Sometimes, when Gila Hakimi leaves a note for her husband, she writes it in Rashi script, in Aramaic. That’s only natural: This is the language used by the Hakimis for everyday discourse as well; they speak Aramaic to their eldest son too.
I phoned her in my search for the story furthest removed from the war, but Gila Hakimi said it isn’t all that remote. Anyone who says prayers, opens the Talmud, and in effect anyone who speaks Hebrew speaks Aramaic in one way or another. But as an everyday language of discourse? Yes, says Hakimi. At least several thousand Israelis, who are generally described as “Kurds,” speak Aramaic, in one dialect or another. Unfortunately, more and more people are ceasing to conduct their everyday lives in Aramaic and are forgetting the language. That is why Hakimi created her one-woman show. As far as is known, she is the first Aramaic stand-up comedian. She is extremely successful.
Aramaic is a language with a fascinating and very complex story. The Babylonians and the Persians used it as their official language, and afterward, it was mainly a Jewish language. There is ancient, middle and modern Aramaic. From its inception it was heard in at least two dialect groups, Eastern and Western. In Eastern Middle Aramaic there is a Tadmor and a Nabatean dialect, among others; in Western Middle Aramaic there is a distinction between Christian, Eretz Israel, Galilee and Samaritan dialects. There is Syrian Aramaic, which is generally located between Eastern and Western Aramaic, and in all the dialects, the spoken language is not identical to the written language.
All this is also meant to explain the difficulty of understanding what the “Kurdish” Israelis mean when they say Aramaic; they are not all referring to exactly the same thing, because there are different types of Kurds among them: Some come from Kurdistan in Iraq, some from Iran, Turkey or Syria – some are “ours” and some are not. For example, there is a Web site that perpetuates “Nash Didan” – “our people,” and includes a dictionary, songs and jokes. No, said Hakimi, they (the operators of the Web site) come from Urmia and that’s something else. Her one-woman show is called “Belishna Noshan” – “In our language.”
Hakimi was the principal of the Yeshurun religious state elementary school in Pardes Hannah-Karkur, and when she retired five years ago, she decided to fulfill an old dream and went onstage with a show that revives the folklore of the past with a smile, here and there satirically, and all in Aramaic. The beginning was very modest, without any celebrity mannerisms, but in recent months she finds herself in the center of a major Aramaic awakening: She travels from city to city with her show, and attracts large audiences everywhere. She is told that more and more family celebrations are now being held in Aramaic, and this week she was invited to conduct a course in spoken Aramaic.
She feels as though she has extracted from the members of her ethnic group something that was hidden inside them, and perhaps until now they were embarrassed to reveal it, or neglected it and now are rediscovering it. Something of the kind has been happening for several years to Yiddish speakers, as part of the return to Judaism. Like most of the shows in Yiddish, Hakimi goes for nostalgia. One of her subjects is the traditional status of women, when the prevailing practice was “All glorious is the King’s daughter within the palace.” She levels criticism at modern feminism. We argued about that a little, in Hebrew; I assume that it sounds better in Aramaic.
Thanks for the link, Kobi!
(Note: the linked article includes all sorts of political/historical discussion that is bound to annoy certain LH readers; I hope they will recognize that I am blogging it solely for the linguistic/cultural information and ignore the rest, which I am not in any way endorsing.)
Update. Bulbul has posted some excellent material on the Mandaic variety of Aramaic.