Welcome! I am Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Wisconsin. "Pulpit Perspectives: My Observations as a Congregational Rabbi" is published every two weeks to reflect my observations about life in my congregation and with my members. The opinions expressed here are solely my own. I invite you to join the dialogue!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Observations from my Sabbatical Leave: Hunt and Peck

I think I am back in elementary school.

I am using the ‘hunt and peck’ typing method again.

As you undoubtedly know, I am going to spend five weeks in Israel beginning on April 10.  One of my activities will be to help lead services and offer some one-session discussions at Congregation Emet V’Shalom in Nahariya, a coastal Israeli city located about 30 kilometers north of Haifa, and 10 kilometers south of the Lebanese border.  This 45-year old congregation is the only Progressive (Reform) congregation in Nahariya.

In these weeks before my departure, I have been asked by the congregation's leadership to offer a d’var torah (sermon on the weekly Torah portion) to this congregation at Friday evening services on Shabbat Emor, that is, the Sabbath of April 26-27.  In this multilingual congregation (Hebrew, English, and Spanish are the primary languages spoken, with some Russian speakers making up the full complement of members), the leadership requests that the d’var torah be written and delivered in Hebrew.

Further, they ask that it also be sent to the service coordinator with enough lead-time to translate it into English and Spanish for those worshipers who need it.

So to follow the custom, I am writing the d’var torah in Hebrew, and in the process I am using a very powerful Hebrew-English word processor called DavkaWriter. 

(The Hebrew idiom “davka” is difficult to translate, but it means something like “indeed,” or “naturally,” “wouldn’t you know,” or “of course.”  Here is one sample usage:  “The mother was talking with her son, and even though she tried to avoid the subject of his borrowing the car, davka, he brought up the subject himself.”)

But the composing and typing my d’var torah is a challenge.  In English I might type 60 – 80 words per minute, even with returning to correct mistakes.  But in Hebrew, using an unfamiliar keyboard and trying to compose a literate sermon, I have been plodding along at about one page per hour, or sometimes averaging seven words per minute.  I am attempting to be precise, but trying to translate in my mind and, at the same time, spelling it correctly for the benefit of a translator, has been a challenge.  (I may end up translating it myself; I'll make it easier on them...)

My conversational and presentational Hebrew is coming back to me, and I have the benefit of a powerful English-Hebrew dictionary.  But I feel as though I am a fourth grade student writing a research paper, slowly hunting the right letters, attempting to select the right words, and offering concepts and ideas that will appeal to my audience.

It is a slow process, though I feel confident it will yield a d’var torah that is understandable and appropriate for that audience.  When I finish it and secure the English translation, I will post it here for your benefit.

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