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Living and Learning a Language

Riccardo Ricciardi smiling headshotAfter two years of studying Hebrew, Jewish history, rituals, Torah, and Haftorah readings, the day I yearned for had finally arrived. I was invited to go to the bima (the raised platform in the synagogue from which the Torah is read and services led) to read the Torah for the first time…as an adult Bar Mitzvah. I got up from the pew and walked with the solemnity of a monarch, all regal. My kippah (the cap worn to fulfill the customary requirement that the head be covered) was my crown, my yad was my scepter, and my tallit (a fringed garment worn as a prayer shawl) was my coronation mantle.

“Queen Elizabeth, eat your heart out!”

When I got to the bima, the scroll was opened. I placed the tip of the yad on the passage. I did more than just read. I chanted every word like a Greek poet. I radiated. As I returned to my pew, people from both sides of the aisle stretched out their hands.

On my way home, I wanted to remain in the state of euphoria. I kept repeating in my mind, “I did a great job,” over and over, trying to convince myself, but despite my attempts, self-doubt crept in. The truth is that I felt like a fraud. I knew every word, except to me the text was scribbles. It did not resonate in my mind and soul.

Was I saying these words because of tradition? Because I wanted to be part of the “in” crowd? To show off? Maybe go to Israel and strut and swagger my way around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? I realized that was limiting myself by just rote memorizing words and phrases, with a vague assumption of what it meant. By just “getting by,” I was depriving myself of the rich history of the text and the Jewish people, my ancestors.

Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a life of its own, and when combined with words and sentences, it becomes an entity that speaks of thousands of years of history and proclaims the struggles of the Jewish people, and the lives of the ancient Israelites. We learn about the G*d of Israel, who also is the G*d of Christianity and Islam. Learning a language means feeling each word and experiencing it in your mind, body, and soul. When you learn, your mind grows and expands.

Knowing that learning and understanding a new language requires time, dedication, and commitment, along with its barrage of grammatical rules, syntax, verbs, etc., how does a person with ADHD like myself learn Hebrew? I pick up a word. I repeat it, over and over. Then, it becomes part of me. I follow each word and I make it part of my life, whether it is a verb, an adjective, or a noun. I look for words and phrases and feel how they resonate within me.

Meet the Author

Riccardo Ricciardi

Riccardo Ricciardi had the opportunity to witness and experience the impact of disabilities on people around the world firsthand through his work in the United States Air Force and as a flight attendant. He is a bona fide computer nerd.

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