Sign Language

“Why do I have to go to a Jewish school? I don’t even know any Hebrew!!!” Emma complained to her mom.

“It will be good for you,” her mom said.

Her older sister, Ruth, was listening in on the conversation.

“You’re going to need to learn Hebrew before next week. You know that we’re gonna be in Israel visiting relatives for a month,” Ruth said, seeming rather calm.

“You really expect me to learn Hebrew at my first week in a brand new school?!” Emma replied.

“Emma, Ruth!” their dad called, “It’s time for breakfast!”

Emma got up and ran to the kitchen. She sat in her chair and started to eat. Her dad had made waffles and syrup. It was delicious, but she hardly paid any attention. She was too nervous because on Monday, she would be going to a small school where she would know no one. A school with a different, unfamiliar environment. A school where she would be thought of as stupid because she didn’t know Hebrew, and it was a Jewish school.


Emma’s first day at her new school was a total disaster. Just kidding. All the kids were welcoming, along with the teachers, and no one, I repeat, no one, seemed to think of her as stupid. At one point, Emma forgot the name of the school, but because of how the rest of the day went, she wasn’t afraid to ask. It turned out that the name of the school was Beit Rabban. She made a few new friends. The names of her friends were Rose, Batya, and Isabelle. She even learned a few words in Hebrew. Yes is ken (כן), no is lo (לו), maybe is ooliy (אולי), and thank you is todah (תודה).

When Emma got home, she decided to watch a show. She walked over to the TV room. When she opened the door, she saw her sister watching a fashion show that she hated, so instead of watching TV, she had to do her stupid homework. Emma did her literacy and math homework easily, but when it came to Hebrew, she was stumped. She decided to just tell the teacher it was too hard. Then, she thought about Israel. What would she do?! She couldn’t spend a month with no way to talk to anyone!!


The day finally arrived. They were going to Israel for a whole month, and Emma still knew only a few words in Hebrew. After lunch, they went to the airport and did all of the boring things that people do in airports. Many adults call these things “important,” and “a good use of time,” but one thinks otherwise when they’re a child with no computer to play games on. The reason for this should be pretty obvious. If you don’t have your own computer, you are stuck watching all of the adults use their computers.

The plane was no better. All Emma did was sit around, eat, and sleep. Then, as soon as they got out of the airport in Israel, Emma’s life became a lot more interesting. She had heard that Israel was a little bit smaller than New Jersey, but because of all the stuff packed into it, it looked much bigger. They had rented a house in Tel Aviv (תל אביב) next to a bunch of playgrounds (which looked awesome!) While Emma’s dad and sister went to the house, Emma and her mother went to one of the playgrounds. Immediately, Emma saw a lonely looking girl sitting alone on one of the benches that circled the playground. Emma wanted to go up to her and cheer her up, but she knew that the girl wouldn’t be able to understand her, so she and her mother started towards the house to join the rest of the family.

On the way home, Emma and her mother passed a woman, who looked a little confused.

“Aypho hasifria?” she asked.

Emma’s mom pointed at a building not too far away, and the woman nodded, smiled, and said, “Todah.”

All this happened while Emma stood there completely dumbfounded.

Emma went to the playground again and again, only to find herself staring at the girl, who seemed to always be sitting on the same bench. Only once did she see someone talk to the girl. It was a woman, probably the girl’s mom. It sounded like the woman called the girl Tamar. Tamar always had that same look on her face, a look of loneliness, like she never had anyone to talk to. That was one of the main, and most important reasons, why Emma wanted to know Hebrew. If she knew Hebrew, she would be able to cheer Tamar up.

One day, the girl waved to Emma. Emma was shocked, but she tried not to show it, and just waved back. Then the next day, Emma decided to make a move. She walked up to the girl and motioned for her to come. The girl came, and they played together silently, but they constantly made hand motions to tell each other what they wanted to say.  Every day, when they were both at the playground, they would do it again and again and again. Slowly, day by day, they made up a whole language, and they called it Sign Language. A new and original name. When it was finally time for Emma to leave, instead of being happy to get home to her friends, she was sad to leave Tamar. But it didn’t matter. After all, they’d be coming back next year.


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