Dispatches from Ulpan: Week 2

I must apologize for my lengthy absence. I’ve wanted to write, but I’ve just started the next leg of my journey and, as I’m sure you know, the reality of what we can accomplish sometimes falls short of our expectations. 

As I write this, I’m climbing into the heart of Haifa on another big, green bus; savoring a free moment after a long day of learning. Focusing on one subject, five hours a day, four hours a week is no small task on its own. After a more than two year absence from formal learning, it is evident that my mind is a little rusty. As I shake off the cobwebs, I am grateful to have an energetic teacher to learn from and intelligent, easy going classmates to learn with. 

The daughter of two Yemenite Jews, Galia, the Morah, is already one of the best teachers I have ever had. Her dark hair and skin are always complimented by tastefully colorful outfits, that, along with her smile, inject joy into every early morning. Her sense of humor, which sometimes comes at the expense of our mistakes, allows her to laugh as we mispronounce the Hebrew word for “education,” as the Hebrew word for “ovary,” or as we confuse the pluralization of Tzitzit, the traditional fringes worn by observant Jewish men, with Tzizim, the word for breasts. I have, without a doubt, never laughed so much while learning.

Boy oh boy do her methods get results. In the past week my pile of flashcards has almost doubled in size and I feel my self-confidence growing with each lesson. The highlight of the class so far came last week when, M, an immigrant from Russia and the darkhorse for the title of  “Class’s best Hebrew-speaker,” thanked Galia. Because of the words she had learned in the first week of the class, she was able to understand her son’s teacher at their parent-teacher conference. Obviously, my heart melted. For someone like me, who has no real responsibilities yet, it is easy to take for granted that I might struggle at times, chalking it up to “The Aliyah Process,” but M’s story reminded me that learning the language is an absolute necessity if we hope to lead normal lives.

It’s funny, over the years, my mom, who made Aliyah as a twenty-something, would tell me stories from her time in Ulpan. I could never figure out how she remembered the details of such a small part of her time in Israel so vividly. After a week, it makes perfect sense, largely because I already have my own stories to share; tea parties in room 21, the Americans who help soothe my homesickness, and of course, the curious case of communicating with my Russian roommate entirely through Google Translate. In the coming weeks, I hope these stories can shed some light onto what life in the Ulpan is like.

Until then, I am happy, healthy, and so excited to be in the place of my dreams, working on something that will help me for the rest of my life.

Learn more about Ulpan in Israel here.