November 8, 2011 | Hebrew

Hebrew Underway!

I have no idea what I'm doing. But it's fun anyway.

Today was my second day of Hebrew studies. All I have so far is my Pimsleur audio lessons, so today I headed south in search of books.

J. Levine Books & Judaica

J. Levine Books & Judaica

My first stop: J. Levine Books & Judaica, at 5 West 30th. Two different employees helped me there, and they were incredibly nice and helpful, but even though I left with a couple of books, I wasn’t quite sure I had found the instructional resources of my dreams.

A search on my iPhone yielded another option, Sefer Israel, just a few blocks away on 27th Street. 

Sefer Israel, a publisher and importer of Israeli books, is a wholesaler, not a retailer on street level like J. Levine. To reach them, I had to take a freight elevator, because the regular elevator was broken. First I ended up on the wrong floor. Then I had to wait a while for the freight elevator to return. The elevator operator didn’t really speak English, and I had no phone reception in the building to call the company to ask what floor they were on, so it was a little difficult to find them, but finally: success.

A Room Full of Books: Sefer Israel

A Room Full of Books: Sefer Israel

It was worth the wait. I love going to businesses a random consumer would not normally see. Peeking inside New York buildings is fun.

As soon as I buzzed Sefer Israel’s buzzer, out popped Orly Farhi-Haley, the company’s president, a lively, friendly, attractive woman who made me feel completely at home. She ushered me into a room full of books in Hebrew, and then the phone promptly rang.

While she took the call, I couldn’t resist the urge to park my behind on a desk near the door so I could take the weight off my foot. I felt a great conflict over this decision: rude to park behind? Or acceptable under the circumstances?

When she got off the phone, I apologized, and she waved off my concerns, immediately finding me a chair.

She told me she was not moving all that well herself because she had just done the New York City Marathon! She ran it in 3:57, which is a highly respectable time. I immediately liked her even more.

What was not to like, though? Even though I was a random drop-in off the street, she listened to me describe the project, and what I was looking for, and then promptly and cheerfully got me a bunch of books to look at. We talked running and business in the meantime.

Some Cool-Looking Books That I Can't Read

Some Cool-Looking Books That I Can’t Read

More Cool-Looking Books That I Can't Read

More Cool-Looking Books That I Can’t Read

More than once when I was thumbing through the books, Orly had to come over and turn them the right way up, because apparently I don’t know enough about Hebrew to realize when I am holding a book upside-down.

I said my few accumulated Pimsleur Hebrew phrases to her, and she said they sounded great. Pimsleur tends to generate that response, I find. You really get to hear the accent and work on it.

My strategy with Hebrew is: focus heavily on Pimsleur for a couple of weeks, in order to get as far as I can with my oral skills as quickly as possible, and then start worrying more about the grammar and writing.

As I told Orly, one thing that makes me a little nervous about Hebrew is that I am not at all religious, and so much of what I have seen in my life of Hebrew is connected to religion. In fact, I had rejected one of the language books I saw at the first store, even though an employee recommended it, because there was too much religion in the examples for my taste, though I did buy others there.

Orly and Me and the Book I Got

Orly and Me and the Book I Got

Orly said no worries, it is totally possible to separate the two if I want. I commented that this had been a problem for me with Arabic, but she said Hebrew is different.

By the way, she also told me that Americans’ Hebrew tends to be very bad. By comparison, she said, South Americans who study Hebrew (in their respective home countries) have excellent Hebrew. 

I will need to work hard.

I left Sefer Israel with free flashcards Orly gave me, as well as a newspaper with simplified stories in Hebrew for language learners. And I am looking forward to trying out the book I got there, which is very basic and even has tracing paper for the Hebrew alphabet. Just like I used in first grade at Carlthorp Elementary School in Santa Monica, when I was practicing my five-year-old’s writing skills! I LOVED practicing through tracing paper.

I would provide publishing information for the book I bought, but I can’t read it. It’s in Hebrew.

Comments (5)

mimi • Posted on Fri, November 11, 2011 - 1:33 pm EST

i have to say it cracked me up when you were stymied by an elevator operator who didn’t speak english. or any of the how many other languages you’ve learned????
good luck with hebrew! mazel tov!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, November 11, 2011 - 1:48 pm EST

To-dah! (I don’t know what the usual transliteration of that is.) I think he may have been Chinese! Not sure, though. :)

orly • Posted on Fri, November 11, 2011 - 2:24 pm EST

This was so much fun to read just now.
You have this way of writing that puts a smile on one’s face dear.
You’re amazing taking on such challenges,
multilingualism, multimarathons (3:20?)
I admire you.

Luba • Posted on Sat, November 19, 2011 - 6:24 am EST

As I promised - free Israeli TV online

My favorite Israeli tv-series “Here we live together”

Israeli version of The Biggest Loser show

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sat, November 19, 2011 - 12:43 pm EST

Thank you so much, Luba! This is fabulous.

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