Wednesday, May 02, 2007

491. Beginner Bet

I'm now in the second semester of Basic Conversational Hebrew (aka Beginner Bet), which continues to be a blast. We're going very slowly, but I have no deadline; it's nice to learn in a leisurely way. I can now tell people where I'm from and that I like orange juice and ice cream, certainly more useful than being able to discuss bulls of pleasant odor. Last semester's class, somewhat of a revolving door, consisted at various times of a guy who needed to learn Hebrew so he could move to Tel Aviv with his Israeli finacé, a Russian-American woman who came here as a refusenik in the 70s, and a Hebrew School teacher who didn't speak a word of Hebrew. (This one took me by surprise.) The apparently terrified Chinese-American father of six fluently Hebrew daughters lasted just one week. There are only three of us this time around: myself, the refusenik, and an earnest young woman who describes herself as a colonic irrigation therapist who once attended an ulpan in Israel, and who knows lots of profane slang. Our teacher is still Yossi, who spends his days in front of a class of 5th graders and finds us quite amusing. He speaks with a Yemeni accent that I could barely understand at first, but is rapidly growing on me. Whereas the cantor at my synagogue once noted that I don't articulate the "ch" sound enough when I sing, Yossi has no "ch" sound at all. To each his own.

The past two weeks of classes have been challenging, since my mouth is still in pain and it hurts to laugh. Last night we took turns reading colloquial phrases (in script, so not easy to decipher) above weird little line drawings in our textbook. The scene: a cross-section of Israeli characters stare at a punk-attired teen. The guy with the long beard says "Meshugah!" (crazy). The rotund older woman wonders if it's a boy or a girl. And the cute young guy exclaims, "Mashu, mashu (slang for "cool!")!"

"Mashiach, mashiach," read the colonic irrigation therapist. "So this girl must be the Messiah, right?"

My face was in agony for the rest of the evening, but it was worth it.


Max O said...


I am writing a paper for a class on surrealism saying that there are surrealist elements in the shabbat experience as a whole, as well as the kabbalat shabbat service having surrealistic elements. Upon googling shabbat and surreal, your blog came up where you described walking through Times Square on shabbat. I actually quoted your description in my paper, and I was wondering if you wouldn't mind emailing me your name so that I can attribute the quote properly.

Thank you very much!

Max Orenstein

alto artist said...

Wow, I'm honored to be in your paper--thank you! Emailing.


Regina said...

This was a funny post, aa... I am glad that you are finding it interesting and aren't putting any pressure on yourself...
I always wondered what "mashu" meant! Now I know!