’m paraphrasing.) He attributed his success in learning and leadership of the Jewish people to the support of his wife.

    Our Sages praise learning at any age, at any stage. Therefore, you are to be praised!

    And there’s holiness in the letters themselves.

    Yasher Koach and Mazel Tov!

  7. Erika Dreifus says:

    Thanks so much, John and David. We’ll see how this goes.

  8. Susan says:

    Good for you, I am sure if you want something bad enough, you will do it. Good luck to you. I was in the same kind of boat, in my mid-forty’s. I pushed myself. My son was around bar-mitzvah age. I decided this was the best time for me to re-learn. It is never too late, and it actually is better, to learn something. When you are a adult, it is you pursuing the learning. Not your parent’s and the school drumming it in your head.

    I did not enjoy Hebrew school when I was a child. It was dull. I learned so much later in life from my rabbi, and some Jewish websites(, etc.).

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks, Susan. Last night was my fourth class (out of six). I need to get going on a plan for the fall.

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