Updated 30 June 2015
Comment on my post dated 9/12/2011, from David Anthony in America:
To Anne Frandi-Coory: – What a touching note. [from post: My Father, Joseph Jacob Habib Eleishah Coory].
David writes: You mention Aramaic: I have a little story for you…
About 30 years ago, about 1978-1980, my jidoo [grandfather] was visiting my house when a distant cousin from Lebanon visited. My jidoo’s parents came to America in 1892. He was raised speaking what he and we thought was Arabic. He spoke it fluently- after all, it was what was spoken in his household growing up.
Well, when my cousin, who recently came from Lebanon fleeing the civil war, visited, they (my cousin and my grandfather) both spoke to each other in [what they thought was] Arabic. They couldn’t understand one another. My cousin said my grandfather wasn’t speaking Arabic, but a language much older. He said it was like an Italian listening to Latin.
So I came to find out that my jidoo didn’t really speak Arabic. The language he spoke so fluently was ancient Syriac- as you know, a version of Aramaic. The “Arabic” words I picked up as a youth tended much more towards Aramaic. In fact, many years after my jidoo passed away, a very good friend of mine from Zahle told me that the few Lebanese Aramaic words my dad and I spoke had a strong northern (Ehden) accent.
Just one other note: Anxiety runs rampant in the Lebanese side of the family. For some, the levels of anxiety run so high that it’s disabling. I’m wondering if there’s a similar issue in your family.
Two reasons; 1) Lebanese boys were forced to sit in the back of all classes. Italian and Irish boys sat in front. 2) As my dad had terrible nearsightedness, and he wasn’t allowed to sit in the front of the class because of his skin color, he could never see the blackboard. In order to take any notes, he’d copy notes from the student sitting next to him. When he got caught by a nun, which was often, he’d get sent to the Principal for copying notes. The Principal would tell him to put out his hand, which would then get beaten pretty badly.
Finally,one day, when he was in 8th or 9th grade or so, he came home with such a beaten hand that my sitoo [grandmother] noticed. After she insisted he tell her what happened, my dad then explained what happened. Right away they went and bought him his first pair of glasses. After that, he could see the blackboard better- and his grades went sky high.
But the damage was done. By tenth grade, he left school to work in a factory, partly driven, I’m sure, by the beatings.– David Anthony.
How wonderful to hear your story. Yes, Aramaic is derived from an ancient form of Syriac and is now spoken only by small pockets of Syrian peasants and by Maronites in Bcharre, Lebanon. It was also the language that Jesus spoke. I did much research into my grandparents’ history and the history of Lebanon in general. My grandfather’s ancestors moved to the hills of Lebanon (Bcharre) around the 14th Century, from Iraq.
It is uncanny how similar are our fathers’ stories. My father, Joseph, was also beaten by the Catholic Brothers at school, and finally one day he ran home and refused to return to school. He was also shortsighted and told me he was often beaten because he couldn’t speak English, only Aramaic!
You may be interested in my book ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’ A personal story, but which also delves deeply into the ancient history of my ancestors and the Aramaic language, which was eventually swamped by the advance of Islam and Arabic, which became the lingua franca of the Middle East. BTW, Zahle is a name that pops up in my grandfather, Jacob Habib Fahkrey’s family tree.
Anxiety runs deep in my family tree as well. In both the Lebanese and Italian sides of my family, volatile personalities reign. My children have inherited the tendency to anxiety, although nowhere near as intense as preceding generations. Of course, both Lebanese and Italian peoples express the whole range of emotions vividly, which can sometimes be quite intimidating to others.
I agree with you about the blatant racism that thrived in those times. Once again, both my Lebanese and Italian ancestors experienced this.
I would love to hear more of your story.