Daniel Liptz, 20, is a junior at Carnegie Mellon University. Originally from Baltimore, he goes out once a week to refresh a language he does not use in his day-to-day life.
“I went to Jewish school [and] learned Hebrew there,” he said. “If I don’t speak it, then I forget all that I learned. That’s why I came here to learn and understand more.”
Every Tuesday at the Kiva Han on Craig Street in Pittsburgh, students, Jewish and non-Jewish, who want to practice speaking Hebrew over a cup of java, meet and hold conversations in the language.
The following quotes were originally in Hebrew, and translated for this story.
Naomi Wischnia, 21, a senior from the University of Pittsburgh, originally from Philadelphia, initiated the idea of this “Chug Ivrit” (Hebrew class). The concept started at the Hillel Jewish University Center.
“It is actually a funny story. I was in Hillel, and I told Aaron Weil (Hillel JUC executive director) that I want to make an aliyah and he told me I need to improve my Hebrew,” Wischnia said. “I agreed, and then I talked to Yoni [Steinberg], who is in charge of all things related to Israel there. The rest is history.”
Chug Ivrit is still a new activity.
“This is only our second meeting,” said Wischnia. “The first time we met, we played a few games in Hebrew but we still needed a bit of English in our conversations.”
Yoni Steinberg, 24, Hillel JUC community development coordinator for CMU, is a Pittsburgh native, who, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin lived in Israel for a while.
“I came here because I lived in Israel and would like to practice my Hebrew at these meetings,” he said.
Steinberg’s experience in Israel included learning the Hebrew language.
“I was in an ulpan (a class for intensive Hebrew study) for a couple of months and that is where I really started learning the language,” he said. “Then, I started going out with Israeli friends and not just with American friends.”
Matthew Morrone, 18, a freshman from the University of Pittsburgh, hardly knew any Hebrew when he first arrived in Israel.
He picked up the language in a rather unusual way.
“Some of the Hebrew I learned was through watching Israeli television, because there was nothing on to watch in English.”
He mentions one of the country’s more popular shows, “HaShir Shelanu” as a personal favorite.
Liptz, who speaks Hebrew with hardly any verbal mishaps, still has some difficulties with the grammar of the language.
“My biggest difficulty is learning the verbs and trying to know the difference between the male and female verbs. Also, I find it hard placing the right word with the right time tense.”
Rachel Schoenburg, 18, also a freshman at Pitt, still finds it hard translating words between the two languages.
“It is really hard for me to talk in Hebrew, think in English and translate in my head. It is not my first
Eyal Dekel, a graduate student from CMU is one of a small number of exchange students from Israel to participate in Chug Ivrit. To him, it is learning English that is the main challenge.
“I still think in Hebrew and translate my answers to English. It’s all a matter of practice.”
Eventually, Wischnia hopes, anyone who shows up to the meetings will know Hebrew to some degree. “Our goal is that each person who comes will improve their Hebrew skills,” she said.
(Alon Melamed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)