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June 13, 2012 / Rabbi Laura

It’s all Latin to me…

I live in a family of musicians. My husband, Rick, has been playing strings (banjo and guitar) since he was nine. He even boasts about having retired as a “professional musician” (i.e. paid) at the age of 18.  Our sons both play instruments as well. Strings of course.  Saul primarily plays guitar.  Max will begin the next stage of his educational career at University High School in Fresno, CA, a college preparatory high school on the campus of Fresno State that attracts students with a common interest in music.  His repertoire of instruments is up to 5 strings and a couple of brass (upright bass, electric bass, mandolin, guitar, violin, trumpet, trombone).

I spend a lot of time schlepping Max to and from various music lessons, recitals and events.  I love supporting his growth as a musician and basking of the glow of his excitement about it. He loves learning music theory, collaborating with friends, accompanying his rabbi-dad on the bima during Shabbat services.  This past year he had the wonderfully enriching experience of playing in the Youth Orchestras of Fresno.

The joke in our family is that “mom plays the radio”.  And the boys do concede that I am probably the best at “Name that Tune”…I can name that song in fewer notes than other family members.

Lately, Max has been trying to explain music theory to me.  He tries to teach me about chord progressions, transposing, how to read music and lots of other stuff I don’t understand.  He’s been teaching me different musical terms like allegro and andante.  I am finding this very challenging – the lessons he is teaching me are not sticking. Just today his bass teacher was trying to explain to me how we need to get a piece of music transposed “up a full step” for tomorrow night’s special studio recital.  I had to pass the instructions onto Max so that he would know what to do.

I’ve never really found myself in this position, in which my child is learning something so significant that I am not already familiar with.

This experience is probably very similar to that of the non-Jewish or non-Hebrew reading parent who enrolls their child in a congregational Hebrew school or Jewish day school.  That child comes home with this new language, an excitement about learning the aleph-bet, an eagerness to put letters and vowels together, to create sentences in this beautiful language.  All the while, all the parent can do is sit by, supportive, reflecting back their pride in new learning, and appreciate, but not understand. Perhaps not even participate.

It makes me wonder about our Jewish communities…

– What are we doing to help the non-Jewish or non-Hebrew reading parents feel more comfortable as their children embark on their Hebrew education?

– How many congregations and day schools are offering beginning Hebrew for adults?

– Could we be teaching intergenerational Hebrew courses where parents and children learn together?

– For those that are teaching the adults, how are we crafting learning experience for their adult learning needs and styles, or are we infantilizing them by using resources designed for children?

– What have we learned in recent years about language acquisition in adults that we should be applying to our adult Hebrew courses?

These are not new questions in our Reform Jewish world.  For me though, I am thinking about them anew.

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