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Hafook. Or, All About Trying to Learn a Language ©

By: Joan Gross

I learn words but a week later the words just sail out of my mind. A strong breeze just carries them away.

Or I may remember the word, but not the meaning. Take the Hebrew words “bakbok” and “boobah” for instance. I mix them up. One word means bottle and the second doll.

Worse, and my husband does the same thing, is we confuse the words “calev” and “kelev”. One is milk and the other is dog. It is a little embarrassing to go out and order coffee with or without a dog instead of with or without milk.

A friend taught me to order coffee by saying café hafook. Otherwise you get a tiny cup of very strong coffee. I had no idea what the word meant, but it worked. I got good coffee with milk and not a dog.

My husband was expecting someone to hang a political banner outside our living room window. The man showed up an hour and a half late, full of apologies which we could only half understand. We were thrilled though because we have not figured out how to remove the screen or the window and we were going to watch carefully to see how this man did it. It’s not just the language that is strange when you move to another country. Everything is different.

The man removed the screen. He took out the window. He climbed outside and hung the banner and in the process cut his finger. We scrambled to find him a band aid. He carefully replaced the window and the screen and was packing up his belongings when our neighbor walked in. She took one look at the sign and yelled “haffook.” The sign was upside down. The poor man had to go through the entire process again to put the banner right side up.

I was left pondering how “afook” applied to coffee and the banner and figured out – maybe not correctly but enough to satisfy myself – that when they make coffee “afook” they heat up the milk in the cup, and then they add the coffee–upside down from serving the coffee and then adding the milk.

But my affair with “hafook” continued. I was in Tzfat (also known as Sefad) with my husband. He was in a class learning digital marketing and I was set loose to shop. I was in a store looking at scarves, and suddenly the owner of the shop came to me. She touched my dress. What is this about I wondered. Then she pinched the seam at the side and pulled it out for me to examine. “Afook” she exclaimed. My dress was on inside out.

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“Hafook” I will remember. It will not sail out of my brain but remain embedded forever. If only I could actually experience other words instead of learning them by rote. I would actually learn to speak Hebrew.


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Tzfat’s Karo Synagogue is Calm and Cool

Tzfat has more knooks and crannies than any city I’ve seen. Narrow alleys give way to mountain vistas and open doorways allow you to peer into other alleys with mryiads of doors and gates.

Though in Tzfat at least half a dozen times, I never entered the Joseph Karo Synagogue. Karo, a tzadik legend, and the author of the “Shulcan Aruch” where many of us turn to with our questions on Jewish law, was born in 1488. He was a victim of the Jew haters of that time that were forced to flee Spain. His family moved to many inhospitable places until as an adult, Karo finally settled into his last residence, including at the end his grave, in the Tzfat cemetery.

A synagogue was built in his honor on the spot where he headed the Rabbinical Court of Justice but it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1837. It was rebuilt several years later but is probably not as grand as the original.

Joseph Karo was one of the great kabalists of his time and Tzfat embodies the spirit of artists and mysticism. Sitting quietly in this blue oasis, it is easy to feel spiritual and creative at the same time. Below are photos of the interior of the synagogue and two watercolors I did, including one of a gate in Tzfat (Sefad).

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