Here is a list of just a few of the benefits provided to me by the Misrad Klitah, Ministry of Absorption, as an oleh chadash (new immigrant):
- Free health insurance for 5 months
- Free Ulpan (Hebrew class) within my 18 months
- Free falafel for my first 40 years
While these things would make incredible change in my life, unfortunately they are not all true. I will receive health insurance for six months. (Insert silly laugh here, hardy har har.) Ok, so I get to take a free Ulpan, the classes offered in facilities across the country to help assimilate me into this diverse population. Yes, someday I too will answer the phone “AH-lo!” and precede my thoughts with “Ehhhhhhhhhhhhh..”
As someone who loves speaking Hebrew (especially when it involves ridiculous slang or pretending to be an ars (this word requires a whole nother entry…)), I have just been waiting for my classes to begin. Unfortunately, as I have probably mentioned before, I was told Israel’s national fall-time phrase when trying to register: “acharei hachagim (after the holidays)”. Despite arriving almost 3 months ago, I just this week finally began my Ulpan and it couldn’t have started soon enough for me. Here are some thoughts and observations that went through my head on the first day…
- As I walked onto the small campus holding a plastic grocery bag with my lunch, it was impossible not to avoid the horrible memories of junior high flashing back. I glanced around wondering who all these people were and how many lockers I would get stuffed into. Fortunately, only two my first week. So in this country, do the perpetrators tell you “yiyeh b’seder” as they’re cramming you in there?
- Jesus, I’m on the fourth floor! I’m definitely going to be in shape from this thing even if I don’t learn the language. I’m either going to be running marathons in a month or flunking my way down to the basement.
- There was no room number posted outside the door. I walk in, take a guess that somebody speaks English, and ask the few people already there “What room is this?” The Asian woman stares at me but doesn’t say anything. Another woman answers in a European accent, “thirty-one”. I’ll be speaking to you later, Anglo.
- I think I’m gonna try out for quarterback. When is our first pep rally? Go, Rydell!
- My teacher’s name is Dafna. I love Ulpan teachers! Why can’t everyone speak in that slow, reassuring and reinforcing tone? I feel like I’m 4. “Tooooooov! Nachoooooooon!” She tells us not to worry if we don’t understand every word she says: “Lo lih’yot b’panica.” ANI B’PANICA! CALL THE POLICIA!
- I really find listening to her entertaining. When she’s describing something and we’re supposed to call out the answer, it’s like being in a big game of Taboo. I found myself wanting to grab a bag of Doritos and watch for half an hour before remembering that this is not TV; I should participate.
- We do “hekerut”, introductions/getting to know each other. Or as Dafna calls it “heh-keh-roooooooooot!” I love being talked to like a seven year old. If I don’t get a gold star, somebody’s gonna pay. What do you do in hekerut? Duh! You go around the room, saying your name, where you’re from, and a word that begins with each letter in your name. I offered up bedichot (jokes) for Bet, noar (youth, who I work with) for Nun, garti (I lived) b’New York for Gimel, and I couldn’t think of anything for the letter Yud. “Yisrael!”, exclaims my teacher! Ohhhh, Dafna, you are a smart one! It turns out that out of 25-30 students, we have people originating from Canada, Sweden, Ukraine, Japan, Brazil, Tunisia, Turkey, France, Peru, Russia, South Africa, and of course, the States (but I shouldn’t say of course because there’s only one other American in my class. Wow.) What a diverse group! It’s like the UN but with fewer anti-Semites.
- I wonder if we have to do a science project. I’m going to attempt to split the chickpea.
- Dafna passes out a sheet to fill out with our contact info. In the Comments section, she asks us to write anything we want her to know about us. I write that I’d like to study Hebrew through Israeli pop music. When she reads it, she says in front of the class, “That’s what I’d like to see!” I’m definitely going to get beat up now. Ech omrim “meet me at the bike racks”?
- On the second day, Dafna passes out a worksheet with a map of Israel from an atlas with all kinds of facts: population, area, religious breakdown, etc. When going around the room, one woman accidentally reads type of government as “dictatorship” instead of “democracy”. A gasp rings out from the crowd. There’s a way to endear yourself to your pupils. I hope I don’t get matched up with her during group work.
L’at, l’at (slowly, slowly), my Hebrew will improve. My big self-assigned task for today is to buy note cards to write all my new words on. Until later…l’hitraot!