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In my first blog I asked the question; “Would you tell your kids you struggle when reading in English?”. We were discussing emotional challenges reading disabled parents face when deciding if they want to reveal this fact to their children.


Now, let’s talk about reading in Hebrew, which is the second (or third) reading language for most people who grew up outside of Israel and were affiliated with Judaism.


Hebrew was my second language, having been exposed to it at an early age in my home, in my school and in my shul. (As opposed to high school French, which was definitely a foreign language for a New Yorker. This is a shout out to Mr. Sabbath, one of the kindest and gentlest teachers at Shulamith High School for Girls, who was still unable to teach me French.)


As a child, I didn't receive much in the way of effective Hebrew reading instruction from my school teachers. But certain memories have recently revealed themselves to me like:


  • Hearing first grade children chant, ״ויאמר ה׳ ״, ״ה׳ אמר״. Thinking they sounded like robots.


  • Looking at the opening pages of the siddur. Lines and lines of Hebrew letters, squished across the page. Each line with a different nekud below the letters. Trying very hard to remember which sound went with each shape.


  • Never being able to keep pace with my high school classmates, who had gone to elementary schools where they were taught “ivrit b’ivrit”.


  • Feeling left behind, during my gap year at Michlelet Orot, because I could not read Hebrew text printed without nekudot. (The hardest of which were Hebraicized English words like אובייקטיבי or אמנציפציה.)


But I am an adult now, having lived in Israel for more than 27 years. My Hebrew reading skills have improved tremendously over the years, because I choose to be involved in Israeli society and I choose to interact with the Hebrew language regularly. And I studied in ulpan three different times.


As adults living in Israel, proficiency in both spoken and written Hebrew is essential, regardless of whether you live in an English speaking neighborhood and work in English. The needs of our daily lives, like banking, health care and shopping, and those of our children like, school, homework and friends, mean that you have to read (without nekudot) and speak Hebrew with relative coherency.


So, would you tell your kids you struggle when reading in Hebrew?”.

I don’t need to ask this question, because your kids already know if you struggle. But they chalk it up to your status as an immigrant. The problem is however, they are not entirely correct.




The ability for immigrants in Israel to improve their Hebrew language skills is aided by their daily exposure to the spoken and printed language. Most adults exposed to a second language on an ongoing basis, do learn to read it with relative competence, even without nekudot (in the case of Hebrew). For someone with a reading disability however, the ability to read a second language is always going to be a struggle.


In many ways, our ability to manage in Hebrew is more critical to our family's well being than our English reading skills.


  • Can you set up a bank account for your son or daughter?

  • Can you study with your teenager for the history bagrut?

  • Can you advocate for your child’s health and education?


I challenge you to examine yourself. Do you rely on friends or family members to explain something in Hebrew for you? Do you avoid situations and opportunities because you don’t read Hebrew easily?


What practices can you incorporate into your daily life in order to improve your skills?


Why should you?

  • Because you will be able to manage your life better in Israel.

  • Because you will be a more helpful parent.

  • But most importantly, because you will feel better about yourself.


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Updated: Aug 30, 2021


Would you? Should you?

It's embarrassing to admit something like that after all these years. You’ve hid it so well until now.


If you went to a yeshiva day school in the 70’s and 80’s like I did, none of us were tested for learning disabilities or ADHD back then. There was the smart class and the dumb class. And as long as you didn’t act out, they passed you on to the next grade. But you suffered in silence if school was hard for you, and especially if you didn’t read well. You faked it. You memorized. You studied with your friends. You managed. And if you were lucky enough, you even got good grades.

But you suffered in silence if school was hard for you, and especially if you didn’t read well. You faked it. You memorized. You studied with your friends. You managed. And if you were lucky enough, you even got good grades.

You graduated from college and went on to build your career, got married and started a family. That’s pretty great! You’ve accomplished so much since you were a teenager.


Maybe you still trip over new words or skip over them entirely when reading a book. Or you lose the place and the rhythm of reading, when nearby noise interferes with that voice in your head, sounding out each word. You read slowly, and often have to reread a passage two and three times to get its full meaning. And when you write, you choose to use an easier word than the one you really want to use, because you just can’t figure out how to spell it. (And when your spelling is THAT bad, spell check doesn’t help!)


I’ll bet at least one of your kids has been diagnosed with one thing or another. Speech, OT, CBT, horseback riding therapy, the list of “fixes” is endless; all in the pursuit of helping your children, and at least partly because you want them to have an easier time than you did.


I’ll bet at least one of your kids has been diagnosed with one thing or another. Speech, OT, CBT, horseback riding therapy, the list of “fixes” is endless; all in the pursuit of helping your children, and at least partly because you want them to have an easier time than you did.


If you can relate to some of what I’ve been saying until now, your reading difficulty remains a part of who you are today, and it touches many aspects of your life. I suspect you have experienced at least one of the following scenarios.

  • You stay quiet when friends discuss a newspaper op-ed or editorial they have read, or more likely, in order to cover it up, you turn everything into a joke.

  • You are not the parent who helps the kids with homework.

  • Deep down, you still feel inadequate, feel less than, like damaged goods, even stupid, because you are ______ years old and still struggling.


What if you could find the courage to say it out loud, to “own it”? And then do something about it? You wouldn’t only be helping yourself. Imagine what you would be doing for your kids!


Would you tell your children you struggle with reading?

Can you please take a minute to complete my survey, so I can find out what you are thinking?

I would love to hear from you.

Gayle Shimoff


P.S. Watch this space for Part 2: --------, and for results of the survey!



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