Monday, December 21, 2009

A Lesson, in Song

In June, for my birthday, I treated myself to a 4-night cruise to Cyprus, Rhodes, and Mamaris, Turkey. I sailed on a reconditioned ferry, run by a small Israeli cruise line. We sailed out of Ashdod, and I soon learned that, aside from some crew members, I was the only English speaker aboard.

I wasn't fazed by that. I've been living in Israel for almost ten years, and by now I'm fairly fluent in Hebrew. I chuckled when I realized that all announcements were going to be only in Hebrew, but again, no problem- I understood every word. Food wasn't an issue, either, as after 10 years my tastes now often lean more toward the Israeli than American.

I signed up for shore excursions in each port, and once I decoded the Hebrew words for Cyprus, Athens and Rhodes (each roughly pronounced as 'Kafrisin', 'Atoona', and' Rodoos'), not only was I able to understand the guides' narratives, but I was able to participate in the question and answer give and takes that were a part of their repartee.

A substantial part of my enjoyment of that cruise was how easily I felt I fit in - no language barrier, and culturally, at least to the storekeepers in each port, I was as much of an Israeli as anyone else on the ship. For someone who will forever be known locally as an 'American,' being thought of as just another Israeli in the group was nice.

In general, although my accent will always disclose my immigrant roots, I've been pretty well absorbed into Israeli society. We have Israeli friends, with whom we speak only in Hebrew, and there are even some popular Israeli songs that I find myself humming more often than old English language favorites.

But, every now and then, we find ourselves in a situation that flies our immigrant status in our faces.

This past Saturday night was one of those times:

One of our friends is a retired music teacher, and every year he holds a sing-a-long in his home. 30 or so friends cram into his living room; song lyrics are projected onto a wall, and his sons accompany us on piano and flute.

My husband and I did our best to join in the singing, but we soon were stealing mirthful glances at each other. We were surrounded by friends who were belting out songs they had grown up with, and we enjoyed joining in as soon as we caught onto the melody. But aside from the occasional song we recognized (and gave ourselves a happy squeeze when we did), we were definitely in new territory.

To anyone who had grown up in Israel, or who had raised children or grandchildren here, the evening's songs were old, comfortable favorites. But to 'lone immigrants' like ourselves, who have no young ones at home or nearby, each song was a new revelation.

What a joy to be in a room filled with friends and song; all of us having a great time! And, while we were trying to catch on to each melody, we had a chance to carefully read the lyrics of each song, and gain a greater appreciation of their loveliness that we would have if we had been able to join in the singing from the first chord.

As we sat on that small couch towards the back of the living room, we knew we were also sitting on a small island of immigration- and that for as long as we lived in Israel, that couch would never be far away. To the surprise of neither of us, we're perfectly fine with that. We'll always have new lyrics to learn and enjoy, and the accompaniment of friends to help us learn the tune.

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