A Battle Cry in Hebrew

In addition to donations, what if we take up the sacred task of learning Hebrew to send letters of support to our soldiers and surviving families?
October 20, 2023
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On October 7, 2023 16 million Jews around the world received their draft papers. Wherever we happen to live and especially if we live outside of Israel, we were given immediate orders to drop the mundane and to arm ourselves for the battle of our lifetimes. While our direct orders may not have the implications of front-line defense as the bravest of our heroes risking life and limb, the eternal call to action is echoed through our hearts and souls and expressed with an impassioned “Shema Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad.

Our hearts are shattered and our minds are numb as we exist with scant hours of sleep and an inner paralysis that keeps us glued to the news for any sign of hope. We have donated as much as we can financially, packed supplies for battalions, marched in support of Israel despite the vitriol of the counter narrative standing across the street, and even enlisted in the reserves from abroad. Yet, we still feel a chasm of emptiness—a calling to give the entirety of ourselves with our limited ability from abroad. In essence, what we feel is the detachment of visceral experience, of authentic communication truncated by a life lived through translation.

What if I were to suggest that in addition to the tangible support we provide through donations, we take up the sacred task of learning Hebrew as global diasporic communities with the dual goal of being able to send letters of support to our soldiers and surviving families and to authentically experience the trauma and hope of what it is like to live life through our ancestral tongue?

In many ways, this challenge is much harder than writing a check because it requires us to prioritize our time and energy to reconnect with the sacred language that has bound us together for thousands of years wherever history has displaced us over the long and tragic history of antisemitism and genocide. What a powerful message it would send to our brothers and sisters fighting for our very existence if they were to receive letters and channels of communication in Hebrew with Jews (and non-Jews!) from across the world.

We are each tasked with contributing the unique skills with which God has endowed each of us to the collective war effort in which we find ourselves. What will be your legacy in this fight?

After days of emotional and physical fatigue, I crafted my own personalized weapon to bring to the fight—based on my personal skills. I’ve never been particularly good at the quantitative fields (in math class I was more interested in Vin Diesel than the Venn diagram). But I am good at languages: learning them and helping others to learn them. Inspired by the tremendous call to action by my colleague and friend Dr. Stephen Smith, my coat of arms will be to provide access to our language to all who believe in the primacy of our sacred language by hosting a series of hour-long Hebrew language learning sessions over Zoom on Sunday evenings at 5 p.m. PST (zoom link here).

Hamas seeks to break our resolve and commitment to the State of Israel by forcing us to choose between identity and security, but they underestimate the power of the pintle yid, the divine spark within all of us to survive despite all odds, and this includes placing the Hebrew language at the center of our commitment to stand beside our brothers and sisters in arms.

It is time to put our mouths where our money is and join the fight. We will march together as a community starting from the beginning and working upward as we ascend both linguistically and metaphorically to our homeland. As Victor Laszlo said to Rick Blain in the famous last scene of Casablanca (1942), “Welcome to the fight. This time I know our side will win.” Am Israel Chai.

Lisa Ansell is Associate Director of the University of Southern California Casden Institute and lecturer of Modern Hebrew at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Los Angeles.

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