Thirteen months into my Aliyah I started ulpan today :)!
Before telling you about it, I have to apologize for letting so many weeks slip by without keeping you up-to-date on what was happening with us. I’ll do my best to catch you up in the near future (including photos) but for now suffice it to say that we have moved from Ma’ale Adumim to Ra’anana.
There are 18 people in my ulpan ranging in age from early 20s to 60s – 5 of us from the US (NY, PA and Texas) and the rest from Venezuela, Argentina, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Serbia, Slovakia and England. It’s an interesting mix of people. Our instructor, Vardit, is Israeli-born and also speaks English and a little Russian. She’s a rather animated woman causing our first class to be lively.
During hafsaka (the break) I learned that the older woman from Argentina lost her distance vision yesterday (she can only see things at arm’s length or closer) – she’s been in Israel for 2 weeks and showed up at ulpan today instead of going to an eye doctor because… ? I asked and it seems that no one is helping her. Spanish is her mother-tongue but she knows enough English for us to manage a basic conversation. From what I gathered she’s living in a neighboring community and hasn’t made the connection with a helpful klitah counselor so she hasn’t received the healthcare she needs.
The young man sitting across the aisle from me just made Aliyah from Venezuela late last week and immediately caught some sort of flu or virus but hasn’t been to a doctor because his klita counselor hasn’t met with him yet. He assured me that she didn’t know that he is sick and he didn’t want to be a bother to anyone. Well, it’s going to bother to everyone if what he has is serious and contagious! So I told him (in my motherly tone) that he should go to the office right after ulpan – or maybe even during the break – and insist that they arrange for him to be seen by a doctor right away.
People who come from countries other than North America or England seem to have no advocacy groups like NBN to help them – and if they are in existence these people don’t know about them. I’m guessing that services may not have been great in the countries they came from so they have low expectations. I find it infuriating, I want to go pound on someone’s desk and demand that these people be taken care of immediately – and I’m sure my mother-in-law’s response to me at this point would be: “some people are just doing the best they can…”
There are three young people from Dallas, one of whom had a problem with the chill from the air conditioning. He selected a seat close to the vent and then complained about being cold! Our sweet instructor told him to open windows. The Mercaz is surrounded by trees and flowering plants and while the windows were open we were treated to lawn mowing (i.e., increase in pollen circulation) and the melody of children interacting on the playground. This set off my allergy symptoms and now my throat is feeling sore and sinuses are hurting. So tomorrow the plan is to arrive before him and steal his seat near the chilled air duct or give him a talking to about dressing appropriately for an air conditioned classroom (I suspect it would be more pleasant for all involved if he wore a sweater rather than cause me to have to strip down to less than tzniut-wear to prevent the flow of sweat from running down my face – and to have to deal with my irritability when other people’s insensitive actions cause me to have allergic reactions).
So you probably want to know more about the ulpan program, right? (BTW Shoshana, this is my way of including YOU in my ulpan – wish you were here too 😀 .)
The class began with Morah Vardit introducing herself, indicating it was nice to meet us, and asking our names: Ah-nee Var-deet, nah-eem meod. May at/atah?
To which we each responded “Ah-nee _____ (our names), nah-eem meod Vardeet” – pretty simple stuff except for a woman with a heavy Russian accent who couldn’t seem to pronounce “Ah”… she tried “ayinyee”, “oyinyee”, etc. While she was struggling I got a mental image of comedian Yakov Smirnoff and had to wipe the smile off my face in fear that she would think I was laughing at her!
Vardit then told us she is from Israel “Ah-nee meh Israel and asked May Ayim (where are you from)?
Between Berlitz and Pimsleur Hebrew programs I had it drilled into my head that “Ah-nee Amerikayit” (I’m American); however that was NOT the correct answer to this question! The correct answer was “Ah-nee may Artzot Habrit may New York” (I’m from the USA, New York).
The next logical question? You guessed it – “Achshav, ayfo at/atah gar/a (where do you live now)?”
I think only 4 or 5 of the 18 students don’t live in the Mercaz Klita (absorption center), so the majority of the responses were: (with much prodding and assistance) – “Ani gar/a bay Israel, bay Ra’anana, bay Rehov HaSharon mispar shalosh-esray, bay komah 1/2/3/4” (I live in Israel, in Ra’anana, at 13 HaSharon on the 1st/2nd/3rd/4th floor).
I don’t want to put advanced Hebrew speakers (like my friend Fred) to sleep with all this elementary stuff, so I’ll link off to my notes of the words we used today (at least the ones I wrote down!)
After working about 20 more words into conversation we were told that our daily schedule is:
Lesson 1: 8:00 – 9:40
Lesson 2: 10:00 – 11:30
Lesson 3: 11:50 – 12:30
During the break the lobby and courtyard downstairs filled up with students from the dozen or so ulpan classes being held in the building – including children of all ages. Many crowded around vending machines and helped each other determine which – and how many – of these “new” coins go in the slot for a cup of coffee/soft drink/snack, etc. The lobby was humid so I walked outside in search of shade and a fresh breeze but instead was assaulted by cigarette smoke. This is one of my pet peeves… maybe when I gain a reasonable command of Hebrew I will begin a NO SMOKING campaign. You may be wondering aren’t there are laws against this health hazard in the Holy Land? YES, there are! However, they’re enforced about as often – and with equal severity – as traffic laws.
After our first break Vardit wrote the first 8 letters of the alef-bet (alphabet) on the board and like kindergarten children we had to recite each one after her – over and over again. Then she gave us worksheets to practice writing Hebrew script – I learned the alef-bet many years ago in print, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the challenge of cursive so soon. Fortunately most of what I learned (and thought I had forgotten) at Siegel College a few years ago did come back to me.
Then we learned about nikkudote (vowels). I was amused that the instructor equated them to the English A, E, I, O, U considering that English is mother-tongue for only 6/18 of us in the class and because the sounds are NOT all the same between the two languages. On her chart:
A = Hebrew “ah”
E = Hebrew “eh”
I = Hebrew “ee” (long E)
O = Hebrew “oh” (long O)
U = Hebrew “ew”
When we returned from our second break Vardit took roll-call and I learned that they had used my American name (because it is on my teudat oleh) instead of my Hebrew name (from my teudat zehut). So while I was providing her with the correct name, several of my male classmates noticed that my name rhymes with tequilla and decided to chant that along with my name to help them remember it 🙄 (it seems that some men just never grow up!)
Then we began my least favorite activity – practicing our Hebrew READING skills. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my ability to read Hebrew print has significantly improved since moving here a year ago, however, reading script is still very difficult for me – especially when it involves reading someone else’s handwriting.
I was paired up with Anabella from Argentina – we took turns reading alternate words from the board and got through the simple 3- and 4-letter words pretty quickly, then took a second round at it while some classmates struggled. I felt bad for the new olim who arrived in the last week or two… imagine trying to learn a new language immediately after arrival while dealing with all the bureaucracy (remember, most of them don’t have Nefesh B’ Nefesh to make that transition easier).
We were then given a practice sheet to read – which later became tonight’s homework.
Now it’s time for me to do my homework – feel free to join me by using the worksheets I’ve provided and today’s vocabulary list (which is a work in progress and needs the Hebrew spelling completed/corrected in some places – you advanced Ivrit-ers out there should feel free to enlighten me on the correct spellings).