Category: People

A Muslim man on a quest to introduce Hebrew in anti-Israel Indonesia

Hebrew is unlikely to be among the most preferred list of foreign languages to learn in Indonesia. Not just because it is the language of Israel, the country that most Indonesians have a hostile view to, but also because there was not a place that offered the courses.

But a Muslim man who studied at an Islamic boarding school in East Java and earned his degree in Arabic literature from Al Azhar University in Cairo, Sapri Sale, saw this as an opportunity to introduce the language in Muslim-majority Indonesia.

Sapri said there is nothing political or ideological in his mission to teach Hebrew in a country where solidarity with Palestine is a strong issue and Israel is regarded as the enemy. He also said despite the religious and political contexts, he just wanted to introduce Hebrew as a language worth learning for Indonesians just like any other foreign language.

“We lack information about Israel because we don’t have access to their language,” he said on the sidelines of the course earlier this week, which is held every Monday and Wednesday at the office of Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) in Central Jakarta.

“It’s like the old saying, ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’, by learning their language so we can understand them better,” he added.

Sapri Sale showed his students how to write in Hebrew during a session at the office of Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP) in Central Jakarta. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The course at ICRP is the first one that has been open to the public, but Sapri has taught private courses for groups in several places in Jakarta since August 2017. Now that he’s open with his activities, he said that various groups in other parts of the country have asked him to teach them.

According to Sapri, unlike in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries where Indonesian as a language is learned out of necessity because of the significant presence of Indonesian migrant workers there, Indonesian is introduced in Israel through cultural studies program in university.

Sapri became interested in learning Hebrew during his student days in Egypt in the early 1990s and noted that Egyptians in general see Israel as an enemy.

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

Sapri, who also teaches Arabic, is aware that his positive intention to promote the language would result in a backlash against him and he has found himself the target of verbal intimidation from those who find his activities unacceptable.

“People have even called me ‘Sapri Jewish’, in a sarcastic way,” he said.

Sapri also wrote the first-ever 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 launched in late February.

Sapri said he was not surprised that he could not find a publisher that wanted to publish a book potential to trigger controversy, so he foot the bill to have the dictionary with 35,000 vocabularies published. As expected, major bookstore chains would not display it on their shelves, but Sapri said he could still make a sale through small, independent bookstores and online marketplaces.

The dictionary is acknowledged in the “Israel Berbahasa Indonesia” or Israel Speaks Indonesian official fan page on Facebook, which identifies its administrator as a government organization in Jerusalem and lists the Israeli foreign ministry’s web address in its profile.

His students come from different background, such as Alz Danny Wowor, a computer science lecturer at a university in Central Java and cryptography enthusiast. He signed up last month and since then, he has been commuting eight hours by train from Semarang in Central Java to Jakarta to learn the language in a 1.5-hour afternoon session. He takes the night train back to Semarang when the session is over.

“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 it better, such as the Atbash cypher,” Wowor said, adding that he hopes to study cryptography in Israel someday and learning Hebrew is part of his preparations.

Sapri said most of his students are Christians who want to improve their understanding of the Bible through its original language. 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, so it makes them easier to understand Hebrew because of the similarities in the two languages,” he said.


Sapri said that geopolitical issues aside, he hopes Indonesians would not be “allergic” to learn Hebrew just because it is associated with Israel.

Musdah Mulia, the chairwoman of ICRP said the institution was willing to provide the space for the course because they share the same vision in developing better
understanding between faiths and cultures, though she is aware of the possible repercussion against the institution.

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

This story has been expanded from its original version in Arab News


Obama’s Indonesian trip, a quintessential ‘mudik’ holiday

Former US president Barack Obama met with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Friday at the Bogor Palace in West Java, after arriving in Jakarta’s Halim Perdanakusuma airport with his family earlier in the day.

Continue reading “Obama’s Indonesian trip, a quintessential ‘mudik’ holiday”

Indonesia aims to emulate Norway in managing its mineral wealth

After three years leading Indonesia’s largest state-owned bank by assets, former Bank Mandiri chief executive officer Budi Gunadi Sadikin has a new role as special staff to Rini Soewandi, the Minister of State-Owned Enterprises (SOE).

In this role, which he started in late June 2016, Budi is charged with establishing a holding company made out of state-owned mining enterprises to re-do the way the government handles its future stakes in the industry.

Continue reading “Indonesia aims to emulate Norway in managing its mineral wealth”

Queen Silvia highlights Indonesia-Sweden sustainable fashion cooperation

Queen Silvia of Sweden drew on a batik pattern during her visit to Jakarta Creative Hub on 23 May, 2017. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Indonesia’s up-and-coming fashion designers have a lot to learn from their Swedish counterparts in practising sustainable fashion if they want to make their marks in the global fashion industry.

Lenny Tedja, the director of annual fashion showcase Jakarta Fashion Week (JFW), said since sustainable fashion was introduced here about three years ago, JFW has been encouraging young designers that JFW grooms to practise it in their production.

“We are still at the beginning of sustainable fashion practices, but we are going there. If these young designers want to go international, they have to pay more attention to sustainable fashion,” she said, adding that they could start by using materials that are eco-friendly, paying their workers in accordance to the minimum wage requirement, providing a humane workplace, to exercising better waste management.

JFW turned to Sweden, through its embassy in Jakarta, to learn more about the practise since the Swedes are very much advanced in producing sustainable fashion, Lenny said.

This cooperation was highlighted during Swedish Queen Silvia’s recent visit to Jakarta Creative Hub in Central Jakarta.

The queen was welcomed by Happy Farida Djarot, the wife of acting Jakarta governor Djarot Syaiful Hidayat and Svida Alisjahbana, the chief executive of Femina Group, who both then accompanied Silvia to browse through the display of products made by small and medium enterpreneurs, including handicrafts and fashion items made from recycled material of used hotel bed sheets produced by housewives who live in North Jakarta’s Marunda housing blocks.

Silvia also took a few minutes to draw on a traditional Jakarta batik pattern.

The queen said it was really inspiring to see the works of Indonesian designers displayed at the co-working space, which included elements of sustainable practices in their production.

“Like Indonesia, Sweden has a rich traditional culture in design,” Silvia said.

“We have a lot to learn from each other,” she added.

Svida said having the queen in the hub marked a symbol to Indonesia-Sweden cooperation in sustainable fashion.

“Being eco-friendly is what we strive to do and we would very much like to learn from Sweden,” Svida said.

The visit to Jakarta Creative Hub was part of the first-ever state visit of Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia to Indonesia on 22-24 May 2017. The royal couple’s three-city visit to Jakarta, Bogor and Bandung focused on trade, sustainability, research and innovation and it was aimed to strengthen the political, economic and cultural relations between Sweden and Indonesia.

Indonesian artist says career is over after Marvel comic controversy

Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf has hinted that he has been fired from his job after he inserted political and religious references tied to a blasphemy case that has embroiled Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama into a new Marvel comic. Continue reading “Indonesian artist says career is over after Marvel comic controversy”