Yesterday I ran a songwriting workshop in Hebrew.
The plan was for me to come to Israel and spend an entire month preparing to present my Singing, Songwriting and Spiritual Caregiving workshop in Hebrew. I was presenting as part of the 10th Annual Israel Spiritual Care Conference, hosted by several organizations that all provide spiritual support to those facing illness and loss here in Israel.
I had, until yesterday, described myself as a Hebrew-speaker – not fluent, but happy to make a fool of myself in conversation. I knew many of the attendees at yesterday’s conference would either be native English speakers or Hebrew speakers who’s English was much better than my Hebrew. Still, the preparation I knew I would need seemed like a good challenge to increase my level of Hebrew fluency. Moreover, presenting in Hebrew felt like a way of honoring the good work people are doing here.
I had been working with a Hebrew teacher and seeking out opportunities for immersion in both the language and the culture. I had written an introduction in Hebrew and gone over it with my Hebrew teacher. I had even made a little list of vocabulary words I wanted to learn beforehand.
I was both nervous and excited in the days leading up to the conference. The picture above says, “Oh, goodie, I’m listed on this conference schedule. Now let’s hope this isn’t a complete disaster.” Right up until the last minute, I kept reminding myself I could always just present in English if I needed to.
When it came down to it I never looked up any of those vocabulary words I planned on knowing. Nor did I say anything that resembled my written-out introduction. In fact, in the moment, I felt like all my formal prep went right out the window. The door to the workshop room closed, I looked around at the people sitting in front of me, and I let myself trust what I teach:
We can use the tools of our own presence to allow others to be heard.
Being in the moment with those amazing caregivers and creating a space that allowed them to voice their own stories and insights was much more important than verbally imparting a particular set of ideas or vocabulary words.
I could not make a complicated verbal presentation of all the concepts I love to talk about around voice, song, and songwriting. But I could still do what I do best: use my own voice to bring others into song. I could guide them through experiences that would allow them to articulate what I could not.
So, no, my Hebrew wasn’t at all perfect. As my Hebrew teacher had told me (being “encouraging” in a way that only a native Israeli can) “people will understand you even with all of the many mistakes you make.” And I made plenty of mistakes, many of which just marked me as an English speaker (my Hebrew teacher also loves to point out which of my mistakes are, as she says, “typical of Anglo-Saxons”). Other mistakes involved vocabulary errors: I kept using a word that means “strange” when I meant to say “different” and I was happy when someone quietly corrected me. It was also clear to me that my strengths as a songwriter, which I can use to good effect in English, were less available to me in Hebrew. This is not surprising – having not written songs in Hebrew yet, I don’t have the same level of proficiency to help others write songs in Hebrew.
And yet, somehow the imperfection of it all, and my willingness to just let myself flow, made for a much better workshop than anything I diligently prepared to read or recite. I continuously encourage voice students and workshop attendees to let me hear their true voices – not the voice they wish they had or the voice they think they are supposed to have. Running my workshop in Hebrew allowed me to practice exactly what I preach.
If given the opportunity, I don’t know that I would do it any better, but I would be more than happy to live the experience again.