My First Story: Hebrew, Hell, and Hovercoming It All

Ech omrim “poetic license” and “alliteration”?

Shana tova, my loyal readers! I hope everyone had a nice Rosh Hashana. This is the time of year for reflection and I thought I’d share some of my own with you.

If you hadn’t heard, storytelling is a big deal these days. I’m not sure why storytelling wasn’t always big but apparently someone hipper than I decided it was trendy. All over the world, groups are putting on events to share, entertain, and reveal something about themselves.

I was recently asked to take part in FuckUp Nights, “a global movement born in Mexico in 2012 to share publicly business failure stories.” According to this map from their website (linked above), these are all the worldwide locations to have held an event.


Apparently Russia has never fucked up.

Between this and the various other storytelling events in town, I had either considered doing something myself or been invited at least a few times but hadn’t gotten around to saying yes. When my friend and local volunteer Margaux called me in early September, I finally said, “sure, why not?” even though the event fell on my birthday.

Either I wasn’t clear on the theme of “business” failure or I only realized it when it was too late. (I’m going with the first one.) Whereas the first three speakers of the evening were all superCEO/startupistim-types (that’s Hebrew for “start-up people”) talking about their corporate lives, my profile and story were a bit different, which was fine by me (aside from the minutes beforehand where I thought, “am I going to look like an idiot?”) From everything I had heard though, storytelling has become so popular because people tell personal stories. The only person I knew to use as an example was Mike Birbiglia, a standup comedian who is just getting bigger and bigger all the time. Here’s my favorite story of his which as a sports fan, I love.

As I say at the beginning of my talk, this wasn’t the same to me as doing standup. Imagine you’ve given a sales talk to your customers 45,000 times. Then you quit your job, take a new one, and find yourself pitching a new product for the first time ever. Can you imagine being nervous? You should because you’d have to learn something brand new and develop confidence from scratch (as evidenced by my saying “you know” 485 times). This is really hard for people to believe or imagine before I tell them that, no, it wasn’t easy. Plus, this was a story more than just a bunch of jokes and I tried to do what I thought we’re “supposed to do” by opening up.

Anyway, my story was about my troubling relationship with Hebrew. I am guessing many (most? all?) immigrants will be able to relate to at least part of it. I was hesitant to share publicly but the first couple of people I sent it to loved it so what the heck.

To my pleasant surprise, it went quite well. I was far less nervous than I expected and the feedback was great. Not that it couldn’t have been, only in relation to the amount of time I had to prepare and practice.

Nobody said aliyah was a rose garden. Can anyone else out there relate?

Here’s to a year of happiness, health, and overcoming personal obstacles.

  • me
    Posted at 08:30h, 06 October Reply

    I am unsubscribing. I hope you will “learn” to use #&* characters instead of writing out obscene four-letter words.

    • Benji
      Posted at 11:37h, 06 October Reply

      That’s actually the name of the event. I didn’t choose to use expletives just for the f*** of it.

      Just curious, does that mean you don’t watch any movies or TV shows with profanity?

    • Isobel
      Posted at 21:49h, 06 October Reply

      If everyone knows what the “#&* characters” stand for, doesn’t that make them just as “obscene” as the original words? I’ve never seen the point, myself.

      • Benji
        Posted at 21:56h, 06 October Reply

        It’s also weird to me. The words are so ubiquitous now; we should decide they’re “in” or “out”. In between is dumb. Like to insert them into TV shows but then bleep out 75% of it so you can still read their lips and hear the “K” at the end….what purpose does that serve?

  • Kira
    Posted at 15:13h, 06 October Reply

    Benji, one of your Facebook fans here. First of all, you’re great and we love you.

    Second, yes, that is how good your Hebrew is going to be, and yes, that is totally ok. Israelis don’t seem to care if we make grammar mistakes or use the wrong phrase. It’s not like New York, where people make fun of immigrants’ mistakes to their face.
    Even if you didn’t fulfill your dream of speaking like a native, you’ve fulfilled your dream of Aliya, and that’s what really matters. (And, you can make fun of the natives in their own language, even if it’s just snippets, and it’s awesome!!!)

    Second – you really don’t watch Eretz Nehederet? Aren’t you buddies with some of the comedians on there? Shachar Chasson? I bet you anything that your Hebrew is good enough to enjoy it.

    Third – the dating solution is simple: look for Anglos who have Israeli friends. Best of both worlds Speaking of which … there’s a Facebook group of people who would be delighted to look for women to introduce you to… just let us know. It’s a nation of Jewish Mothers, and you’re our cousin once removed….

    • Benji
      Posted at 15:39h, 06 October Reply

      You are very kind. Thank you.

      No! : ) I don’t watch!!!!! There are so many reasons. Part of it is that it also feels like work. I just rented Season 1 of “Ramzor” in hopes of creating a new comedy presentation. If I watch, it’s like killing two birds with one stone: I get to enjoy it and I also get to talk about it in my presentation. But that makes it doubly hard to watch (because it’s something I “have” to do.)

  • Bithia
    Posted at 15:44h, 06 October Reply

    Hi Benji,
    Don’t give up on your Hebrew! There are so may ways to learn Hebrew, I have never done an Ulpan in my life and I am proud to say the last few months I became an Ulpan teacher, among other things. Hebrew is great, it’s a gymnastic of the mind, you have one simple single word, then Bam you can make so many words from there, the sky is the limit. For my first lesson, I always put on the song ” Hebrew man” , you should check it out,. it’s in English and it says it all 😉

    • Benji
      Posted at 15:47h, 06 October Reply

      Thx for the support. I guess by now I know myself well enough. It’s definitely not about time/possibility but effort/motivation.

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