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Speaking Our Language

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06/18/2015

fathers day series 400

My dad is a pen collector, golf player, bookstore frequenter and gift shop enthusiast. My dad is a lover of philanthropy dedicated to many organizations both in the U.S. and Israel. He has inspired me to become involved in community service on campus and at home. My dad participates in Israel advocacy and has instilled a love of Israel in my family. My dad reads Hebrew newspapers to practice the language and books about Torah. Every Friday, he studies the Torah portion with a rabbi and blesses my siblings and me at dinner. He attends all dance recitals and basketball games. 

However, in my opinion, my dad's most special quality lies in the ongoing development of our "language."

Our "language" can largely be reduced to our sometimes witty, sometimes deep, and at times ridiculous use of words. We analyze words' meaning, sing them, write them, and read them, and speak them together in three different languages: English, Hebrew and Spanish.

"Jessica, what are you up to today?" my dad asked me early one Friday morning. When he asks me that type of question, I know that it's only going one of two routes: a technology request, such as scanning something for him or figuring out how to download songs onto his iPad. The other route is less commonplace and more special: requesting that I speak our language by writing a song or speech in collaboration with him. We have written many pieces together, usually centered on various celebrations or holidays. We always delighted my family and friends who were our ever-present audience. On this particular Friday, that was his request.

hochberg family

The Hochberg family, including Jessica (second from left) and her dad (second from right).

"I need to send you a draft of speech I wrote in Spanish," he said casually. Normally, I would smirk at my dad's utter randomness and at his unusual interest in odd spontaneous actions that seemed to have no cause. However, I knew the cause of this impromptu speech in Spanish. 

This past school year we hosted a high school foreign exchange student named Victor. Victor is from Brazil, and his family members had come to visit us for the week. My father, an accomplished high school debater and a frequent speech giver, decided to describe how fond we had become of Victor by delivering a speech entirely in Spanish. Although Victor speaks Portuguese, he understands Spanish, so my father deemed it necessary to create a speech in Spanish to deliver in front of our family and friends at our Shabbat dinner table.

Ever the adventurous speaker, my dad decided to use a language he had not spoken since high school to express his gratitude to Victor. Seeing as I studied Spanish in high school and college, I was more familiar with the grammar and vocabulary conventions. So, using my dad's insightful ideas and my knowledge, he and I composed a speech in Spanish. I also produced an English translation and we captivated our audience with our words. We read the speech paragraph by paragraph, alternating between Spanish and English. The audience laughed at the jokes, even when they were written in Spanish, and could tell our affection for Victor by the effort we put into our speech. 

Afterward, many of our friends congratulated us on our successful endeavor and asked us how we were able to execute such an undertaking. My dad gave me a characteristic, suffocating side hug, and with that we mutually understood that this was a special use of our language that would not be our last. Our writing team was as efficient as it was fun, and we knew that our "language" of writing was sacred and precious.

"Jessica what are you up to tonight for dinner?" my dad asked me over the phone some time later. I knew where this was going. Another adventure for the writing pair of father and daughter; this time, a song for a family friend's bar mitzvah, a parody of the Chicago Cubs victory song "Go, Cubs, Go!" replacing "Cubs" with "Ben." We'd composed the lyrics on a paper napkin at dinner, each of us switching off verses and bringing forth new ideas. We even decided to add costumes and accessories to our performance. The delivery of the song was successful, if you measure success in effort rather than musical talent, and once again I was squished into a side hug. This was our connection; our special skill that will always provide a common ground for both of us to flourish, side by side.

Whether it's listening to Taylor Swift endlessly in the car, analyzing the lyrics to a seemingly tasteless rap song for some deeper meaning, or knowing the lyrics to songs so well that we can both recite the ad libs and fake laughter by heart, my dad and I always appreciate words, deciphering their meaning and understanding how they can be used in a larger or more meaningful context. We love reading and writing in the languages we know, and learning new things about languages we do not know. We find meaning where there seemingly is none and share our deep understanding of the world with each other. No matter the language, no matter the place, my dad and I will always have that connection.

So I hope this Father's Day brings my dad some great new books, some new knowledge of Torah, and many fond memories of our endeavors as a writing duo.

To read more posts in the "World's Greatest Jewish Dads" blog series, click here.

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