I sing with Koleinu, Boston’s Jewish Community Chorus. There’s no auditions; it’s open to anyone who loves to sing and loves Jewish music. No pressure. Just come to Hebrew College every Thursday night and be a part of a vibrant Jewish community. Some of us read music; some don’t. Some know Hebrew, some know Yiddish, and some know neither. What we know doesn’t matter. We are all learning together. Koleinu means our voice. Our voice sings.
I didn’t tell the cashier at Israel Book Shop that the Aleph-Bet Workbook I was buying was for me. Like many of us in Koleinu, I learned to write the Hebrew letters as a child, but my skills were now rusty from lack of practice. Which way did gimmel go? What about zayin? I could never remember.
Carol Marton, our conductor, told us that the best way to learn the words to songs was to write them. Okay, I was willing to try, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t reversing gimmel and zayin. Why not brush up my skills and really learn those words? The very day after Yom Kippur, I walked over to the Israel Book Shop and bought my workbook. Middle age wasn’t going to stop me from learning.
I’d already been practicing the Hebrew, reading the words to Erev Shel Shoshanim and El Haderech aloud each night and making sure I knew what each word meant. Whew, this was a lot of work, but it was fun, too. I’d been singing in secular choruses for years, and yes, I practiced the German, French, and Latin until it rolled off my tongue. It wasn’t the same as practicing Hebrew, though. This is “my” language, although I don’t speak it. It’s the language of my people, the language of the sidur, the language of the Torah.
Every night, I trace three new letters in my workbook and practice writing them. Gimmel comes before zayin, so the loop points toward the beginning. Zayin points forward. Pretty soon I will start writing. Although Carol won’t ask us to memorize all the words, I will have to be comfortable with them in order to communicate their meaning. This is how I practice. A little bit every night. It’s fun!