Short Stories and poetryJamie Glaser
|Aleph, Bet,spin, spin, spin Aleph Bet, spin, spin, spin!
A Hanukah Tale
Nathan Goldman sat in his first grade classroom, twisting his pencil between his hands, watching it spin, making him dizzy. He tapped his toes and looked at the clock. 2:24. Six more minutes until second recess! Should he play Superheroes on the playground and climb the rock wall like Spiderman, or play soccer and try to get the ball past Oliver this time? He had six minutes to decide. Either that or pay attention in Hebrew…. He didn’t do that often. Nathan loved school. It was the reading and writing he didn’t much care for.
He looked up. Morah Emily was looking at him and smiling. Do you know this Hebrew letter? It’s the first one in your name!
The class giggled. Morah Emily looked at them then back at Nathan.
Yes, but in Hebrew?
Morah Emily smiled. It does look like a gimel, doesn’t it? But Gimels have tails, and this letter does not. Oh, he said, its a noon?
Close! A nun. Very good Nathan.
Morah Emily picked up her bell and rang it. Time for recess, class.
Before grabbing his coat and darting outside, Nathan looked back at Morah Emily. She was so nice, he felt bad he didn’t like her class as much. Hebrew wasn’t easy, that was all he had to say.
Very good Nathan. Morah Emily picked up her bell and rang it. Time for recess, class. Before grabbing his coat and darting outside, Nathan looked back at Morah Emily. She was so nice, he felt bad he didn’t like her class as much. Hebrew wasn’t easy, that was all he had to say.
Nathan was hanging upside down on the monkey bars, enjoying the feeling of blood rushing into his head, as he saw his mother walk up to the gate.
Excitedly, he jumped down, spotting the perfect landing.
Cool dude, Aaron commended him. Wish I could drop like that.
Thank you very much. Nathan took a bow. Then he ran up to greet his mom.
He approached his mom talking to Morah Emily, both ladies looking serious. This can’t be good, he thought. He knew he’d been goofing up a lot in language class lately, especially Hebrew and english too. Languages were not his idea of fun. Soccer and running around the playground chasing his friends at tag was. Being the monkey in monkey in the middle was. Language class was about as fun as sitting through temple. That was boring too.
He looked up at his mom and Morah Emily. They both smiled at him. He felt a little better.
Hi Nathan, his mom said, giving him a hug. How was school?
He hugged her back, while he thought about how to answer that.
Pretty good, he answered slowly.
Morah Emily smiled again.
Nathan I have been talking to your mom a little about your struggles in Hebrew class.
Am I in trouble?
Not at all, she answered.
Some people LOVE language, and some people don’t care much for learning it.
Do I get to sit out in Hebew? He asked excitedly.
Nope, sorry. You still have to participate, but your mom and I were discussing that three days a week, at 4:00 until 5:00 you are going to have a tutor come to your home to teach you Hebrew and help you get caught up. You know the really cool part?
So far nothing was cool, so he nodded.
The tutor is my grandfather! His name is Yusef Seigel and he is from Israel. He is also a retired rabbi and he spends some of his time teaching young boys and girls Hebrew and Israeli culture. He even helps older children prepare for Bar or Bat Mitzvahs.
Oh, Nathan replied quietly.
He sounded like an important man, and Nathan did not want to sound rude or anything but the idea of doing school AFTER school was not a fun one.
Ok, he replied. It might help…
Nathan, I promise you you will like my grandfather. He is very nice and besides that he has a lot of fun ideas on how to teach Hebrew. You may even have some fun! She made a fake surprised look on her face.
He smiled. Ok, see you tomorrow, Morah.
Nathan sat in the backseat of his mom’s car and looked out the window. He watched the trees whiz by as well as buildings. He noticed for the first time, that almost everything had words on it. He had a few sight words he recognized, like pizza, it, and, grocery, etc. But he wished he could really read, as well as some of the other kids in his class. His big brother Josh was a great reader. He was eleven and already excited for his Bar Mitzvah. Nathan wasn’t sure how anyone could be excited about reading Hebrew in front of people. Yikes.
Are you ok back there sweetie? His mom asked.
Yea, he replied, still a little lost in thought. Mom, when is rabbi Seigel coming to teach me Hebrew?
Tomorrow at 4!
Will you be home too?
Yep. I might sit in for a few minutes and then get some work done while you get some work done too. Don’t worry, she smiled. This probably isn’t going to be as boring as you imagine!
Nathan was outside enjoying his last evening of freedom, shooting hoops when his brother Josh came up bouncing a ball.
Wanna play horse?
I gotta have a tutor.
His name’s Rabbi Seigel, I think it is? He’s gonna teach me Hebrew. I hope it isn’t boring.
Rabbi Seigel? Wow, Josh exclaimed. You’re lucky! I wish I had him for my Hebrew teacher, but he’s totally booked. How’d you get him?
Um, he’s my teacher’s grandpa? Do you know him? Is he nice?
I’ve never had him but all the kids I know who he teaches LOVE him. He’s crazy funny and has an accent from Israel.
Josh tossed the ball into the net and caught it on the first bounce. Let’s play!
Nathan loved Hanukkah. It was coming up in a few weeks, and he was so excited to write a list of all the toys he wanted. Eight nights of presents, what could be better? He loved all the Jewish holidays. They were so much fun. He loved helping mom make latkes in the kitchen as long as he wasn’t in charge of adding onions. Yuck. He loved when Grandma and Grandpa came to light the candles. Sometimes they would bring their dog, Rudy too. And of course presents for him and Josh.
Soon enough it was Tuesday afternoon at 4. Nathan went inside, had some Oreos and milk and sat in the kitchen. He hoped Josh was right and this guy was nice. He had never had a tutor before, he wasn’t sure what they did.
Erev Tov! Nathan heard a man’s voice speaking Hebrew? In the hallway. Erev tov Mr. Seigel! Nathan’s mother greeted him. Please, you may call me Yusef. Young Nathan may call me Mr. Yusef. So at least he remember’s I’m a teacher!
Nathan peered curiously over the wall that led to the hallway from the kitchen. He looked at the rabbi, He was very tall and wore long black pants and a white button down shirt. On his head was a black yarmulke. Yep, he was a rabbi alright.
Just then Mr. Seigel peered around the corner too. Oh, you must be Nathan! Nathan nodded. It’s so very good to meet you. Are you ready for some Israeli dancing?
Huh? He thought we were going to learn Hebrew!
Rabbi Seigel took out a small radio and popped a disk into a slot. He looked at Nathan. He pointed to his leg. See this? Then he pointed to his head. And see this? This “rosh” won’t work too well until these regalim move around a bit. It’s funny how the human body works.
After about ten minutes of trying to follow a very jumpy Israeli dance Nathan and Rabbi Seigel sat down. They were both tired!
Well, I am glad the Beit Rothschild Singers got out our shpilkes!
What’s a shpilke?
Technically, it’s a Yiddish term meaning “butterflies”. But people use it to mean that they’re ansty. Either way, it’s about bugs.
Nathan laughed. This guy was alright, but they were supposed to be learning Hebrew, not Yiddish!
Nathan, the rabbi began, we just danced to some Israeli music here. Your’s truly knows the words for two reasons. First Hebrew is my first language. It was English that made my head spin at first. I mean, how can Lucy plant a rose, and at the same time, Shmuel rose from the seat? Oy. So many different words with different meanings. Don’t worry, Hebrew is not as complicated, I promise! Plus, Nathan, do you know how many letters there are in the english language?
No, I’m sorry I don’t. He replied.
It’s ok. There’s 26.
Do you know how many letters are in the Hebrew language?
Like a thousand? He thought to himself. He nodded. 24! That’s it, just twenty four little letters. Not so bad, eh?
No. Rabbi? Was it hard for you to learn English?
Nathan you and I are both lucky guys, do you know why?
He nodded again.
Do you know how old I was when I started learning english? Seven!
I’m seven too!
Right! We were learning different languages at the same age and do you know why seven is such a good age to learn?
Rabbi reached into his briefcase and took out a sponge. Feel that. Nathan touched the sponge. It felt damp and squishy, and a little gross.
It’s wet, he replied.
Yes, it is wet because it can absorb liquid. When we are young, ok when you are young, I’m ancient over here, your mind can absorb things. Like languages, factoids, ideas, you name it. Nathan, your brain is a lean, mean, learning machine!
I think mine needs batteries, Nathan replied quietly. It’s not very fast.
Nonsense! Some of us just learn differently. My granddaughter is an EXCELLENT teacher. But Emily is a good teacher for those children who excel at sitting and learning. So many do. But a few don’t. Nathan your Ima, your mother told me you enjoy being active yes?
Yea, he replied.
Tell me, what are some of the things you enjoy doing.
My favorite thing is playing horse with my brother. It’s a basketball game, it’s really fun! Especially when I win. I have a jump shot like a pro! His face lit up.
Ahh, there’s a smile, the rabbi grinned. We seem to be running low on time today due to our dance lesson and discussion and all. I am going to leave you with a few Hebrew words to look over. He winked. Just because I am a teacher after all. And Thursday at 4pm, you, me, outside. We’re going to play SOOS!
Hebrew for horse. Thursday will be a day of fun, of Mr. Yusef sweating in his Yarmulke and Nathan learning two Hebrew letters!
Whoa, that sounds cool, see you Thursday rabbi.
Nathan do you know you just said a word in Hebrew?
Yes. Rabbi is Hebrew for teacher!
Oh, maybe Hebrew has some easy words because Rabbi is easy to say.
Yes! Oh Nathan?
Go easy on the old Rabbi Thursday when we play SOOS! He pretended to fall over.
Nathan giggled. Ok. He said. Even though this was kind of like school, Nathan was actually looking forward to Thursday.
The next morning at school Morah Emily asked Nathan, right before the class went outside for recess if he enjoyed his first tutoring lesson. Usually when Morah Emily asks him a question it’s one he doesn’t know so he takes his time and answers quietly. But this time he had an answer and it was a good one.
Great, he replied, your grandpa likes to do fun stuff like dance and play basketball.
Basketball? Morah Emily laughed. I bet you’ll give him a run for his money there!
Nathan wasn’t sure what money had to do with it, but he was very glad Morah Emily set up her grandfather as his tutor.
Nathan’s good feelings lasted until 1:45 that day. This is when Morah
Emily announced the classes end of the quarter assignment, due the day before school let out for winter break.
Class, this year we are going to all do our own presentation on the Hebrew alphabet. Meaning you get to teach the class the aleph bet in a special way. Any way. YOUR way. I want to see how creative you can be!
Nathan swallowed. Oy. TEACH the aleph bet? He was just learning it, how was he supposed to teach it?
So, how was school? Rabbi Seigel asked on Thursday.
Well, replied Nathan, it was great until Hebrew class.
Morah Emily wants us to TEACH the aleph bet! Teach it? I’m just barely learning it! He put his hands in his head. I’m not a teacher.
Ah, Nathan, that’s where you stand corrected. You see, every student is a teacher, in fact every person is a teacher. Did you know your Morah Emily taught me a Hebrew lesson when she was little?
No, but wow, she must be a good teacher if she did!
Yes, I was teaching her the aleph bet and we got to the gimel. We said, gimel...dalet...hey. She said, no dalid just hey. Gimel hey, nun, shin. The dreidel! Of course I had to correct her and say, yes, those four letters are on the dreidel but there are 20 other Hebrew letters in the aleph bet as well. He laughed at the memory. Even then she was an eager student. Anyways, this story is giving me an idea for your project on teaching the aleph bet.
Yes. Let me drag my old dreidel out of my briefcase.
Nathan had seen a lot of dreidels, as he always attended Jewish schools. He had made dreidels, some out of paper, some of clay, but they could all fit in his hand. The dreidel that the rabbi drug out of his briefcase was ENORMOUS.
Whoa! He exclaimed, that’s a big dreidel!
Yes, the rabbi smiled, some dreidels, we play with our hands for coins. This one, we’ll play with our feet, for points.
Nathan looked at him, confused. Ok.
First, I spin.
The dreidel spun and landed on its side.
For two points, tell me which letter it has landed on. Twenty points, and I have a pack of Oreos as a prize.
His eyes went wide. He LOVED Oreos.
Um, no, it’s not the nun like the first letter of Nathan, it has a tail. Hey? No hey is like a horse shape. Which one did he get wrong in Morah’s class Monday?
Gimel! He shouted.
Tov Meod!! Nathan, the rabbi exclaimed. Very good. Now, you’re two points closer to O R E Os. Nathan smiled. This was a challenge he could get on board with.
Now, you spin, and I’ll guess.
Ok, Rabbi but I think you’ll get it.
Oy, the rabbi said, it looks like a table, its on the tip of my tongue, can you help me Nathan? The word has escaped me.
That’s a hey, silly! I know because it kind of looks like a horse and horse starts with H!
Nathan, do you know how smart that is?
You used an english mnemonic device to remember a Hebrew letter. Classic language student right there! Only problem is, it was my turn so I get the two points! He winked.
I’m just kidding, two for you. Four down, sixteen to go.
They played until Nathan got 20 points and four Oreos. He popped one in his mouth and said, “Mom probably doesn’t want me to eat all four before dinner.” He handed one to the Rabbi. “Because you helped me to like learning Hebrew.”
Todah Rabah, Nathan.
That was fun, but I still don’t know what I’m going to do for my Hebrew project. Its only a few weeks away!
That, Nathan we will discover on Monday. I think a good game is the way to go. Stay tuned for more dreidels! And maybe more Oreos!
Nathan beamed. Was this normal? He was just learning something, and it was quite fun. And delicious, he thought as he wiped some Oreo dust from his hands.
On Friday Hebrew class was cancelled because the children were going to make Hanukkah candles from wax. He liked making the candles, but he was actually sort of looking forward to Hebrew class so he could show off all he had learned. It would feel good having the answer for once. Morah’s classes didn’t have quite as much moving around as the rabbi’s classes did but at least he knew more answers to Morah’s questions now, and he would feel more confident in class, he just knew it.
On Monday after school the Rabbi arrived at 4:00. Nathan ran outside to greet him.
Nathan! He exclaimed, so good to see you. I need your help. Can you please grab a dreidel out of the trunk of my car and schlepp it inside? I have six.
Six dreidels? He wondered what the rabbi was up to.
When they got inside he looked closer at some of the dreidels. The one had the nun, gimel, hey and shin on it just like last time, but the others had different letters on them. His stomach flipped flopped. He didn’t know any of these letters. Guess he wouldn’t be winning Oreos today…
Nathan. The rabbi interrupted his thoughts. Do you mind if we sit a bit before we get to spinning. Singing a song may help you become more successful in today’s game, and it might make you a better teacher when your Hebrew lesson project is due.
Nathan sat. He wanted to play dreidel and win Oreos again, at least.
The rabbi looked at him and wrinkled his brow.
Hmm. He said. How about we stand instead?
Do you remember the dance we did on our first day together?
Me neither. But do your feet remember how to dance?
I think so!
Tov. Follow me.
The rabbi lifted a foot and sang….Aleph. He held up a card with a funny shape on it.
What does that say?
“We just sang it”, the rabbi smiled.
Next we put down the foot, and Bet.
Nathan looked at the next card with another funny letter. Must be a bet.
They sang, danced and flipped cards until they were through the whole aleph bet. They did it twice so Nathan could remember. After the dancing he was tired but his brain felt good. He was ready to win some Oreos. Oh, and learn some Hebrew letters….
Each dreidel had four Hebrew letters on it. It took him some tries but he was able to identify all of the letters that the six dreidels landed on. The Oreos tasted good but the best part was that he was finally able to recite and identify all of the letters of the Hebrew language! Twenty four wasn’t such a big number to him anymore.
Rabbi, that was a great game, but we still didn’t talk about my project due next week. It’s due on Friday. I know the aleph bet, but I still don’t know if I’m ready to be a teacher.
Nathan, the rabbi asked, if I did not know how to play the game that we just played, would you be able to teach me how?
Oh, yea! He replied. It’s really easy.
Tov, just make sure you have plenty of Oreos if I win!
And do you feel comfortable identifying all of the Hebrew letters?
Nathan thought. He got a few mixed up, but overall, he felt like he knew them pretty well, and with a little extra practice, he would know them really well.
The rabbi interrupted his thoughts.
If you know the aleph bet and you know this game like the back of your hand, I bet you can teach your class!
Nathan clapped his hands. My project! I could teach aleph bet dreidel for my project!
The week leading up to Hanukkah the rabbi came over three times a week and Nathan worked on identifying all of the Hebrew letters without fault, as well as learning a few Hebrew words.
On their last day together before the Friday of the big project the rabbi took a beautiful, gold dreidel out of his briefcase.
I brought this today to show you. I want you to look at it, and tell me if you see something on it that’s different.
Nathan took the dreidel carefully. It was very small and beautiful and he felt special holding it. After a few moments his eyes lit up.
There’s no shin!
Can. Instead, what letter do you see in its place?
Correct. Do you know why?
This dreidle is from Israel. The reason that there is a peh as opposed to a shin it it is because of the message. American dreidels say Nes Gadol Haya Sham. “A great miracle happened there”, as in Israel. Sham starts with a shin, of course.
In Israel, the dreidel tells us, Nes Gadol Haya Po. “A great miracle happened here”.
Nathan’s eyes lit up. ‘That’s very cool,” he said.
Yes, it is very cool, answered the rabbi. Miracles are very cool. The oil lasting in the Hanukiah for seven additional days was so great, but the biggest blessing of Hanukkah was the determination of the Maccabees. They worked very hard to preserve their religion.
Nathan nodded, not exactly sure he knew what the rabbi was talking about.
Nathan, this month you showed a lot of determination. When we are determined, we can do great things. Do you feel ready for your game on Friday?
Yes! He replied.
Good. The rabbi handed him an Oreo. And like all Jews, after we win, we eat!
It was the Thursday evening before Nathan’s Hanukkah game presentation and Rabbi Seigel was just getting ready to leave.
Nathan, he smiled. Mazel tov, tomorrow. Technically, that means, “good luck!” Not that you will need it, you know this game, and the Aleph bet, like you know shooting hoops! You are ready.
Will you come see me present it? Nathan asked hopefully.
Nathan, tomorrow afternoon, I will be on a plane to Israel, to visit my daughter who lives there. Morah Emily’s aunt, and her cousins.
You can’t make it to my presentation?
I have family in high places. He smiled. Emily will record all of the student’s presentations and send them to me! And you better skype me the first night of Hanukkah to recite the blessing with me! Of course it will be my night, your morning, but, what does it matter? It’s Hanukkah somewhere!
Nathan’s face fell. Oh, I wish you would be able to see me teach the class, but I want to recite the blessing over the candles with you. I’ll have to ask my mom. I’m not allowed to light candles on my own yet.
The Rabbi smiled. Nathan, when we first met, I knew you were special. You have a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and even though at first you weren’t so enthusiastic about learning Hebrew you plugged in, worked hard, ate some Oreos, and learned a lot! And I must say you helped me improve my jump shot. I may be 78 years old but I am almost 6 feet tall, I should do better!
Nathan laughed. Rabbi?
I think I like learning more now. I don’t really like sitting down for a long time, but I like to listen more. Especially when games are involved. I don’t think I’m going to be a teacher when I grow up, but if I were, I would invent a lot of games to help teach the class! It’s a really fun way to learn, especially for kids who like to be active, like me!
Oh, yes, the Rabbi replied. There are many ways to teach and many ways to learn.
Your Ima tells me your brother likes to sit and listen. And you enjoy more activity. The good news is that there is no right or wrong way to learn or teach. However, it is important to respect whichever teacher is teaching, whether or not you like the lesson. Sometimes, if you go home and you didn’t have much fun at school, your lesson to take away is that you do not learn best that way. And that is ok. Actually it’s great. If we were all the same, the world would not be a very exciting place.
If we were all the same, all the kids in my class would be teaching the dreidel spin game tomorrow. But I think I’ll be the only one! And that’s really special!
The next morning, Morah Emily helped Nathan carry his six giant dreidels into the classroom. Rabbi Seigel had helped him make them for the game. Each one had four Hebrew letters on it. One had the four letters of the Hanukkah dreidel and the others had the other twenty.
At first Nathan felt nervous, but then he thought about how much fun he and the rabbi had playing together and how much he had learned in the past few weeks. If he could learn the aleph bet, he could teach it, he knew he could!
He looked at his class. “At first I wasn’t sure I could learn the Aleph bet.” It’s a lot of letters. But a really nice rabbi told me, 24 isn’t so many. Especially when they are all on six giant dreidels!”
The class laughed.
We are going to play a game. One person picks one dreidel, any one they want and spins it. When the dreidel lands, your job is to identify the letter that it has landed on. If you get it right, you get 2 points. If you get twenty points you get Oreos! Well, I don’t really have Oreos today but if you win you get to dominate and that’s good too.
Everyone laughed again.
Nathan’s class had a great time spinning the giant dreidels and naming the letters. Nathan didn’t play this time, he was the one who judged if the letters named were correct. The class named each letter landed on correctly, and Nathan correctly judged that they did. Morah Emily had a surprise. Twenty packages of Oreos, one for each student.
Before recess, Morah Emily called Nathan to her desk. For the first time, all year, he didn’t feel nervous.
Nathan, she smiled. We had so much fun playing Aleph Bet spin spin spin today! I don’t think we moved around so much in Hebrew class all year! He beamed.
“After winter break, I think that Hebrew class might involve more…..movement! Thanks to you, and my grandpa I was reminded that there are so many ways to teach because people have so many ways to learn! “
“Really?” he asked.
I think I’d like that. Morah?
Thank you for letting me borrow your grandpa. He made learning Hebrew pretty fun.
She smiled. He did for me when I was little too. That’s why I went into teaching myself. I hope I can be as good a teacher as he is someday.
I think you already are. Nathan said.
Thank you, Nathan. That means a lot.
It was the morning before the first night of Hanukkah. Nathan and Josh were in the living room watching SpongeBob when their mom came in to say Nathan had a video call. It was Rabbi Seigel, ready to light the candles with Nathan!
Oops, he had forgotten, because SpongeBob was on.
Hey Nathan can I recite the blessing with you guys too? I love Hebrew! Josh exclaimed.
Sure, Nathan replied.
Shalom Nathan and Chag Sameach. I heard that your brother would like to join us, would your whole family like to join as well?
Nathan, his brother and his Ima and Abba all gathered around their unlit Hanukiah(it wasn’t officially Hanukkah in the U.S yet) and watched the beautiful candles on Rabbi Seigel’s daughters glow.
Together they recited:
Baruch Atah Adonai, eloheinu Melech Ha olam, asher kiddishanu bo mittzvo tov, vitzi vanu, le hadlech ner shel Hanukkah.
“Blessed are you, O God ruler of the Universe who has commanded us to kindle these Hanukkah lights.
Hanukkah celebrates a miracle. But it also celebrates hard work and determination. This year Nathan celebrated both.
Todah rabah thank you very much
Chag sameach-happy holiday!
Tov meod-very good
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