Israel: Learning Modern Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Part 3)

❤️! שלום לכוללללללללם

I have just completed Level Heh with a final mark of 95%. The university is really strict about the attendance. Due to my application for work and residence permits in China, I had to be away from the class for 2.5 weeks, and I have thus lost 2.5% in the final grading 😭😭😭. Another 2.5% are lost in my mid-term and final exams. Luckily, my final grade is still an A+, and I should be happy about it 🙃🙂🙃 I will just work harder in Level Vav (the highest Modern Hebrew level available at the RIS) during the summer~

Anyway, here is an updated version of my Modern Hebrew learning resources:

1. Dictionary (מילון): Morfix is a free online dictionary that allows translation from Hebrew to English or vice versa. We can type in any morphology of the Hebrew term, and the search engine will offer us the possible base forms and their meanings. Sometimes, we won’t be able to find the appropriate meaning by typing in only a single word. In that case, we can try typing in the whole phrase. For instance, כוכב is a masculine noun for “star/asterisk”, while the term לכת means “walking”. If we type in the whole construct phrase כוכב לכת, we will get the more precise translation: “planet”.

2. Hebrew Verbs (פועל):

a. Hebrew Conjugation Tables is a useful website that contains comprehensive verb conjugation tables, so we can use it to quickly check how a particular Hebrew verb is inflected.

b. Since Modern Hebrew is a rather logical and thus predictable language, we won’t need to check those online conjugation tables so often once we master the logic behind the Hebrew verbal paradigms. To achieve such mastery, check out the clear and concise explanations laid out in Easing into Modern Hebrew Grammar, Vol. I, pp. 361–613.

c. The above textbook targets students at the beginner and intermediate levels, so the exercises in the book tend to be simple and straightforward. To challenge ourselves with more complicated language exercises, we can try working with הפועל בפעולה. פועל לרמת המתקדמים (for Level Dalet) and ספר הפועל החדש לרמה ה (a trial version for Level Heh). The former allows us to conjugate a variety of strong and weak verbs in all the Binyanim (verbal stems), while exposing us to interesting Hebrew passages on topics such as זוגיות בשלט רחוק (long-distance relationship, lit.: remote-control relationship) and ״אמבטים״ (a Hebrew adaptation of the “Little Mermaid” narrative). The latter contains more detailed explanations of the peculiarities of the Hebrew verbs, such as the way to recognise some Hithpael infinitives that look just like the Niphal infinitives (e.g., להיתמם, להיטהר, etc.). It also teaches the distinctions of some homographs, such as differentiating the context when someone wants to answer (לענות, Paal) the questions from the case when someone wants to torture (לענות, Piel) those who asked the questions. 😉

3. Hebrew Syntax (תחביר):

a. Apart from the verbs, the nouns, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions, and numbers, etc., can all be inflected in Modern Hebrew. Again, we are indebted to Easing into Modern Hebrew Grammar, Vol. I, pp. 3–358, for clearly laying bare the general rules for conjugating these other linguistic components.

b. Once we have studied the conjugation patterns of each linguistic component, we can then turn to Easing into Modern Hebrew Grammar, Vol. II, and learn how to build all these components into complete sentences, by deploying various linking words (e.g.חרף, יתרה מזו, בדומה ל, etc.).

c. While the above textbook provides the theoretical foundation for understanding different Hebrew sentence structures, the following textbooks encourage us to put theory into practice: עושים עניין. עברית לרמת הביניים (a trial version for Level Gimel), בין השורות. עברית לרמת המתקדמים (for Level Dalet), and תחביר משולב לרמה ה (for Level Heh).

Modern Hebrew syntax, as far as I have observed, is rather similar to some European languages. For instance, the Hebrew speakers, just like the English, usually place the main verb after the subject in a sentence: ואכן, חיים ללא שמץ של פרטיות נתפסים כבלתי נסבלים (“And indeed, life without a shred of privacy is conceived as intolerable.”). Still, certain Hebrew sentence structures resemble the German, by placing a verb in the second position of a main sentence, even if the verb comes before the grammatical subject: באותו בוקר של שלהי אוגוסט 1940 השתנו חייה וחיי בני משפחתה מקצה לקצה (“In the same morning at the end of August 1940, her life and the lives of her family members changed completely [lit.: from end to end] ). Note that in the Hebrew sentence, the verb השתנו comes straight after the temporal phrase, while the English translation has the verb “changed” following the nominal subject “her life and the lives of her family members”. Like most French adjectives, the Hebrew adjectives are placed after the nouns they describe: אנשים חכמים (“wise people”). Note the different positions of the adjectives in the Hebrew phrase and its corresponding English translation. Remember that we read Hebrew from right to left. I am not sure how these syntactical similarities have come about, but given that Hebrew and most European languages are alphabetic and the Jewish and European cultures have interacted quite extensively throughout the history, it is understandable that many features are shared among their languages.

4. Reading Materials (קריאה):

a. Whereas Level Gimel and Level Dalet textbooks offer Hebrew reading materials adapted to the need of intermediate level students, Level Heh textbook entitled כמו כלים שלובים compiles a plethora of authentic Hebrew texts read by the Israelis. Here, we find Etgar Keret’s quirky narrative (סיפור על נהג אוטובוס שרצה להיות אלוהים) about a bus driver who wanted to be God, Yehuda Amichai’s evocative poem (אדם בחייו) that challenges Qoheleth’s perspective of time, and many other genres covering Jewish history (e.g., a report on a Japanese consul who went against his government by issuing visas to thousands of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, the letters of David Ben Gurion), legal issues (e.g., discussions about the right to privacy, the right to education, and the Good Samaritan law), and social aspirations (e.g., interviews with the Israeli cultural elites about the characteristics of modern Israeli society). The range of materials covered in the book is indeed impressive.

b. The Jerusalem Post Ivrit: An Easy-Hebrew Monthly Magazine opens another door for Hebrew learners to improve their reading skills. I first found this amazing magazine through the library of Rothberg International School. All the articles in the magazine are fully or partially vocalised, and these interesting articles on Hebrew and Jewish culture are written in three levels – beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

c. Etgar Keret’s Missing Kissinger (געגועי לקיסינג’ר) is an anthology of 46 short stories filled with eccentricity and dark humour. It has been translated into English, so Hebrew learners can read the Hebrew original side by side with the English translation. The Hebrew language used in the anthology is a mixture of formality and informal slangs (some show influences of Arabic, some from Russian, etc.). The plot is full of surprising twists and turns. The narrative characters that impress me the most include a boy who relates more to a porcelain pig than to his own parents, a man who tries to prove his loyalty to both his mother and his girlfriend by killing both of them, and a simpleton who pushes a liar/fake angel off the roof out of the desire to see an angel fly (here I start wondering who the more stupid is: the simpleton or the liar). Okay, I must admit that I have difficulties understanding some of the Hebrew slangs appearing in the stories and I don’t get the humour/meaning of some of the short stories. However, in the cases where I seem to understand, the author’s refusal to look at everything through rose-tinted glasses and his allusion to the surreal brutality of life are simply provocative and amusing at the same time.

d. Micah Goodman’s Catch-67: The Left, the Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War (מלכוד 67׃ הרעיונות מאחורי המחלוקת שקורעת את ישראל) is a Hebrew non-fiction that has been translated into English recently. In my short (almost) one-year stay in Israel, two major elections have already taken place: the Jerusalem Mayor Election in November 2018 and the Israel Election in April 2019. In the course of time, I have bumped into Israelis who identify themselves as either leftists or rightists, or who simply give up such labelling. I was confused about these categories at first, but politics is quite a favourite conversational topic in Israel, and everyone here is affected by the national politics one way or another, so Goodman’s book comes in handy for me to understand different sides of the Israeli political debates against the backdrop of the Six-Day War. Note that the book does not deal much with the Palestinian perspectives, since the author chooses to focus on the debates between the left-wing and right-wing Israelis. The language of the Hebrew original is not too difficult to understand, especially when an English translation can accompany the Hebrew reading.

5. More Multimedia Resources (מולטימדיה):

a. In the previous post, I have already mentioned my favourite podcast “StreetWise Hebrew” and the hilarious satirical TV show היהודים באים “the Jews Are Coming”, which can help improve Hebrew learners’ listening skills in a fun and creative way. Now I would like to introduce you to this awesome series סליחה על השעלה “Sorry about the Questions”, which is recommended by my Level Heh Hebrew teacher. The series is based on the Australian series “You Can’t Ask That.” In each episode, a particular group of people in the Israeli society, such as the Arabs, the refugees, the descendants of the Holocaust survivors, and those with terminal illnesses or of short stature, are asked to answer questions which people normally don’t dare to ask them. From this series, I get a taste of the diversity existing in this particular country. I personally hope that the next season would feature the Haredim, the Samaritans, the Ethiopian Jews, and the Kibbutzniks or even the foreign tourists, students, and workers staying in Israel. 😉

b. Out of such a small country comes surprisingly an abundance of TV dramas and movies. Here are more of my favourites: שטיסל “Shtisel” (TV drama set in the Haredim neighbourhood in Jerusalem), פאודה “Fauda” (TV series about the Israel-Gaza conflict), בשבילה גיבורים עפים “When Heroes Fly” (TV series touching on the issues of drug and cult in the South American jungle), נודל “Noodle” (a movie concerning the heartwarming relationship developed between an Israeli stewardess and a lost Chinese boy), זוהי סדום “This is Sodom” (a cheeky adaptation of the Sodom and Gomorrah episode in the Hebrew Bible), הכלה הסורית “the Syrian Bride”, and עץ לימון “Lemon Tree” (the last two deal with some thorny questions about the Israeli borders).

c. @hebrew_academy: This colourful instagram webpage belongs to the Academy of the Hebrew Language. Here you will find the most up-to-date information about the Hebrew language and some useful corrections of the common language mistakes. Thanks to my שותף שפה “language exchange partner” for directing my attention to this cool website! 😎

6. Afterword (אחרית דבר):

Last semester I was lucky to have Ms. Carmia Shoval, one of the authors of Easing into Modern Hebrew Grammar (mentioned above), as my Level Heh Hebrew teacher. Like the other RIS Hebrew teachers I have had, she is energetic, dedicated, professional, and knowledgeable. She taught us Hebrew in a highly creative and interactive manner. For instance, she encouraged us to go out to the streets near the time of the Israel election and to interview the Israelis about their opinions on the election. She organised the class to play and learn through the fun Kahoot! quiz game. One among many interesting topics that sparked intense discussions in her class concerns redrawing the boundary between animals and human beings in light of Yuval Noah Harari’s Hebrew interview (available on YouTube). Her moodle notes were always so neat and detailed that we were constantly reminded of what we learned and what we had to complete. Studying at RIS Hebrew courses makes me understand more deeply that effective teaching actually requires a lot of preparation, knowledge, and dedication. I have a lot of respect for these teachers!

Lastly, I would like to share with you one of the outcomes of my Hebrew learning: I can now speak Modern Hebrew~ The video clip below was submitted as part of the assigned project. All students had to speak for about two minutes about their thoughts and feelings on the Hebrew texts they read. From what I have said in the video, can you guess the content of the Hebrew passages I read? By the way, I scored full marks for this project. At the end of the course, Ms. Shoval kindly said that I am the type of student who is בור סוד שאינו מאבד טיפה 😉

Hebrew Project

Israel: The 2019 Golda Meir Fellowship Ceremony

On 11.03.2019, I was honoured to join the Golda Meir Ceremony with the other fellowship recipients. It was held at the fancy Maiersdorf Faculty Club on Mount Scopus Campus.


The venue

The name Golda Meir conveys various meanings to different groups of people. For me personally, the name is connected to education opportunities offered to students not only from the developed but also developing countries. This is not the first time I have received a university fellowship, but it does not stop me from feeling awed to see how a single institution is willing to invest so much in the education of so many. I am truly grateful for this research opportunity. ❤️


A short description of the history of the Golda Meir Fellowship Fund at the Hebrew University


My postdoctoral fellowship certificate


Can you find my Hebrew name on the list of post-doctoral fellowship recipients?

Israel: Learning Modern Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Part 2)

❤️שלום לכולם!

Here are some resources I have found useful in learning Modern Hebrew up to the Dalet Level (Lower Advanced):

1. Dictionary: Morfix is a free online dictionary that allows translation from Hebrew to English or vice versa.  You can type in any morphology of the Hebrew term, and the search engine will offer you the possible base forms and their meanings.

2. Grammar: Easing into Modern Hebrew Grammar published by the Hebrew University Magnes Press comes in two volumes, explaining almost every nook and cranny of Modern Hebrew grammar in a clear and logical fashion.


3. Vocabulary Builders and Grammar Reinforcements: These three textbooks were composed by our ebullient and knowledgeable teachers, Gali Huminer (גלי הומינר) and Zooki Shay (צוקי שי), from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They target the students at the Gimel (Upper Intermediate) Level and the Dalet (Lower Advanced) Level. They contain texts compiled and composed from a wide range of resources about the Israeli society. Through them, I have learned about the water desalination process in modern Israel,  I have read and listened to Idan Raichel (עידן רייכל)’s evocative song entitled ממעמקים that fuses the Ethiopian rhythm with the traditional Hebrew lyrics, I have deliberated the advantages and disadvantages of a democratic high school in the Israeli society. הכול בעברית! All these texts, while serving mainly to build our vocabulary and reinforce our grammar knowledge, provide interesting insights into the Israeli history, culture, and society. While the first textbook (Gimel Level) is still at its trial period and is not available for online sale yet, the next two textbooks (Dalet Level) בין השורות. עברית לרמת המתקדמים and הפועל בפעולה. פועל לרמת המתקדמים can be purchased at the website of the Hebrew University Magnes Press.


4. More Online Resources: I love listening to this Hebrew podcast entitled StreetWise Hebrew. The host Guy Sharett is from Tel Aviv and is now living in Shanghai. I like how it packs a manageable amount of information about Modern Hebrew and its slang within just 5-10 minutes per week. I also learn a little bit more about the Israeli pop music through Guy’s podcast. The English version is free for everyone, while the Hebrew version, mirroring the English version, costs 5 USD per month. The satirical TV show, “the Jews Are Coming” (היהודים באים), broadcasted by Channel 1 and now freely available on YouTube offers another fun and brilliant way to enhance my knowledge of Modern Hebrew and Jewish history. I appreciate how this group of Jews, rather than denigrating the other ethnic groups, has deployed their satirical humour in a self-critical way. Contextualising the speakers’ perspectives is all important for this show, as some of the Hebrew terms aired in the show would make the audience gasp in horror if they were to be put in the mouth of a non-Jew (e.g., a German). For Prof. Zierler’s insightful review that sheds light on the show’s attempt to bridge the secular-religious schism in modern Israel, click here.

5. Fun Immersion in Israel: There is probably no better place learning Modern Hebrew than in a country where the language is spoken on a daily basis. Our Hebrew teacher once showed us the late Israeli author Amos Oz’s explanation for the “resurrection” of the Hebrew language in the modern era:

הרגע האינטימי הזה, שבו אמר איש לאישה מילים אינטימיות, לא בספר, לא בסידור, לא בבית הכנסת, אלא מתוך צורך, מפני שלא הייתה שום שפה אחרת – זה רגע תחיית העברית

Feel free to let me know which other resources have helped you learn Modern Hebrew. 🙂

Israel: Learning Modern Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Part I)

שלום לכולם!❤️

For the past few months, I have been busy with learning Modern Hebrew at the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Now, with the arrival of Spring, I am able to share with you my exam results ☺️


10 years ago, I completed Level Aleph (Advanced Beginners) and Level Bet (Lower Intermediate) at the same institution. Therefore, the Division of the Hebrew Language Instruction here allowed me to jump straight into Level Gimel (Upper Intermediate Level) during the Autumn Semester 2018/2019. At the end of the semester, I just lost a mark in my final exam and achieved the final grade 99%. Thereafter, I enrolled in the Level Dalet (Lower Advanced) Winter Ulpan course. Even though this course was intensive, it lasted only a month, so we were supposed to cover only half of the Dalet materials. However, our Hebrew teachers—Gali Huminer (גלי הומינר) and Zooki Shay (צוקי שי)—had so much faith in the perseverance of me and two other students in the class that they kindly recommended the three of us to take part in the Dalet level test at the end of the course. Having covered the other half of the Dalet materials on my own, I am pleased that I only lost a mark in the listening test and level exam respectively. That means, I have achieved the final grade 98%. Hi, Level Heh (Advanced), see you next semester! 😀

Learning Modern Hebrew at RIS, HUJI has granted me so much joy. The students came from all around the world, the learning activities were diverse and interactive. Most importantly, our Hebrew teachers—Gali Huminer (גלי הומינר) and Zooki Shay (צוקי שי)— were so fun, knowledgeable, and professional. In the next post, I would like to share with you some of the useful Modern Hebrew resources I have learned from them. Stay tuned (המשך יבוא)!


Resource: Two Great Books on the Textual History of the Hebrew Bible

For those interested in the textual history of the Hebrew Bible, I would recommend these two great books, from which I learn a great deal:

1. Ernst Würthwein and Alexander Achilles Fischer, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica (3rd ed.; trans. Erroll F. Rhodes; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 2014). 20959398

This is an awesome introduction to the extant textual witnesses of the Hebrew Bible, including the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, etc.). The book, which is a revised expansion on Würthwein’s fifth edition published in 1988, gives a clear and systematic explanation of the differences among these textual witnesses, and thus stresses the importance of textual criticism to reconstruct the historical development of the Hebrew Bible. As the author(s) write: “Textual criticism is the doorway to exegesis, and there is no back door. It is all too rarely observed that neither the church nor scholarship possesses a single biblical text, but only a copy that has been transmitted through a particular historical tradition. As a consequence the text not only provides the basis for interpretation, but the text itself is subject to historical study” (p.157).


2. Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (2nd rev. ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).


The framework and a lot of ideas in the foregoing book are also reflected in this monograph, which was first published in Hebrew in 1989 and has become like the “Bible” in the field of textual criticism. Currently, I only have the second revised edition. This monograph contains much more concrete and detailed background information about various manuscripts and translations of the Hebrew Bible. Particularly useful is chapter 3, which features different scholarly approaches to grapple with the textual variants. In the rest of the book, the author then makes use of concrete biblical examples to surmise and explain how different types of textual variants came about. Throughout the book, the author has demonstrated his encyclopaedic knowledge of biblical texts. The content of the book is dense and requires careful reading, but the outcome of learning this book would be rewarding.

Resource: College de France Lecture on the Philistines by Aren Maeir

According to the biblical materials, the Philistines emerge primarily as an opponent, an archetype whom Israel should never emulate or get close to (see the multiple examples cited in P. Machinist, “Biblical Traditions: The Philistines and Israelite History,” in The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment [ed. E. D. Oren; Philadelphia: University of Pennysylvania Museum, 2000], 53-83, esp. 67-69).

But things can be a little bit more complicated from an archaeological point of view! In the stimulating lecture held at the College de France in paris on 25.02.2015, Prof. Aren Maeir shows us how entangled the Philistine culture can be with the Israelite and other cultures in the surrounding world. You can check out the lecture in the following video, which does remind me of my summer adventure at the 2013 Tel Burna archaeological excavation:

Three things from the video amaze me in particular:

1. On the basis of the ancient DNA tests, the Philistines were responsible for importing pigs from Europe into the Levant! (25:15 onwards)

2. There are oraganic residue of incenses from Sri Lanka in the Philistine Iron Age IIA chalices! (43:15 onwards)

3. Some Jerusalemites might have been attracted to the Philistine religion, such that a jar made in the Jerusalem area and inscribed with an Israelite name was found in a Philistine temple precinct! (51:38 onwards)

Interesting mixture of cultures, isn’t it? 🙂

Israel: Top 3 Reasons Why an Archaeologist Is Not (but Is Better Than) Indiana Jones!

Am really excited and grateful to be able to join the one week archaeological trip to Tel Burna, Israel (02.06.2013 -07.06.2013). It was organized by one of our post-docs to a site directed by two Israeli archaeologists. Having exposed myself to lots of wind and sun, dirt and dust, pickaxes and trowels, work and fun, I can proudly announce that I survive! 😀 Based on my brief participation in the excavation and preliminary analyses of the pottery, my survival provides me the chance to share with you why I think a real archaeologist is not (but is better than) Indiana Jones! Here are my top 3 reasons:

1.  Excavating Sites: Unlike Indiana Jones, we don’t get to fly a plane without gas, we don’t drive a monstrous tank at full speed across the grand canyon, we don’t jump around on top of the trains heading to more dangers. Jones can always find troubles and cause dramas within 3 minutes. By contrast, we are more loyal and reliable than Jones in that we are basically fixed at our excavated areas for the rest of the mornings. Our most valuable means of transportation to get to the destination are our feet, which help us to climb from the bottom of the tel to the top of our amazing excavation site: a Late Bronze or Iron Age settlement situated at the border between ancient Philistia and Judah!


# Morning climb to our excavation site


# Panoramic view of the surroundings in the morning


# Everyday we woke up early enough to say hello to the beautiful sunrise


# Setting up big black tents to create extensive shades over the excavation areas


# Area A: The area where I worked in the mornings for one week 😉

2. Collecting Data: Unlike Indiana Jones, who sets out on a treasure hunt, striving for just one artifact, e.g. Ring of Osiris or Dragon Ring or Knife of Cain, the archaeologists try to collect as much artifacts as possible. The more artifacts you have within a specific locus (Latin for “spot” or “place”; a term used by archaeologists to designate the smallest functionally definable area), you have more chances to reconstruct and get closer to the ancient past. Mr. Jones needs knifes and guns to kill monsters and bad guys all the time. What the archaeologists need are pickaxes and trowels to dig and dig and dig and dig… Sometimes they need the floatation machine to collect ancient seeds (I was privileged enough to witness this process last week~) Take a look below at our precious:


# Our precious include NOT the fragment of Noah’s Ark, but a piece of Philistine pottery! (washed and found by one group member)


# …NOT a Dragon Ring but a whole loom weight! (excavated at Area A – Iron Age by one team member)

Image  # and Goat Jaw Bone, wow ! (Found by another member from Area A Iron Age)


# …Not lots and lots of gold, but lots and lots of broken pottery handles and sherds (my precious find on day 3~)


# Check out this really cool and gigantic floatation machine that collects ancient seeds!


# The coolest thing about the archaeologists is that they really care and cherish what they find, just like I have a fond memory of my first washed pottery basket 🙂 Doesn’t matter what the others think, it is the most beautiful basket in the world ;p

3. Group Work: Unlike Indiana Jones, who is probably best characterized as a lone wolf, that leads him to so many romantic encounters on a one to one basis, the archaeologists cannot live and work alone! We cannot do anything and it won’t be much fun without sticking together:


# Listening to the nice and patient director’s analysis in the pottery reading session, while washing some of the pottery sherds, under the big green tree of our kibbutz. Twice in that week, we also attended lectures. Thus on last Wednesday, a biblical scholar from Bar-Ilan University provided a most intellectual and interesting talk on Sennacherib in Judah, according to the accounts in Isaiah and 2 Kings, taking into consideration some of the archaeological evidence. Last Thursday, our research team went on stage to present an overview of our group project on Monotheisms in Late Biblical Texts. Everyone of us provided an overview of our independent work (5 mins each). Then one of our post-docs, who was more experienced with archaeology, gave a longer talk about figurines in Yehud. Since I was standing at the border between Philistia and Judah, I thought it was appropriate for me to draw the audience’s attention to the Philistine oracle in Ezekiel 25, which forms part of chapter 1 in my dissertation 🙂


# Yay to girl’s power!


# Cheers to Area A K9 team!


# Prost to our Göttingen team!

As you can see from the above, I hope that I have convinced you that being an archaeologist can really make you a better person than Indiana Jones 😉 Anyway, I really enjoyed my archaeological adventure in Tel Burna and will highly recommend this experience to anyone who is interested. For more information, here is the blog from the Tel Burna Excavation Project: