By Arielle Korman
In October 2018, I sat alone in the rare book room in the library at Columbia University with a dusty pink notebook that had once belonged to a 17th-century Moroccan Yeshiva student. The script was challenging to read and yet, with focus and my ever-growing knowledge of Hebrew–and access to scholars of Jewish Studies to guide me–I found myself able to engage in an encounter with his writing and watch as his thoughts and educational life emerged from the page. Education could give me the tools to ignite histories and Torah simultaneously ancient and new.
I remember a time not long ago in which I could read Hebrew, chant it, recognize words, but not understand the text before me. I remember visiting Orthodox cousins and watching them davening, a flurry of words on their tongues. In contrast, my immediate family could not speak a word of Hebrew and, for a long time, Hebrew remained a mystery language to us.