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Boaz Shron, Grandson of Israel and Maylene Ludwig: Some Humourous Moments of Speaking Hebrew in the Holyland

by Boaz Shron, February 2, 2024

 

[Editor's note: Born in Toronto to Sidura Ludwig and Jason Shron, Boaz plans to attend McGill University next fall

to study Political Science. Sidura Ludwig is the daughter of  Maylene and Israel Ludwig]

 

During my time in Israel, I’ve made quite the effort to further improve my Hebrew, to the point where I’ll insist that Israelis on my program only speak to me in Hebrew. Sometimes, people wonder why I’m so determined to pick up this language, as it’s not commonly spoken outside of Israel. I want to tell you the story that I tell these people, because it exemplifies the value I place on languages as a bridge between people.

Last summer I worked at a camp called City Scouts. It’s an urban adventure camp, based in downtown Toronto, and they had a training week for the counselors. Part of the training week was to go around the city with a group of counselors and make sure that all of the activities that the kids will do will run smoothly. So I was with my group of counselors, at the beginning of the day, and we were getting on the streetcar.

Suddenly, this short man tapped me on the shoulder and said:

"Slicha gever, atah medaber ivrit?”

"I’m sorry sir, do you speak Hebrew?”

I answered that I do indeed speak Hebrew. He said “?????” wonderful! And he proceeded to tell me his whole story. The man was a Sudanese immigrant to Israel, and he worked in a Yeshiva in Bnei Brak for ten years, in the catering department. Every time he sees someone on the street with a kippah, or someone who he thinks might speak Hebrew, he has to go up to them to talk about Israel because he loves the country so much. This is what he said:

?Ani ohev et hamedina, aval ha’avodah hayta mamash kasha, bimyuchad beshabbat vechagim, ki atem ochlim yoter midai.?

I love the country, but it was very hard work, especially on Shabbat and holidays, because you guys eat too much.”

In my opinion, the man has a point. 

My co-counselors, meanwhile, were looking a little bewildered at this whole scene; none of them spoke Hebrew nor were they Jewish, so it must have looked strange to see me converse in a strange language with a random guy on the streetcar. I explained to them what happened, they thought it was really cool, and we moved on.

Later on that day I was in Greektown: Danforth and Chester avenues, for those of you who know Toronto. One of the camper challenges that we had to test out was one where the campers asked a stranger for directions in a language other than English. My co-counselor turned  to me and said,

Boaz, you speak Hebrew. Why don’t you ask someone for directions in Hebrew and complete the challenge for us.”

“Okay. Who should I ask?” I replied.

“Ask that woman on the patio over there. She doesn’t look like she’s in a hurry.”

So I went up to this woman on the patio at a restaurant, and I said to her,

?Slicha giveret, at medaberet ivrit??

“I’m sorry ma’am, do you speak Hebrew?”

The woman looked up at me with this look that I have never seen before: one of joy, utter astonishment, and a bit of fear, and she replied,

Ken!”

“Yes!”

What are the chances? She then asked me, “eich yada’ta?- How did you know?” How did I know that this random woman on the patio of a nonkosher restaurant in a non-Jewish neighbourhood is named Tova and speaks perfect Hebrew?

And the only answer I could come up with was:

“B’ezrat Hashem.”

With God’s help.

Tova and I had a lovely conversation as a result of this encounter. I felt an instant connection with her, with the man on the streetcar, and with many other people whom I encountered over the summer, all because we speak the same language. Language has a tremendous power to connect people and bridge different cultures. In a time of heightened divisions all over the world, it is heartening for me to see the looks of warmth on people’s faces when I speak to them in their native language, be it French, Hebrew, or even the bit of Arabic that I’ve picked up here. It’s a sign of deep respect for the other person’s culture. At a time when it feels like people aren’t listening to each other, it’s important to remember that the best way to start understanding someone is to start speaking their language.

 

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.