In the car, on our way home, we realized that we were short on olive oil, some apples and a cucumber or two. It was a late afternoon on a Friday and all the grocery stores in the city we came from were already closed, so we stopped in Um El Fahem, a neighboring Arabic village, on our way.
While entering the store-the signs are all in Arabic. I’m checking up the groceries and the conversation around flows without me. Finally- I reach the counter and ask in Hebrew- “so, how much all of this should cost?” The young woman in front of the counter is examining me without any understanding. Behind me, an old man appears and explains my question to her. She nods her head slightly and shows me a number on the screen of a calculator. After I’ve paid her, he turns to me and ask- “why can’t you speak Arabic and ask her yourself?”, and without even thinking of it too much I answer him: “because I never really needed to know it. Each and every Arabic speaking person I’ve met knows how to speak Hebrew as well”.
I don’t know how to speak Arabic and it never really bothered me. As a child, I grew up in a small Moshav, a unique form of an Israeli village, in the north of Israel full of wide open spaces, greenery and one story houses to decorate the view. I learned how to stretch high in order to pick the fruit of the Avocado tree and how to bend down to seek for the elusive Litchi fruit hiding behind the leaves, discovered a landscape full of inspiration from the top of a roaring tractor and absorbed bit by bit the values and pioneering of those who built this wonderful world for me only a few decades ago.
In this world there was a high and important status reserved for the Hebrew language. I grew up with fields and plantations and with my Hebrew- a beautiful language with a long past and a unique rhythm unlike any other language. Hebrew was the language in which I’ve learned to read poetry, to meet with my own prayers and to adjust the heart to others. It followed me from childhood to adulthood as a second home for the mind, allowing me to express myself, to say my opinion, to tell a story and to conduct a discussion.
Arabic was also there but as a tiny portion of life: in warm afternoons of spring turning into summer, lying on the front lawn barefoot and in shorts, I used to stare into space while hearing Arabic wandering towards me in the hazy call of the Muezzin-a deep and strange melody coming from another world.
I grew up, and Arabic became a sound from my television screen, filled with hate and anger of terror attacks and calls for revenge. Suddenly it was no longer mysterious but a way to tell me that I’m the enemy. It shouted unknown words at me and before I even knew why, I understood that for those who speaks it I will never be considered as a friend.
Many years had passed and I’m no longer a child. I’ve learned to know the world I’m living in and to discover its complexity. On our way home from grocery shopping a few weeks ago, my husband decided to sing me a song. Accompanied by a band from Ramallah on the car’s sound system he sang me a song about love which he had just learned in his Arabic class, bringing to me the sounds of a melodic and happy Arabic language. In that moment, I got to see the Arabic language as what it could be for me.