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Sabbath Day – Learning Arabic

January 4, 2018


Today was both a Sabbath Day and a Snow Day in White Plains. My son and I got to hang out all day, which meant a day of games, wrestling, reading, playing in the snow, visiting with neighbors, and watching a movie.

And learning Arabic! I decided last week that I want to learn some basic conversational Arabic before visiting Palestine, so this afternoon I took the first obvious step of memorizing the alphabet: characters and names. I watched a couple of videos on YouTube and traced out pages and pages of letters on lined paper before an Arabic speaking neighbor reminded me of That did it: an hour more practice and I was getting a consistent 100% on tests. It was a very satisfying exercise. (And when I got my first 100% my son decided that he, too, would like to memorize the alphabet).

Suggestions for learning Arabic are most welcome.

During my morning coffee I finished reading what was to have been my final book for 2017: Ian Black’s brand new Enemies and Neighbors: Arabs and Jews in Palestine and Israel 1917-2017. It took me a little longer than anticipated. Black, a former Middle East editor at The Guardian, synthesizes forty years of reporting on the Middle East in a fast-paced analysis of what he calls (in the final chapter) “The Hundred Year War.” Despite being a page-turner, I didn’t have as much time this week as I had hoped to finish it. The book was grisly reading at times. For example, the litany of back-and-forth violence during the al-Aqsa Intifada brought me right back to the anger and foreboding I felt when Ariel Sharon stormed the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the despair I experienced in conversations with Jewish and Muslim neighbors on Long Island during those years, and the helplessness I felt (feel) in the face of the rightward shift of Israel during Netanyahu’s tenure as PM. Reading these pages was like reliving the news for the past twenty years – and the accompanying prayers in worship, peace vigils, hard conversations, other books I have read, and my one and only trip to Israel in 2004 as the Separation Wall was being built.

The book’s publication marks the centenary of the Balfour Declaration (1917), fifty years since the Middle East war (1967), the thirtieth anniversary of the First Intifada (1987), ten years since the takeover of Hamas in Gaza (2007) and ends just shy of Trump’s declaration regarding Jerusalem (2017). The author notes the “strange, occult quality” of the seventh year of nearly every decade, including also 1897, 1937, and 1977). It is largely a political history, drawing on a large body of both Palestinian and Israeli writing. Black recounts both the Palestinian and Israeli narratives; holds all parties accountable for their words and actions while acknowledging the great disparity in military and economic power between Israel and Palestine, and allows us to look behind the news stories to the negotiations and candid cynicism of many who claim to seek peace and/or security. Recommended reading.

2018-01-04 17.03.58

August emerging from a tunnel in the snow fort built with the neighbors

The board game August and I played was Medici, about the Renaissance Italian trade in “lush furs, rich grains, exotic spices, colorful dyes, and finest cloth.” We skipped the laundry but wrestled, tickled, did some chores, and built a fort and tunnels in the snow. We practiced (him the flute; me, the alphabet). And we watched the last hour the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (because yesterday was J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday).

Happy Sabbath.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Wilhelmine Harper permalink
    January 6, 2018 2:53 pm

    How delightful- Learning the Arabic Language. You run towards challenge instead of away from it. Also such a packed but peaceful end of 2017

    Happy New Year

    Wilhelmine Harper

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