Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The problem with vowels

I can read a bit of Hebrew. I learned it at school and my mother is a talented Hebrew teacher. So I can tell you that I am familiar with all of the 27 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, even the ones that sound the same at the end of words but take a different form.

But there’s one letter that has long been the bane of my life and that is the vav.  

The vav can be said three ways:
·         As a consonant you say V
·         With a dot on top you say OR
·         With a dot in the middle you say OO

I have no idea why I struggle with vav. It isn’t the hardest letter. Kaf, for example, also has three forms. But kaf is not my problem. Vav is.

I was walking with my friend Naomi on the Heath last week.  All good Heath walks include a coffee stop at Kenwood House, but it was raining so we couldn’t sit outside, and she had her dog with her so we couldn’t sit inside.  We stood in the covered courtyard with coffee-cups in hand, looking out at the rain, and I found myself telling her about my vav complex.

I told Naomi how hard my mother had tried to teach me the difference between vav with the dot on top and vav with the dot inside.  She tried teaching me with games, with explanation and with repetition and with patience. Despite all her skill and efforts, the penny never dropped for me.

As I stood in the courtyard, I noticed I still couldn’t remember which way round it was. It was obvious for Naomi. It wasn’t for me.  It was such a small thing but I couldn’t remember the difference no matter how hard I concentrated.

A few days later I was standing in synagogue, without a coffee-cup in my hand but still with vav on my mind.

It suddenly occurred to me to test my abilities to read vav correctly while singing along loudly with everyone else.  

It was the beautiful concluding prayer sung when returning the Torah to the Ark. The prayer begins with lines from Proverbs, concerning the finding of wisdom.

I watched myself singing along all the while looking ahead in my prayer book, scanning for approaching vav’s.

A tree of life to those that reach for her
And whoever holds on to her is content
Her ways are pleasant and...

There was a vav coming. What was going to come out of my mouth when I sang:

… her paths are peace

I got it right.
I felt like I was clearing hurdles as I ran around the track.

Take us back God to yourself
And let us come back

My voice soared along with everyone, correct again and again,

Make our days new like it used to be

I was perfect.

As the doors of the Ark closed and the notes of the prayer faded,
I realized there was nothing wrong with my brain
That there never had been
And that when the situation demands it, the right words will always be there

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