Not Knowing an Alef from a Beis

Not Knowing an Alef from a Beis


One of my serious passions in life is genealogy. I’ve been very interested in family history for most of my 50 plus years and working on my family history and genealogy for well over two decades. Since the advent of the worldwide web, genealogists, like myself have found treasures that would not have been found otherwise. So many websites are full of information, direction, and education in this field and it truly is a genealogist’s paradise.   DNA genealogy is another world altogether and wow did we find the Hope Diamond with this one.  It is truly a fine era for people who are as passionate about genealogy like I am.

Social Media plays a very important role in genealogy. Nearly all of the websites that I work with, including LinkedIn, have some genealogy groups where we connect and network. Facebook, the grandmomma of social media sites has hundreds of groups and even subgroups pertaining to genealogy, as they do with other interests. Being a proud ‘red sea pedestrian’ (h/t to Pesach still being in the air) I belong to several Jewish genealogy groups, some focusing on regions of ancestry, as well as the more broad and general. At the end of the day, the members in these subgroups from world-over have been very helpful to me in my journey. what does the title of this essay have to do with the price of tea in Taiwan? I’m glad you asked.

Less than a week ago, I found myself in a pickle, that I’m sorry that I got into, yet I’m not sorry about stirring the pot. Someone posted a picture of a small tombstone of her late father and asked people to translate the Hebrew inscription. It read in Hebrew, “הוא אהב את משפחתו”, meaning “he loved his family”. I answered and it was appreciated by the poster as well as many others.

Some of the most simple Hebrew words were posted and Jews have no idea what was inscribed? I then wrote that I thought it was sad that Jews do not know the mere basics of Hebrew in order to translate the simplest of sentences. People can’t even translate names. In short, many don’t know an א from a ב. As a matter of fact, way too many don’t know the difference.

Well, talk about rustling some feathers.

I was banned from the group for about 3 or 4 days. People complained that I had ‘some nerve’ and ‘who did I think I was?’, etc. Administrators admonished me for my actions.

To be brief and to the point, no I was not showing off that I knew more Hebrew than they did. No, I was not showing off that I lived in Israel where I am a part of the majority. No. I was not showing off that I’m modern Orthodox and know more Torah than their Reform or Reconstructionist Rabbis do.  I was trying to wake up the marginally affiliated who either forgot or never learned the simple basics of our language.

Being New York-born and raised, I grew up knowing many different types of people.  Many 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th generation Latino Americans have a basic knowledge of Spanish, or even more. The same could be said for Asian-Americans, be they Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, etc. It’s so common for these groups of people to converse in their native languages to a certain degree and nobody bats an eye.  Yet Jews speaking Hebrew? Unless you’re from an Israeli background or you come from a very affiliated background, the chances of Jews knowing any Hebrew are very much on the slim side.  Of course, my cohorts in this Jewish Genealogy group did not at all see it that way. Although I got some likes with my responses, the overwhelming majority of the participants were outraged and offended, to say the very least.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, no I’m not at all sorry. Many people who blog here know that we Jews as a nationality have a common language and that language is Hebrew. No matter which way one swings, be they right-wing, left-wing, or somewhere in between,  Jews should have a basic knowledge of their own language. In this day and age of the internet where we have sites like or where people can learn any language for a small fee or even for free, there really is no excuse anymore, such as, “I was in Hebrew School over 40 years ago, I don’t remember a thing since my Bar/Bat Mitzvah”.

The internet is jammed packed with information. Surely Jewish people, from all walks of life,  can take some time out and learn the difference between an א and a ב.


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