As one who frequents a movie theater on the average of once every two years, I surprised myself when I actually read about an upcoming movie starring Natalie Portman which opens this Friday. What attracted me to the article was that Israeli born but American raised Natalie was being coached by Israeli born and raised Neta Riskin (I became hooked on Neta through her character, Gitti Weiss on the weekly Israeli drama Shtisel) on how to speak Hebrew with an Israeli accent.
My reaction was threefold:
I felt vindicated. There is justice in this world after all! If five and a half decades ago, Sheva Stern of Philadelphia could coach a young Ben Netanyahu to speak English with an American accent so that he would stop referring to a piece of farm machinery as a trrrrekktorrrrrr, then Neta Riskin can certainly coach Natalie Portman to transform tractor back to trrrrekktorrrrr. The Israelis owe us one.
I felt frustrated. As adept as Neta Riskin may be as a coach, there is more to the Israeli accent than being able to reproduce glottal and lingual sounds. One of the features of the Israeli accent is that other than monosyllabic words, Israelis either accent the last syllable or the second to last syllable of the word. Whereas Americans pronounce the name of the Jewish State as Israel, Israelis (allowing for hebraization) say Yisrael. For those who really wish to “talk the talk” when it comes to the language of our people, no different than placing the accent on the final or next to final syllable, what’s of utmost importance is who has the last say. By their very nature, Israelis are used to having the last say. Being a product of their country, they come by it naturally.  From Israel’s very inception when Pentagon prognosticators gave the nascent state a survival period of no more than a month, until this very day with “sophisticated” college students bleating that Israel is an apartheid state, Israelis have always had and in all likelihood will continue to have the last say as they dismiss or ignore those who have no idea what they are talking about..
I was saddened. When all is said and done, Israelis have to a large extent lost their accent. And it has nothing to do with the way they form their words. There was a time when Israelis placed their social accent on simple get-togethers, an evening of sitting out on the mirpesset (balcony) looking out onto the street, interacting with neighbors and watching out for one another. In so many ways, Israelis have been Americanized and their accent is now on technology, materialism and traveling abroad.
Having worked long and hard to sound like an American and not a Canadian when I speak,
I will be the first to tell you that accents are of major importance. But I will also tell you than when it comes to conveying a message, the way one accents one’s words is at best of secondary importance.
Derech Agav (Hebrew for by the way) Neta, I am intrigued with the way you told Natalie to place the palm of her hand in front of her mouth. You told her that if her palm sensed her breath, she was well onto her way of speaking with an Israeli accent. You may wish to suggest the palm test to Israelis who come off sounding cockney whenever they say oo instead of hu (Hebrew for he) and ee instead of he (Hebrew for she).