Given the evidently growing interest in the details of my biography, I’d like to offer a quick rundown of the most frequently questioned data.
I lived in Israel for six years during the 1970s, serving for several years as an Israel and Zionism educational programs specialist at the World Zionist Organization in Jerusaledm and then settling on a kibbutz, where I served a term as secretary. For the last several decades I have generally spent about three weeks a year there, visiting friends and immediate family, meeting with government officials and ensuring that my children have ties with their family and the country and are comfortable in Hebrew.
I did not wear the IDF uniform. I served in the civil guard as part of the kitat konenut (ready response unit) at my kibbutz under the command of the Border Police in our region. I was the designated sharpshooter of the unlt and was given regular training sessions at the regional Border Police post, both in tactics and to maintain my shot with an M-1 Garrand, Uzi and M-16 assault rifle. As some readers have hae correctly asserted, I did not sit on guard duty at night. I walked. The job was to patrol the perimeter of the kibbutz at night. I also served a number of times as an armed guard on youth tours of the Sinai.
I have spoken fluent Hebrew since childhood. My Hebrew literature studies at McGill University included, among other things, “advanced Hebrew style and composition.” The course requirements included translating passages from the Hebrew Bible (both Deuteronomy/Kings and the Hebrew of Isaiah and the later prophets) into modern Hebrew (both Maariv tabloid and literary Hebrew) and vice versa – translating passages of modern Hebrew into various periods of biblical Hebrew as well as rabbinic Hebrew of the Mishnah period. I served for a period at kibbutz meetings providing simultaneous translation of the Hebrew proceedings for new immigrants and volunteers, until I was elected kibbutz secretary and could no longer perform that duty. (I am still called on to perform such functions from time to time.) My first job in journalism was as a reporter at a Hebrew-language newsweekly published for the Israeli expatriate community in Los Angeles, where I interviewed and wrote (and touch-typed) in Hebrew. I have published numerous Hebrew-English translations, including an authorized (and well-received) translation of a previously untranslated Agnon story.
I admit that my Hebrew is not what it used to be; I easily follow the weekly Torah readings in synagogue, but I have to follow in a book during the Haftarah readings, as my command of the later Hebrew from the prophetic period is not as fluent as it once was. Mea maxima culpa.
It was the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan who once said that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”
This story "Readers' Questions Answered: Israel, Hebrew, Guns and Me" was written by J.J. Goldberg.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).