'Oldest Ivrit student' celebrates his 98th birthday with classmates

North Londoner Sidney Lightman began learning the language in 1948 and is a leading light in his discussion group


Sidney Lightman can lay claim to being the country’s oldest Hebrew student, having celebrated his 98th birthday surrounded by friends from the Chug Ivrit discussion group at a Hendon café.

Appropriately, the New North London Synagogue congregant delivered a speech in fluent Ivrit, having started learning the language when serving in the Israeli Navy in 1948.

He has kept up to speed by attending ulpan, Chug Ivrit meetings and the weekly WZO Hebrew Social Club sessions on Zoom. For many years a member of the JC editorial team, Mr Lightman still works as a translator and says he has been “overwhelmed and amazed” by the love and support of friends.

Born to immigrant parents from Poland, he served in the British Army and the Royal Navy before spending five years in Israel from the time of its establishment. He followed his mother in returning to London.

Mr Lightman attributes his longevity to a positive state of mind, saying: “I don’t actually regard myself as an old man.

“I talk to my grandchildren about everything and I feel that I am on the same page as them.”
Fellow student Renee Wasserman, who organised the birthday lunch, said it had been “an incredible experience to study with other like-minded people from all walks of life”.

But from the outset, she had been inspired by Mr Lightman and his “phenomenal” Ivrit skills.
“He stood out as an outstanding student and very soon became my mentor and motivator.

“After two years meeting on Zoom, we all finally met for the very first time [at the birthday celebration].

“My blessing to Sidney is to join together in two years to celebrate his 100th. I have made the booking for that event.”

Chug Ivrit leader Tony Korn said Mr Lightman had been a founder member some five years ago and had attended virtually every meeting since.

“His knowledge of Ivrit, particularly his vocabulary, is excellent.

“We use him as our dictionary but he never jumps in with the translation of a word until we really want him to — he is a real gentleman.”

Members all wished him “a very happy birthday — and many more to come”.

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