Clear communication between people is far from automatic. As a matter of fact, it’s often the exception rather than the rule. When people don’t speak the same language, they will obviously have difficulty conversing. But even when people speak the same language, they often don’t really speak the same language. And this is where the trouble begins.
My husband’s parents were true Europeans who hailed from Hungary. My father was born in Austria and my mother was born in the United States. Due to my upbringing, I pronounced words drastically differently from my in-laws. Shortly after my husband and I got married, my mother-in-law asked me what our plans for Shviis were. The only Shviis I knew about was related to the laws of shmitah. These were the days before my husband and I made Aliyah, and I wasn’t sure whether or not it was the shmitah year in Israel. But even if it was, why did I need to plan for it if we were living in the United States? I didn’t get it. My husband read the confusion etched on my face and was quick to explain that Shviis was his parents’ way of pronouncing Shavuos. Ah. Now it made sense. She wanted to know where we would be spending Yom Tov. It took a while for me to adjust to my in-law’s pronunciation, but once I did, the pronunciation I grew up with actually began to sound a bit funny to me.
Shortly after we made Aliyah, a good friend of mine from way back invited my family to the Shabbos celebration of her son’s Bar Mitzvah. It took place in one of the chareidi cities in Israel. After davening, I commented to my husband how I was duly impressed with the Bar Mitzvah boy, who leined the entire parshah and the haftorah even though he suffered from a speech impediment. He read with strength and exuded confidence. Not one mistake. You see, I went to Yeshiva Dov Revel and was taught Hebrew pronunciation in hav’ara sefaradit. I was somewhat familiar with American Ashkenazi pronunciation but I had not been exposed to the Israeli Ashkenazis accent. It sounded off to me. My husband explained to me that the boy does not have a speech impediment at all. This is how he was taught to lein. On purpose. Over the years, I have also gotten more used to Israeli Ashkenazi pronunciation. But at that time, I couldn’t really wrap my head around it. I just figured that a speech therapist could make a living in that shul alone, as the entire kehillah suffered from the same speech impediment.
Kids learn what their parents model, so my kids are also able to say things that have multiple meanings. When they express joy for my husband and myself when we are invited away for Shabbos, they are also thinking: This will be a great opportunity to invite our friends for a fun, parent-free environment for Shabbos. My kids are very responsible, so I don’t worry that they will do anything reckless or damage our home. But the request does cause me a bit of angst. I work hard to keep my kitchen kosher and worry that with the younger generation puttering around in there with no supervision, my kitchen will end up with a new unwanted status. I always have to remind them that steam really is a thing - not to mention pareve, which causes untold confusion. My husband believes the whole concept should just be abolished.
Sometimes, lack of communication is due to the fact that people don’t always mean what they say or say what they mean. When my husband and I first got married, I tried to cook (meaning, show off my culinary abilities) all kinds of dishes for him and learn his likes and dislikes so that I could prepare the foods he preferred. My husband is not at all a picky eater. Sometimes he loved, loved, loved what I made. And sometimes he just liked what I made but let me know that it wasn’t his absolute favorite. But he never disliked anything. When dinner wasn’t his “favorite,” to me that meant that I should continue to make this food, but not often. One evening we went out to eat. My husband was not at all happy with what he ordered and uncharacteristically complained to me quite a bit about the excuse for food sitting on his plate. At some point, the waitress came over to ask if everything was okay. I expected her to be given a vivid lesson about what actually constitutes food (in a polite way, of course). But to my horror, all my husband answered was, “It’s not my favorite.” Oops. Um…oh, I see. I was the one given the brutal lesson. Talk about a blushing bride. But I’m a quick learner. With a wounded heart, I quickly grasped the fact that my visions for taking over for Martha Stewart with my constantly expanding cooking talents were not as realistic as I had hoped. I immediately understood that when my husband tells me that dinner is not his “favorite,” it’s his ever-so-gentle way of saying is that it’s vile. Don’t even bring those ingredients into this house again.
While issues of communication certainly crop up between people, this is not the case with our communication with Hashem. Fortunately, Hashem understands us even better than we do ourselves, irrespective of what language we use to reach out to Him.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.