Americans have developed an admirable fondness for books, food, and music that preprocess other cultures. But for all our enthusiasm, have we lost our taste for the truly foreign?
As a child, I lived in a house where we spoke only Hebrew. I remember relatives from the American side of the family complaining about my parents’ language policy when they visited our house in New York. “She’ll suffer if she doesn’t speak English at home,” one worried. “She won’t be able to write well enough to get into college.” But something unexpected happened as my Israeli mother sang the Psalms to my siblings and me while we bathed: Empires fell. The Berlin Wall literally came down. Droves of immigrants andrefugees—huddled masses who had long yearned to befree—changed London, Berlin, Tel Aviv, and New York. India rose, China skyrocketed, and four young Israelis invented instant messaging. Bilingual kids like me, toting odd foods at lunch and speaking with their mothers in something unintelligible, were suddenly not the problem, but the glitteringfuture.
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Aviya Kushner is the author of the forthcoming book And There Was Evening, And There Was Morning, about the experience of reading the Bible in English after a lifetime of reading it in Hebrew. She writes about literature for The Jerusalem Post, and her essays have appeared in Partisan Review, Poets & Writers, and Harvard Review. The daughter of an Israeli mother and an American father, she teaches in the nonfiction writing program at Columbia College Chicago.more from this author >>