Literacy and Liberty

Tree Trunk or Race? A Balanced Structure or a Housing for Horses?
Posted by: , September 4, 2018, 2:24 am
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Last year I participated in a gap year in Israel called “Workshop” through my youth movement, Habonim-Dror. On Workshop, participants from all over North America live together communally and collectively as a “kvutsa” which translates to “group” in Hebrew. On workshop, the kvutsa is supposed to decide on its Hebrew name, mine chose the name “Kvutsa Geza,”  Geza meaning tree trunk. We chose Geza because we felt a tree trunk best encapsulated our lofty and abstract idea of remaining rooted in our Jewish and Zionist history while growing towards a new vision for ourselves, the movement, and the Jewish people.

The problem was that we were choosing our kvutsa name in English, expecting a simple Hebrew translation. Popping “tree trunk” into Google Translate resulted in “Geza;” We were satisfied, but our “Madrichim” (program directors) were not happy. They told us if we named ourselves Geza, most Israelis would assume we were calling ourselves “race” which was offensive and unacceptable. “That’s so stupid,” I replied, “why would ‘trunk and ‘race’ be the same word?” Then my madrich said, “Now you understand my frustration with English, stable is a balanced structure but it’s also the thing you keep horses in; Hebrew has synonyms too.” At that moment I felt incredibly stupid, both for forgetting about synonyms outside English, and for trusting Google Translate. When I reported it to the kvutsa, we all laughed and amended it to “Giv’ol” or “Stem,” which in Hebrew has no other controversial meanings.



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Joe, thanks for sharing (and shaping!) this post. How might you approach your literacy event essay to bring out–or to dramatize, make more compelling–the key moments of this literacy (naming) event. I think there’s more at stake in each turn of it.

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   Professor Seiler 09.05.18 @ 3:48 pm

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