The authors of 'Hilarious Hebrew.' Photos courtesy of Yael Breuer and Eyal Shavit.

Learning With Laughter

An interview with the author of ‘Hilarious Hebrew.’

The Hebrew language is an important part of Jewish national identity. Ancient Hebrew, in which the Torah is written, has evolved into a vibrant language which is spoken in Israel today and by Jews all over the world. Like learning any new language, learning Hebrew can be extremely difficult, but it is a very worthwhile endeavor – and it can also be very entertaining!

Hilarious Hebrew,” a book written by Yael Breuer and Eyal Shavit, aims to help anyone who is interested in learning Hebrew in a fresh, fun way. The book is accompanied with drawings by illustrator Aubrey Smith to help readers remember the meanings of Hebrew words. The book uses English sentences containing English words that sound like Hebrew words. These catchy statements serve as memory aids. 

Here are a few examples: 

  •  “The man with the big EAR comes from the CITY.” (The Hebrew word for city is eer – עיר.)
  • “They SHOOK hands at the MARKET.” (The Hebrew word for market is shuk –  שוק.)
  • “What a lovely HOUSE! I think I’m going to BUY IT.”(The Hebrew word for house is bayit בית.)
  • “The actor Tom SELLECK loves his BEETROOT.” (The Hebrew word for beetroot is sellek סלק.)
  • “I went on a date with Heidi KLUM, but NOTHING came of it.” (The Hebrew word for nothing is klum – כלום.)
  • “BARACK Obama’s car is so fast, it goes like LIGHTNING.” (The Hebrew work for lightning is barak – ברק.)

Breuer, who teaches and writes in Brighton, England, was happy to answer a few questions about the book.

Q: Why did you decide to write “Hilarious Hebrew?”

“The book aims to teach Hebrew vocabulary in a fun and meaningful way. It teaches Hebrew words in the context of English sentences, and they are accompanied by funny illustrations to make the learning process entertaining. I find that when people have fun, they learn better…Before the book was published, I used this method in my teaching. I had maybe 20 or 30 sentences that I would use in my classes. I used those in addition to the normal, serious Hebrew book, which of course is very important. My book doesn’t replace it, but I’ve found that most of those books have more of a serious tone, and I noticed that when I used one of these sentences, students would laugh. When I spoke with my Israeli friend and co-author, Eyal Shavit, and I told him about these sentences, he liked it so much that we started coming up with more to entertain ourselves…This method of making up memory aids in order to remember things – we all do it. You do it, I do it; in various contexts throughout our lives, we invent things to help concepts stick in our brain. But my co-author and I have definitely taken this to another level. We haven’t come across any other book quite like ours.”

Q: Who is the book for?

“I teach Hebrew to people of all ages in Brighton, England, and the book, ‘Hilarious Hebrew,’ is also for everyone, from about the age of eight to adults. I hear from Hebrew teachers who have adopted my book and method, which is really lovely. I’ve gotten emails from South Africa, the United States, the U.K. and Israel. A lot of Jewish schools have gotten the book from us, and I’ve been asked to speak at many assemblies at Jewish schools. Last Purim, a Jewish school in London bought lots of copies of my book to put in the kids’ Mishloach Manot as a surprise, and invited me to speak as a guest at their assembly… Not only have Jewish schools and synagogues bought the book, but also many people who travel to Israel or are interested in the Hebrew language. It’s really nice to know the book is used by so many people from different backgrounds. The book sells in Jewish museums and shops all over Europe, the United States and Israel. In addition, the book is currently used by the Jewish Agency and the WZO in the U.K. and every oleh (new immigrant) to Israel gets a copy as a gift for their journey!”

Q: What has the response to your book been like? Have you received any interesting fan mail?

“What started as a joke between my friend and me is now selling really successfully all over the world. We’ve already had six prints and will be doing a seventh print in a few months. We may well add words to the next print; we add words all the time and don’t stop texting each other more and more of these. The book has Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and we continue to post new sentences on those social media accounts. I don’t think a week goes by without me and my friend texting each other new sentences we’ve come up with – he lives in Israel and I live in England, and we’re always texting each other new sentences.

When I was in the process of writing the book with Eyal, I bumped into a woman I used to teach years ago in the street, and I mentioned this method I used to teach and how I was writing a book with it. When I asked her if she remembered, she said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m going to take those words to the grave, I can’t get them out of my head!’  That really shows how well the system works. Here’s another great story. My co-author and I had an idea of how we wanted the illustrations to look. We looked at a lot of different illustrators, and they were all very good, but none of them were quite what we had in mind. Then we found the right illustrator: Aubrey Smith. The nice thing is that Aubrey had absolutely no connection to Judaism, Hebrew or Israel, but while illustrating the book, he himself learned the words. He would send me business emails about the book and use the Hebrew words he’d learned from illustrating the book in his emails.”

Q: Do you plan to write any more books like this in the future?

“People have contacted us asking if we can do the same thing for other languages. I personally am not fluent in any languages other than Hebrew and English, but there has been discussion of expanding this to other languages. Also, I teach Ulpan classes in Brighton, and I have a method for teaching the Aleph Bet which is not dissimilar. I’d be happy to share that with teachers. Maybe someday we’ll do another book like this that’s just about the Hebrew alphabet.” 

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Rena Max is a senior at Hebrew Academy of Nassau County. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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