"For truly, I say to you,if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20
A Christian village in Israel is
teaching Aramaic in an effort to revive the ancient language that Jesus
spoke - centuries after it all but disappeared from the Middle East.
children from Jish, who speak Arabic as their first language, are
learning the tongue of their forefathers after their elementary school
became the only one in the country to teach the subject.
language, which was the region's dominant language 2,000 years ago, is
still chanted in the church – although few understand it beyond prayers.
But, rather than rebel against
learning an idiom that has little practical use, the 80 youngsters aged
five to ten are embracing learning phrases such as ‘ah chop’ – or ‘how
children are even happy to learn it because, according to the school’s
head teacher, it is part of the Arab community’s ‘collective heritage’.
the Arab village of Jish, nestled in the Galilean hills where Jesus
lived and preached, about 80 children in grades one through five study
Aramaic as a voluntary subject for two hours a week.
Israel's education ministry provided funds to add classes until the eighth grade, said principal Reem Khatieb-Zuabi.
Several Jish residents lobbied for Aramaic studies several years ago, he explained, but the idea faced resistance.
Jish's Muslims worried it was a covert attempt to entice their children to Christianity.
some Christians objected, saying the emphasis on their ancestral
language was being used to strip them of their Arab identity.
Passion: Atif Zarka, 64, a volunteer Aramaic
teacher's assistant, plays the violin to forth grade students studying
Aramaic in Jish
The issue is
sensitive to many Arab Muslims and Christians in Israel, who prefer to
be identified by their ethnicity, not their faith.
Ultimately, Mr Khatieb-Zuabi, a secular Muslim from an outside village, overruled them.
‘This is our collective heritage and culture. We should celebrate and study it,’ he said.
Carla Hadad, 10, who frequently waved
her arms to answer questions in Aramaic from school teacher Mona Issa
during a recent lesson, said: ‘We want to speak the language that Jesus
‘We used to speak it a long time ago,’ she added, referring to her ancestors.
the lesson, a dozen children lisped out a Christian prayer in Aramaic.
They learned the words for ‘elephant,’ and ‘mountain.’
children carefully drew sharp-angled Aramaic letters. Others fiddled
with their pencil cases, which sported images of popular soccer teams.
children are helped in their studies by an Aramaic-speaking television
channel from Sweden, of all places, where a vibrant immigrant community
has kept the ancient tongue alive.
The only other filmed production to use the language is Mel Gibson’s biopic The Passion of The Christ.
The language is also being taught in the Palestinian-administered West Bank at a special school for Syrian Orthodox Christians.
the village of Beit Jala, near Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem, priests
have taught the language to their 320 students for the past five years.
360 families in the area descend from Aramaic-speaking refugees who in
the 1920s fled the Tur Abdin region of what is now Turkey.
Priest Butros Nimeh said elders still speak the language but that it vanished among younger generations.
He said they hoped teaching the language would help the children appreciate their roots.
Although both the Syrian Orthodox and Maronite church worship in Aramaic, they are distinctly different sects.
Ancient language: A copy of the Gospel of Luke in Aramaic script
Maronites are the dominant Christian church in neighboring Lebanon but
make up only a few thousand of the Holy Land's 210,000 Christians.
Syrian Orthodox Christians number no more than 2,000 in the Holy Land,
said Nimeh. Overall, some 150,000 Christians live in Israel and another
60,000 live in the West Bank.
are helped by Swedish Aramaic-speaking communities who descended from
the Middle East have sought to keep their language alive.
publish a newspaper, ‘Bahro Suryoyo,’ pamphlets and children's books,
including ‘The Little Prince,’ and maintain a satellite television
station, ‘Soryoyosat,’ said Arzu Alan, chairwoman of the Syriac Aramaic
Federation of Sweden.
also an Aramaic soccer team, ‘Syrianska FC’ in the Swedish top division
from the town of Sodertalje. Officials estimate the Aramaic-speaking
population at anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 people.
many Maronites and Syrian Orthodox Christians in the Holy Land, the
television station, in particular, was the first time they heard the
language outside church in decades. Hearing it in a modern context
inspired them to try revive the language among their communities.
‘When you hear (the language), you can speak it,’ said Issa, the teacher.
dialects were the region's vernacular from 2,500 years ago until the
sixth century, when Arabic, the language of conquering Muslims from the
Arabian Peninsula, became dominant, according to Fassberg.
islands survived: Maronites clung to Aramaic liturgy and so did the
Syrian Orthodox church. Kurdish Jews on the river island of Zakho spoke
an Aramaic dialect called ‘Targum’ until fleeing to Israel in the 1950s.
Three Christian villages in Syria still speak an Aramaic dialect,
opportunities to practice the ancient tongue, teachers in Jish have
tempered expectations. They hope they can at least revive an
understanding of the language.
steep challenges are seen in the Jish school, where the fourth-grade
Aramaic class has just a dozen students. The number used to be twice
that until they introduced an art class during the same time slot - and
lost half their students.