Lets Celebrate the Hebrew Alphabet

A Celebration of the Hebrew Alphabet

Here in Israel, we are in the period traditionally known as “acharei ha’chagim” (after the festivals). Following the long summer holidays and the stop-start of the festivals, this is when the school year usually starts in earnest. Young children around the country are being introduced to the sweetness of learning the letters of the Aleph-Bet to prepare them for learning to read. This year, unfortunately, because of the ongoing Covid crisis, many students have to attend school online, from home. [However (much to the joy of their parents) the educational frameworks for the early childhood years reopened this week. Children around the country are being introduced to the sweetness of learning the letters of the Aleph-Bet to prepare them for learning to read.]

In some communities, the sweetness is literal. In a custom that originated from Eastern Europe, they spread the letters of the Aleph-Bet with honey. When the boys learnt the letters, their teachers encouraged them to dip their finger into the honey on each letter and then lick it. In that way, they would always associate learning with sweetness.

Hebrew is unique. It is an ancient language and a modern one. It is the only example of a sacred language restored as a national language with millions of native speakers who learn it as their mother tongue. At school in Australia I studied the Bible but not Modern Hebrew, I could say, “And the Lord said to Moses,” but not, “I need a toothbrush.” It was magical to hear Hebrew spoken on the streets.

Revived by the visionary Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the Hebrew alphabet has twenty-two letters. The Phoenicians learnt about the letters in Ancient Israel and carried that knowledge back to Greece, where it morphed into the ancient Greek alphabet. Thus, the first few Hebrew letters - Aleph, Bet, Gimmel, Dalet - became the Greek letters of Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta.

Ancient Greek influenced the ancient Latin alphabet, which then developed into the modern Latin alphabet we use today to write English.

Hebrew is a language with a lot of depth. The Hebrew letters themselves contain magical, mystical power. Take the first letter, Aleph, for example. It is said to have spiritual meanings and dimensions. Some say it comprises three letters. The Yod above represented God, the Yod below represents Yid or Yehudim (Jews), and in the Vav in between represents the Jewish faith which bridges the two Yods.

The root of the word Alef also connects to many other Hebrew words. “Aluf” which comes from the same root, means a (military) general or a champion and the word “elef” means a thousand.

Talking of numbers, another fascinating aspect of the Hebrew letters is that each letter also has a numerical value. The first ten letters, Alef to Yod, correspond to the numbers 1 - 10. It then increases in units of 10 to 100 and continues in units of 100 until the last letter Tav, which equals 400.

I love the graphic beauty and strength of the Hebrew letters so much that it inspired many of my homeware designs. They are my salute to the wonder that is the Hebrew language.

21st Oct 2020 Barbara Shaw

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