We lived in Jerusalem until my son Cai was eight-years-old but he never learned Hebrew. I have my excuses. We knew we’d probably leave Israel and wanted him to focus on English. My husband never truly felt a part of Israeli society, so I didn’t want to create distance between father and son. The American International school was a five-minute walk from our apartment, and we knew and already loved one of the pre-school teachers because she’d babysat for Cai.
But like all good rationalizations, these were cold comfort when we actually left Israel and I realized I had squandered an opportunity. As all of us mommy blog-literate parents have heard that children who grow up bilingual apparently have a cognitive advantage over their unilingual peers. There’s also an age window when kids can learn a second language more easily and we’d missed it.
Once we settled into our new home, however, a deeper regret emerged. We’re Jewish and we’d left Jerusalem to live in Luxembourg — a country with a Jewish population of about 1,200 and, unlike a place like New York or Paris, minimal Jewish culture. In neglecting Hebrew, I’d missed the chance for Cai to connect with his heritage.