From Zero to Simchat

I started reading Hebrew about 7 or 8 months ago, and I have truly enjoyed every moment of learning how to navigate the language and all of its beautiful nuance. I could literally not read a word of Hebrew in January or February of this year, but with practice every day, I am now essentially reading by sight at a good pace. I find that reading Hebrew is relaxing for me, and I get to focus on something completely outside of my day-to-day earthly duties. Even more than that, I have been able to specifically practice the Hebrew that I will be reading for my Bar Mitzvah celebration without the niqqud, or the vowel symbols that go along with the letters. For those who don’t know, the script in the Torah itself does not have the niqqud, which lets you know what vowel sound you need to produce. Look at the picture at the top of the post for what the text of the Torah actually looks like. The long item is called a yad (hand), which is a pointer you use to follow along while reading.

Today, I had a pleasant surprise while I was performing my Religious School duties at the Temple. The Rabbi called me in to his office, and asked me if I was up for a challenge. Since the Torah and Haftorah readings for my Bar Mitzvah are going so well, the Rabbi wanted to keep me engaged in furthering my Hebrew reading skills and experiences. After quickly agreeing to whatever challenge he had in mind, he asked me if I would be interested in reading some Hebrew directly from the Torah during Simchat Torah service on this coming Friday. Of course, an aliyah (coming up to the Torah. Moving to Israel is a different kind of aliyah) is an honor, and I am happy to prepare myself for this undertaking. I will be reading a bit of the absolute end of Deuteronomy, and the very beginning of Genesis (B’reshit), to signify the end of one Torah cycle and the beginning of another. 

I wanted this little blurb to express how honored I am to do this, but also to demonstrate how you truly never know where life is going to lead you. Even less than a year ago, I never would have imagined that I would be reading Hebrew at the level that I am (or maybe at all), let alone be getting asked by a spiritual leader to read directly from the Torah during a meaningful service. If you are thinking about starting something new, jump in and try it. Practice, embrace it fully, and see how proficient you can become. As the words in Hebrew start to become sight words, and as my skills sharpen, a feeling of connectedness with ancients and my Jewish heritage also grows.

Are you putting off trying something new, or something you have always wanted to do because you think it’s too late, or are afraid to fail? Take a chance, I think you will be happy that you did. I started with a little yellow book with basic Hebrew letters in it, and now I am on to the ancient and holy scroll of our predecessors. It is never too late or too difficult to go for it. 

Nike Swoosh.

Shavua Tov,


Published by Joshua Gray

I am Joshua Gray. I am a husband, father, not-for-profit-worker by day, and a former professional actor/singer. I am very active in the Jewish community in my area, helping to teach at religious school on Sundays, while also serving on the board of trustees at my local temple. My relationship with Judaism is a joy of mine, and I find great pleasure in studying texts and learning more and more Hebrew. I still enjoy warbling tunes, and I even got to sing the Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, which was a definite highlight. Please feel free to contact me with any ideas for topics, conversations, or general inquiries. Shalom!

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