Jewish · raising strong girls · reading · slice of life

Read from Right to Left… and Hold the Vowels!

Isabelle and Marc met with our rabbi to review Isabelle’s Bat Mitzvah speech. At the end of lunch, the three of us talked about it. That led to me sitting with her and to some level of frustration that she’s still unsure of what happens in her Torah portion. (Click here to learn what a Torah portion is.) In Isabelle’s defense, it’s a challenging Torah portion! I tried to capture what Isabelle was trying to articulate about the big ideas, but I could tell she just wanted to be done with it. (I can’t blame her.)

The yellow sticky notes cover the block-printed Hebrew with vowels and punctuation.  This helps Isabelle focus all of her attention on the text in the left column that looks most like a Torah scroll.

After a half hour, we set the speech aside. It was time for Isabelle to review her Torah portion. As she sat there, chanting from Torah perfectly, my heart swelled with pride. Here is my kid, diagnosed with Dylexia a few years ago, reading from the Torah. Why is this such a big deal?

  1. Direction: Hebrew is written and read from right to left, which is the opposite of English.
  2. Letters: The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters that look nothing like the English alphabet’s 26 letters.
  3. Vowels: In Hebrew, the vowels are represented by marks below the letters. But here’s the thing, the vowels are MISSING when you read from Torah.
  4. Punctuation: A chumash is a printed-book version of the Torah that contains punctuation. A Torah scroll lacks hyphens, periods, etc. to help the reader.
  5. Font: A Torah scroll doesn’t have an easy-to-read, block-print Hebrew. Instead, it is written in K’tav Ashurit, a calligraphic form of Hebrew. (It doesn’t jive with what I would consider an accessible font!)
  6. Chanting: The right-to-left, hard-to-read, vowel-and-punctuation-missing words are supposed to be sung… to a particular tune! The trope marks are given to people when they’re learning the Torah portion, but those are also missing when one reads from the Torah scroll. (You can read about the purpose of the trope marks by clicking here.)

It is a lot for any kid to prepare for the day they become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah! The challenge is even more significant for a child with Dyslexia because all of the things they rely upon as support in English are GONE when they read from the Torah.

YET, despite all of that, Isabelle learned her Torah portion in a month. All we do is practice it together a few times a week. She is ready!

Now that her speech is done, it’s time for me to write mine. I’ve been putting it off since I’m overthinking how I want to structure it. That said, the speech won’t write itself, so as soon as the SOLSC is over, my next writing challenge (i.e., condensing all of my pride into a three-minute speech) begins!

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19 thoughts on “Read from Right to Left… and Hold the Vowels!

  1. I am actually welling up with tears – I am so proud of Isabelle! This post was so interesting to read and captured the difficulty of the task Isabelle must do. Good luck with your speech, Stacey. An incredible experience for the whole family! Brava, Isabelle!

  2. I’m not Jewish, so I’ve never seen this preparation up close. You describe it so well that I can imagine it. Suddenly, the nerves my students had (years ago when I taught middle school) are laid out in front of me again. What a feat this is! What an accomplishment! I am impressed with Isabelle & excited to hear about it when it happens!

    1. I’ll definitely blog about her Bat Mitzvah ceremony after the fact. I’m trying to contain myself since it’s so close. That said, she’s SO ready so at least I don’t have to hound her about practicing.

  3. You have every right to be proud of your daughter who has worked hard to get where she is. I suspect she has put in a lot more work that most of her peers, but she is sure lucky to have parents who appreciate and celebrate her hard work. Congratulations to you all.

  4. I understand this post as a mom to a dyslexic and her trying to learn Greek! She would have to do presentations 2 times a year and we found very creative ways for her to recall the words that like Hebrew, the letters look nothing like the English alphabet. I am sure she will do great and your speech will be filled with pride for your baby!

  5. I sort of feel as if I have followed Isabelle’s reading journey, as I have been reading your posts over the years. So we are all proud of her! And i understand how you can be swelling with pride about one thing and frustrated about another. But her attention was so required, full-on, here. I know your speech will be warm and wonderful.
    AND- this post is so clear, so well laid out, and has good links, that it is a great educational piece. Is there a society for parents of dyslexic children that could publish it? You are so knowledgeable, and a teacher— just imagine how many parents could benefit from understanding this challenge. you could provide a real service.

    1. I hadn’t thought of sharing it, but Dystinct Magazine is something for me to look into. Thanks for the encouragement, Fran. And, thank you, as well, for cheering Isabelle on from afar.

  6. You bring back so many memories for me. As a kid I struggled with reading English (Back then noone took the time to figure out why) so learning hebrew was a total nightmare. Three times a week for five years I wanted to cry and the worst was, I was the only girl in my hebrew school class. Having a Bat Mitzvah was important to my father, who had helped build the conservative temple we were members of. I remember writing above the hebrew words the English prounciation with a light pencil to help me look like I could read hebrew. From what I knew at the time, noone ever figured it out. How lucky your daughter is to have a mom who helps her and supports her through the challenges! I have a feeling your speech will make everyone in temple cry with joy! Mazel Tov!

    1. HEBREW IS HARD! I think many of us wrote phonetic pronunciations in to help us get by. I’m sorry the experience leading up to your Bat Mitzvah ceremony was so stressful, Eva.

  7. How amazing for your daughter. Thanks also for the detailed explanation of Hebrew and how it is written. I love looking at the script and have often wanted to know more about its intricacies. Reading right to left constantly baffles me and how people can achieve reading in totally ‘opposite’ languages!

    1. It takes over a year for a Torah to be made since it’s written entirely by hand with special ink. I cannot imagine having that kind of patience or care to do something that intricate for that long!

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