Norm Finkelstein: My offer to teach you Hebrew still stands

Dear Dr. Finkelstein,

Remember when I met you at CSU Fullerton? I didn’t recognize you, and greeted you in Hebrew, “Shalom, ma shlomcha?” thinking you were an Israeli. You replied, “I don’t speak Hebrew.”

After your lecture, which I filmed and am posting here some clips, I was approached by an angry African American man in dreadlocks who yelled at me that all of us Zionists are Nazis. Which was strange because I had not uttered one word the entire evening. I was just filming your performance presentation.

I approached you afterwards and offered my advice that if you were to learn Arabic and Hebrew your chances for tenure would dramatically increase. I remember that one of the questions that night was about why you have not yet achieved tenure, and you replied that it was due to pressure from pro-Israel forces. Was that pressure from Zionists? I don’t remember who got blamed (I guess I can go back to that tape).

But back to my main point. I offered this advice because during my time in academia I discovered that experts on the Middle East read things written in those languages. I guess there are lots of scholarly things that scholars would want to read that are not translated into English, or maybe another language that you may speak.

I also offered my own services to teach you Hebrew, which you politely declined, saying you “were too old for that.” Then I asked you about Arabic, offering a few kind words in colloquial Jerusalem Arabic, that I was sure you understood, from your intense dealings on the whole Arab-Israeli conflict. I did not mean to embarrass you of course, but you also told me you don’t speak Arabic. I have sadly forgotten much of the Arabic I learned as a student at Hebrew University (That is only that name of the University- I took classes there in English and Hebrew.)

I know that you are up for tenure at DePaul, and just wanted to let you know that my offer still stands to teach you Hebrew. It is never too late. Heck, Rabbi Akiva didn’t really start learning anything till age 40. Lots of people take Hebrew during Elderhostel programs at universities. New Israeli immigrants as old as 90 even study Hebrew. I am sure that a man of your intellectual integrity and discipline will have no trouble. You can even now learn Hebrew on-line if you prefer that way of learning.

As far as Arabic is concerned – there are TONS of places and online ways to study Arabic. Or you can do a summer session in Riyahd or Cairo. Oh, well, maybe only Cairo, since you are Jewish you cannot study in Saudi Arabia. (Did you ever wonder why American Jewish students can never go on exchange programs to Saudi Arabian Universities, but tens of thousands of Saudi students study here in America? Did that ever bother you and strike you as racist?)

I wanted to just add that I agree with Zachary Lochman, the President of the Middle East Studies Association when he writes, “We urge you [The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D., President De Paul University] and your colleagues to ensure that that evaluation henceforth proceeds in a manner that conforms to generally accepted procedures, such that Professor Finkelstein is evaluated solely on the basis of his scholarship, his teaching, and his service to the DePaul community and to the academic fields in which he works.”

Since your field of expertise, according to your website and your dissertation is “the theory of Zionism,” I believe that learning Hebrew, both in written and spoken form, will inform your scholarship, teaching, and service to the DePaul community and the academic field you have chosen. In fact, you might even be able to uncover some more fascinating information on this theory of Zionism that is rarely translated into English!
For example: Jews have prayed in Hebrew for nearly 2000 years to return to their homeland Israel, for and in-gathering of the exiles, for the rebuilding of the Temple, and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Cool, eh?

Seeing that your tenure process is nearing an end, I wanted to reach out to you ASAP, so that you can inform the committee that you have started studying Hebrew with me, and that will, I am sure, add great weight to your argument that you are an expert on this stuff.

I have even some ideas for Hebrew word games we can play that I used at Zionist Summer Camp as a kid, like acting out the scene: “Hey I love that house, I want to BAYIT!” Or “OMG there is a fork in MAZLEG.”

Wishing you a Chag Sameach, a Happy Independence Day— the day where we celebrate a tiny country that if it had existed before 1939, would have most likely averted the Holocaust.

Best wishes and peace,

Rabbi Yonah