(Matthew Henkel/Dreamstime.com)

Lost in Translation: Writing For a Living in Israel

“You listen to the language, it’s got that sing songy quality. It’s the language, Jerry, the language.”

Seinfeld, ‘The Opera’

My wife approves of my keeping one mistress. She happily walks in on me as I’m cozying up with an Abraham Lincoln biography, Wall Street Journal op-ed page or the latest edition of Time M, agazine. But only one at a time: I don’t have the stamina I used to. Late night visits to the English language are my after hours escape and salvation.

When my wife’s out of town, I’m never alone for long. Just gimme some Charles Krauthammer, Neil deGrasse Tyson or an elegantly stated case against the case against fossil fuels. For a small admission fee, the dozens of new and used bookstores that dot downtown Jerusalem are my portals to the universe’s secrets and the brilliant insights of our generation’s greatest minds.

But while English is the gift that keeps on giving at home, it’s often treated like an uninvited guest at work. You see, I’m an English-language copywriter living in Israel. I’ve worked with dozens of otherwise intelligent, high powered, high functioning Israeli hi tech executives who nonetheless believe that the linguistic ocean that separates Hebrew and English can be crossed by copying and pasting words and phrases into Google Translate.

(Matthew Henkel/Dreamstime.com)
(Matthew Henkel/Dreamstime.com)

The problem is that while English overflows with nuance and subtlety, Hebrew is the language of a people in a hurry: direct, unambiguous, aggressive. They’re about as similar as oil and water, as compatible as Cain and Abel.

So I spend my working days swatting at flies. Countless remarks, memos, meetings and edits have turned my creative writing output into a mush of barely coherent copy. And while eating humble pie allows me to fulfill my financial obligations, there’s more to life than the sum total of our responsibilities.

I adore my wife and adore our kids. Full stop. Still, I can’t settle for being a glorified proofreader with a pension plan. A father who puts a roof over his children’s heads, food on the table and clothes on their backs is doing what a father is supposed to do. You never see anyone taking a bow for paying their taxes, obeying the law and not clipping wings off flies.

If we’re not careful, the pesky brush fires of our daily tasks can grow into an inferno that consumes our dreams.

I don’t know where my dreams came from or why they persist. All I know is that they are my soul’s DNA, the magic stuff that puts a spring in my step, sparkle in my eye and smile on my face. My time to shine, as a published novelist, screenplay writer, political commentator or some combination thereof, will arrive. If not, the adventure, the quest, will have still made me the superhero of my own life’s movie.

But there’s much more at stake here than one middle-aged man’s desire to reach his fullest potential. I’m the father of four children – ages 7, 5 and twin three-year-olds. Their little brown eyes are always watching their old man, learning. Confident, cocky and flush with the bloom of youth, my kids aren’t easily impressed by anyone or anything: as it should be. If me and my wife manage to teach our four headstrong pixie pirates anything, it’ll be to revere their dreams and listen to their hearts. By following their true north they may be delayed – but never lost.

We live in affluent times. It’s too easy to check our ambitions at that door leading into a white-collar office job in southern Tel Aviv. But the price of admission is steep: erase the vision we have of ourselves for a steady paycheck and risk-free existence.

I suppose I never quite grew up. So, I will continue to strive and continue to fail, the way my two little boys continue to try and climb up our living wall, like Spider Man. Thing is, while they’ll never be able to defy gravity, their legs get stronger each time they try and their balance improves each time they fall. Hard fought failures sharpen our instincts, clarify our thoughts, bring us one step closer to our goals and help us dig the person we see in the mirror every morning.

Standing still is not an option. It only attracts flies.


This piece was orignially published on July 25, 2019 in Newsmax.

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