My Biggest Fear


I’m just going to say it. I am terrified of speaking Hebrew. Actually, more accurately, I am terrified of sounding dumb, uneducated, foreign, unconfident, shaky, unsure, un-me. For me, this is scarier than the sound of rockets that wake me in the night and the constant threat of war we live with. I’m not exactly sure what it is that paralyzes me when a nice old man tries to make conversation with me in the waiting room or a construction worker/shop owner/secretary comments on how I should be doing something different with Maor (Dress him warmer! He’s boiling in there! He needs more air! Less sun!) or asks me how I like the carrier I’m using/can I believe how hot is is?/does the amber teething necklace actually work? I actually feel frozen, stuck, forgetting all language and social capabilities that I have in those moments (I promise, I actually do have some. Somewhere.) I’ve never spoken to our downstairs neighbors and I’m sure they think I am the most unfriendly tenant whenever I smile and avoid eye contact as we pass by each other on our shared walkway. When an old woman chastises me for making too much noise with my shuk cart early in the morning by simply wheeling it down the street (true story), the comebacks and retorts well up inside me and the poisonous outrage is stuck inside, lacking the necessary vessels to transport them out my mouth and into the world.

The ironic thing is that I am starving for more human interaction (outside of my amazing, english speaking community). In general, it is what feeds me and makes me who I am. In my past life, as I like to call my life up until moving here, I thrived in communication. I had intended to make my career around speaking with and connecting to people, studying the various nuanced ways to do just that. Here, I feel victorious when I successfully make an appointment or buy my groceries with the most minimal amount of questioning.

I even feel embarrassed just writing these feelings into existence (which is why it felt crucial do so), as if it makes them more real or permanent, as if it changes my situation in the least.

Please – resist the urge to give me advice. I’ve heard it all and actually have come up with all the obvious answers on my own. I actually can’t believe when a well meaning person suggests, as if it is a novel concept to me, that I just need to speak in order to feel more comfortable. That once I can speak Hebrew more confidently, I will feel more at home in all areas of my life. And therein lies the problem. This knowledge, the pressure of knowing exactly what I need to do and feeling unable to do it is building in me at every single possible moment of speaking and each time I shy away, give a one word answer, smile and nod, I feel as though I’m getting farther and farther away from ever being able to successfully speak and therefore exist here. As if I can reach a point of no return where I’ve passed up on enough chances and the doors will close. My language privileges will be revoked and I will be doomed to be silenced for the rest of eternity. Sounds a little crazy, I know. But really, if you see me on the street speaking (or not, as it may be) to someone in Hebrew, it’s all happening. The snowball effect of my self-doubt.

And what is the best-case scenario, really? That I get over my ridiculous fear and speak more freely, become relatively fluent but always with an accent, with a clear sign to all around me that I am a foreigner in my homeland (more on that soon). I am different. I will never be from here, understand all the subtleties of language and interaction, comedic timing, puns, and the like. My kids will forever be embarrassed by my attempts. It is a blow to the ego, let me tell you!

I think this is really what it comes down to. Accepting this ideal fate as different than how I’d pictured myself but ideal nonetheless. I don’t need to elaborate now on how strongly I feel about making aliyah (moving to Israel) and our part in history by doing so. And when I think about previous generations and how hard they had it, or people who are actually fleeing their birth places and cannot return, I think, “Toughen up, Jenna. You’ve got it easy! You’ll be fine.” But it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is where I am, at this moment in time (and hopefully not too many future moments) and it is real and hard and some days I’m motivated and make progress but sometimes I feel hopeless and homesick and bitter that I need to work so hard. But I do, and I will. And someday I hope, in my old age, I will meet a new, unsteady immigrant, wondering what they’ve just done and why the littlest things in life seem impossible when all the big things finally make sense and I will smile and reassure them, as I, and all those who have done this before me, are reassuring me now. Baby steps.



6 thoughts on “My Biggest Fear

  1. Oh, I so relate. I came here with a lifetime of expressing myself precisely through language, and it’s awkward and weird to be simple and inarticulate as an adult, to be at a loss for words. At least now I can ask my kids how to say stuff.

  2. Thanks for sharing . I identify so much with this . I feel like I was reading my own thoughts (but more eloquently written 🙂 ) . Today I was speaking Hebrew to a 3 year old to practice and when her mother walked by,I was so embarrassed and froze ! This post inspires me:).

  3. One thing I have found that may help you feel less uncomfortable, is that Israelis don’t seem to mind mistakes, no matter how egregious. They are, as a general rule, so delighted that you are trying that they will put up with fractured grammar, weired syntax, and wrong genders galore. They do their best to understand. And, those that have actually corrected me have done so gently, not mockingly.

  4. Pingback: Between | Milk and Honey

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