My daughter, Cathleen, was born in California. Her husband, Edan, arrived from Israel a few years ago. My granddaughter, Caedan Ray, goes to Temple Pre-School, where many songs are sung in Hebrew, where the cantor, when he teaches the little ones a song, counts off “One, two, three, go!” in Hebrew.
Caedan knows the Sabbath prayer. She greets her family with “Shabbat Shalom” and that’s about all I understand from their Friday night ritual. Even if I did understand Hebrew, I’m not sure I’d grasp what the three year old is saying. She doesn’t have a hard “r” sound in her arsenal and she does some creative things with l’s and y’s. It’s easy to imagine why Mommy and Abba smile when Caedan says the prayer.
When I arrived for a visit recently, I rang the doorbell and the little girl answered. Behind her, I could see Abba chatting on the phone. The little one (“Yiddie for short – her “l/y” situation results in her saying “yiddie” for “little” and we’ve added that to her list of nicknames) gave me a hug and said, “shhhh, Abba is talking to Einat (A-not) in Israel.” Then she said quite slowly, to be sure I understood, “He is talking Hebrew.”
My daughter and I ask Abba if he speaks Hebrew to Yiddie when they’re home alone. He says he forgets, because he enjoys English so much. His English is colorful; a bit more formal than the way it’s taught in America, with fewer contractions, but then he tosses in the occasional “dude” and “s’all good.”
So – Caedan has English. And pre-school speak. And bits of Hebrew. And she has Dora The Explorer on PBS. She watches faithfully and shouts out the answers in Spanish.
Many neighbors near her home are Spanish-speaking. One boy, Eric, goes to school in his wheelchair. He waits out front with his parents for the special van. Caedan stands eye to eye with him and says “Hola, Eric.” His parents smile, pat her on the head, and say a whole bunch of sentences I don’t understand. Yiddie smiles back and this goes on for a while.
I have no idea if she understands what Eric’s parents are saying. In her world, everybody speaks different languages, so maybe it’s already second nature. While she works on her l’s and y’s and r’s, Eric’s parents are working on English and Abba will soon be working on the answers to his citizenship test.
Ó Anita Garner 2008