Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Aramaic love affair

ARAMAIC WATCH: The inspiring passions of others — witnessed on a train, a riverbank (Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune).
Not long ago, I found myself in a New York subway car, looking over the shoulder of a little old man hypnotically focused on a school notebook. Occasionally, he would add a marginal note in the same script that filled every line of every page. His concentration wasn't broken even when the train lurched to a stop, the motorman announcing there was a problem on the tracks.

Something seemed familiar about his determination to shut out the rest of the world except for whatever he was concentrating on. I couldn't recall where I'd encountered it, but I seldom miss an opportunity to parade my learning. So I said that one or two letters looked like Hebrew. Were they?

"No," he replied. After a pause, he said they were close relatives of the Hebrew alphabet. "Are they Aramaic?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied. This time there wasn't any follow-up. His curiosity wasn't aroused by my knowing the relationship of Hebrew to Aramaic, a language Jesus spoke but is now virtually extinct. So I noted that Aramaic is still used for Jewish religious documents but written in Hebrew characters. It is still spoken in a few villages in Lebanon and Syria but written in Arabic.

With that, a dam broke. "Why would someone write Aramaic in another alphabet?" he exclaimed. "It has its own, a beautiful one!" His face turned beet red, as if he was on the verge of a stroke.

I realized that I was in the presence of a great love affair.

Never mind that the old man's suit had shiny patches from too many ironings. He was like a knight in shining armor devoted to his lady fair, a long-dead language. That might seem goofy to many of us. But we may never experience a passion as intense as his.
I pity those who never do.