Maronites in Israel Learn Aramaic
Fourth-grade teacher Mona Issa teaches the Aramaic language class at Jish Elementary School in Jish, Israel, 20 June. The mostly Maronite Catholic community is trying to revive the Aramaic language that was spoken by Jesus. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
25 Jun 2012 by Judith Sudilovsky
JISH, Israel (CNS) — Aramaic language classes
begun four years ago at Jish Elementary School have
changed the way youngsters experience the weekly
Before, I used to wonder how I would get
through the one-and-a-half hours at church. Sometimes we
would even laugh at the how the priest was praying,
recalled Carla Issa, 9, who has studied Aramaic at the
school for two years. But now I understand what I am
saying. I love it.
Sunday Mass at St. Maron Parish is partially
recited in Aramaic. But Issa and friends also have found
another use for the ancient language: They sometimes use
it when they pass notes to each other in class.
Some 110 students are now studying the language
at the elementary school as a result of years of effort by
village resident Shadi Khalloul, 37, chairman of the
Aramaic Christian nongovernmental organization in
This is our Maronite Aramaic heritage, he said on a recent visit to the school. We are hoping to revive (Aramaic) as a spoken language. Hopefully the pupils will use it among themselves to communicate with each other. It is our forefathers language. It is the language of Jesus, we should not forget that, especially the Aramaic Galilee dialect.
Spoken Aramaic, the root language of all Semitic
languages, is still preserved in parts of Syria, Iraq and
Lebanon — and even by elderly Jews originating from a
region of Kurdistan — but the spoken language has been virtually lost in Galilee, where about 10,000 Maronite
Catholics use it solely for prayer. During their daily
interactions, they speak Arabic.
In all, there are between half a million and 1
million people worldwide who still use Aramaic as their
vernacular language, while another 15 million use it only
as a holy language, said Khalloul.
In Jish some older residents like Issa's
grandfather, who helped her with her homework when she
started studying, have retained their traditional language,
but most Maronites of the village only hear Aramaic on
Aramaic is taught regularly as part of religion
classes by Father Bishara Suleiman, but it was not until
the priest offered a three-month course for adults in 2006
that Khalloul, who had recently returned to Jish after
graduating from the University of Nevada, became hooked
on the language. A small group of adult students
continued studying on their own following the conclusion
of the course and began connecting with other Aramaic
communities in Sweden and the Netherlands.
Khalloul initiated his own after-school classes for
youngsters, then started to negotiate with the Israeli
Ministry of Education to include Aramaic as part of the
The ministry now provides funds for the classes
through the eighth grade as part of any enrichment
program already in place. For now, it is the only such
project in Israel. A parallel art class is offered during the same period, but almost 90 percent of the Christian
children choose to attend the Aramaic classes, said school
principal Reem Khatieb-Zuabi, a Muslim woman.
She said classes have proven to be a matter of
pride for the school, and even some Muslim students are
taking the class.
Tags: Middle East Christians Holy Land Israel Maronite Aramaic