There's always that one little group in town you've never heard of, the one that flies below the radar - that, in passing, people note as one of the best-kept secrets around.
While Chug Ivri boasts no such claim, what it does do is meet, every week, for some coffee and a bit of conversation - in Hebrew, that is. And it's been doing that for the past seven years.
"Its original intent was to give people an opportunity to practice their listening skills," explains Rochelle Wolf, 58, the one-woman show who created and runs the group, geared mainly for non-native speakers.
"It's difficult to keep up with a language skill unless you practice," she continues, "and Hebrew, especially, has been neglected, particularly among the younger generations."
The conversation group meets Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in the Borders bookstore cafe in Wynnewood. Sometimes, as many as
10 people show up; sometimes, Wolf chats with just one or two - or practices alone.
The push for better language skills also led Wolf to jump-start a Hebrew lecture series, which began in October and wrapped up last month. The final event, held May 15 at Temple Beth Hillel Beth El in Wynnewood, drew nearly two-dozen guests, who came to listen to a 25-minute talk by French-born attorney Isabelle Tahar Miller on "The New Face of Anti-Semitism in France."
The speaker, who studied in France, Israel and the United States, and who now lives in Philadelphia with her husband and children, painted a grim picture of social problems in Europe. She said that anti-Jewish - and more obviously, anti-white - sentiment is running rampant as France grapples with modern nationalism vs. ethnic expression.
"In my heart," this daughter of Tunisian immigrants said in Hebrew, "I'm Jewish first, not French, though I love all things French."
The problems there pain her, especially what she designated the No. 1 issue: Islamicization.
Tahar Miller also noted the clear-cut media bias against Israel, which is rife in Belgium and the Netherlands as well. The audience nodded all the while, seemingly well-attuned to the problems of Europe these days.
New Grant, New Name
Wolf received a $500 one-time cultural grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia for the six lectures held this year, which she used to cover costs for the space, refreshments and a small gift for the speakers.
The idea was to help draw in the 25- to 45-year-old crowd, and while some in that demographic do attend, a definite part of the constituency are Wolf's age or older. A second grant for the program came this spring - $250 from the Kehillat Lower Merion.
Wolf's already started planning the 2005-06 season, with the first talk to be given in September by Rabbi David Gutterman, president of the Vaad: Board of Rabbis, as well as Federation's director of Jewish enrichment services.
She also aims to change the name of the group, readily admitting that Chug Ivri is confusing - and rather flat. Suggestions from the public, she says, are welcome.
And how long does this grandmother of two propose on owning the project? "Till I'm fluent," she responds with confidence. u
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