Indonesia’s first Hebrew language center says language is neutral

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Sapri Sale studied at an Islamic boarding school in East Java and earned his degree in Arabic literature from Al-Azhar University in Cairo. He has been teaching Hebrew in Jakarta since August 2017. (AN Photo)
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Sapri Sale’s students come from different backgrounds but are mostly Christians who want to understand the Bible in its original language. They make up 70 percent of his students, while the remaining 30 percent are Muslims. (AN Photo)
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Sapri Sale wrote the first-ever Indonesian-Hebrew dictionary. He worked on it for 10 years. (AN Photo)
Updated 15 March 2018

Indonesia’s first Hebrew language center says language is neutral

JAKARTA: It is not easy to find a place offering Hebrew language courses in Indonesia where anti-Israel sentiment is always high.

But when computer science lecturer, Alz Danny Wowor, found a place in Jakarta that offered courses, he signed up last month. Since then, he has been commuting eight hours by train every Monday and Wednesday from Semarang in Central Java to Jakarta to learn the language in a 1.5-hour afternoon session. When the class is over, he takes the night train back to Semarang.

“I have a keen interest in cryptography, and Israel is well known for its sophisticated cryptography. I am learning the language so I can understand that better, particularly the Atbash cypher,” Wowor told Arab News on the sidelines of the course which is held at the office of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) in central Jakarta.

The teacher, Sapri Sale, is a Muslim who studied at an Islamic boarding school in East Java and earned his degree in Arabic literature from Al-Azhar University in Cairo.

He also the wrote the first Indonesian-Hebrew dictionary which he worked on for 10 years. The dictionary is divided into three parts — dictionaries for Indonesian-Hebrew, and Hebrew-Indonesian as well as a glossary — and was published in late February.

Sale told Arab News that he became interested in learning Hebrew during his student days in Egypt in the early 1990s; he noted that Egyptians in general see Israel as an enemy.

“The language triggered my curiosity, so I decided to learn it to help me understand more about it,” he said, adding that he self-taught himself for two years and at the beginning, he used second-hand text books from Cairo University’s Jewish literature studies. Later, he took a Hebrew course at the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo.

The course at ICRP in Jakarta is the first one that has been open to the public, but he has taught private courses for groups in several places in the capital since August 2017.

Sapri found himself the object of verbal intimidation from those who find his activities unacceptable in a country where solidarity with Palestine evokes strong feelings and Israel is regarded as the enemy. He is also aware that his positive intention to promote the language may result in a backlash against him.

“People have even called me ‘Sapri Jewish’ in a sarcastic way,” he said, adding that despite the religious and political contexts, Hebrew is a language worth learning just like any other foreign language.

His students come from different backgrounds but are mostly Christians who want to be able to improve their understanding of the Bible. They make up 70 percent of his students with the remaining 30 percent being Muslims.

“The 30 percent can learn Hebrew faster because as Muslims, we are usually taught to read the Qur’an in Arabic and that makes it easier for them to understand Hebrew because of the similarities between the two languages,” he said.

Musdah Mulia, the chairwoman of ICRP said the institution was willing to provide the space for the course though she is aware of a possible backlash against the institution.

“We can learn about another culture and history through language and Hebrew is a language. Language is neutral.” she said.


Afghan poll body misses announcing crucial presidential initial vote

Updated 19 October 2019

Afghan poll body misses announcing crucial presidential initial vote

  • The chief of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), blamed technical reasons for missing the timetable
  • She said the results would be announced “as soon as possible”

KABUL: Afghanistan’s election commission conceded its failure to release initial presidential poll results set for Saturday and gave no new deadline for the vote which was marred by Taliban attacks and irregularities.
The presidential poll on Sept. 28 saw the lowest turnout of any elections in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s ousting.
Hawa Alam Nuristani, the chief of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), blamed technical reasons, particularly slowness in entering data on to the server, for missing the timetable.
“Regrettably, the commission due to technical issues and for the sake of transparency could not announce the presidential election initial poll results,” she said in a brief announcement.
Without naming any camp, Nuristani also said: “A number of observers of election sides (camps) illegally are disrupting the process of elections.” She did not elaborate.
Nuristani said the results would be announced “as soon as possible,” while earlier in the day two IEC members said privately that the delay would take up to a week.
The delay is another blow for the vote that has been twice delayed due to the government’s mismanagement and meetings between the US and the Taliban, which eventually collapsed last month after President Donald Trump declared the talks “dead.”
It further adds to political instability in Afghanistan, which has seen decades of conflict and foreign intervention and faced ethnic divides in recent years.
Both front-runners, President Ashraf Ghani and the country’s chief executive, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, have said that they expect to win.
The pair have been sharing power in Afghanistan as part of a US-brokered deal following the fraudulent polls of 2014.
The IEC has invalidated more than 500,000 votes because they were not conducted through biometric devices, bought for the vote from overseas to minimize the level of cheating in last month’s polls.
Officials of the commission said that nearly 1.8 million votes were considered clean and it was not clear what sort of impact the turnout would have on the legitimacy of the polls and the future government, whose main task will be to resume stalled peace talks with the Taliban.
They said that the slowness of data entry on to the server was one of the technical reasons for the delay in releasing initial poll results.
Yousuf Rashid, a senior official from an election watchdog group, described the delay as a “weakness of mismanagement,” while several lawmakers chided IEC for poor performance.
Abdul Satar Saadat, a former senior leader of an electoral body, told Arab News: “The delay showed IEC’s focus was on transparency” and that should be regarded as a sign that it took the issue of discarding fraudulent votes seriously.