Saturday, February 18, 2012

Anachnu ba'Ulpan! ("We are in Ulpan!")

Shalom, chaverim! We are in the second day of what is predicted to be a four day stretch of rain, and when the forecasters say "rain," they really mean it! But neither rain nor snow (nor national strikes) will deter Elul and I from our appointed trudge to Ulpan, where we are intensively studying Hebrew.

I say "trudge," but I'm just joking. Actually, we are having a blast going to school every day. Our teacher, Yael, is my age and looks like an Israeli Sheryl Crow. This makes it pleasant for the men in the class and inspiring for we ladies of "a certain age," so everyone's happy. She is also remarkable in that she speaks perfect Hebrew, excellent (at least to our ears) Russian, a fair amount of English, and, in her "spare time" learned Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. Although she is a self-described "potato couch," she does this all while raising three daughters and going to university one day a week. She has a terrific sense of humor, is extraordinarily patient with all of us, and is a wonderful teacher all in all. In fact, we are getting students from Acco joining our class, despite there being an Ulpan there already, simply because she is so good at her job.

Our teacher Yael, not too happy because she's soaked from all the rain!

"Ulpan Nahariya" is held in a combination of municipal building and city synagogue, about a ten-minute walk from our apartment. We don't yet have a permanent classroom, so we shuffle between three different rooms every week. Twice a week, we actually study in the synagogue, which is a bit daunting as we face three large portraits of individual esteemed rabbis staring down at us. And just so we get the point, there is a fourth painting as well, which features the three aforementioned rabbis posing together!I believe these rabbis, judging from their outfits and types of glasses, are not from the same periods of history. I often wonder, given our frequent collective bouts of bewilderment in the classroom, are they gazing at us in kind support, or in sad resignation?

"I always feel like...somebody's watching me!"

We meet from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Sunday through Thursday. There are about twenty people in the class: one from Canada, one from Mexico, three from the U.S. (including Elul and me), two from Ethiopia, and the rest from the former U.S.S.R. Those states include Russia (the dominant origin state of our classmates), Ukraine, Belarus, and Romania. We have a half-hour break at 9:30 a.m., and a fifteen-minute break at 11:30 a.m. During these breaks, most of the members of the class from the former U.S.S.R. generally grab a coffee from the vending machines and rush outdoors to spend the rest of the break smoking, talking and laughing. Elul and I are fortunate, though, in that one of these women does not drink coffee, but instead brings along a giant German thermos of tea every day. In exchange for our providing her with plenty of paper cups for all of us, we get each get a cup of tea. This really works for us, since my backpack "Big Student" is getting smaller by the day as we add more and more exercise books and dictionaries to it, so there's really no room for a thermos anyway.
Speaking of the nutritional necessities of life, another member of the class is a brilliant painter from Romania who lives on a nearby moshav. Rodika has a job there, which I believe involves collecting eggs from the chickens they have on one of the farms. Last week, she asked the class if anyone was interested in buying fresh eggs from her, and Elul and I said we'd like to try some. We already had a dozen eggs at home, so we asked for half a dozen to try them out. She looked at us like we were crazy. "Six eggs?! What can you do with six eggs? I'll bring thirty!" We talked her down to twelve, so she promptly brought twenty in the trunk of her car the next day. I dropped one in the parking lot, so that left us with a plastic bag of nineteen eggs and a very careful walk home.

Although the training season hasn't started yet, another interesting thing about this Ulpan is that there is a circus training school in front of one of the entrances. Given my unnatural contortions of Hebrew, and the mental gymnastics in which I engage at Ulpan, this seems quite fitting. I can't wait for their classes to begin, as there's a real trapeze out there, and a bike geared up so you can do a handstand on it! Cool!

"Don't worry, it could be worse. You could be in there, studying Hebrew as an adult learner!"

"And once you learn to do the handlebar handstand, you can recite the masculine, feminine, and neutral versions of numbers from one to ten."

We laugh every day in class, mainly when our own mistakes make Yael laugh, and also at serious Hebrew words that sound like silly English words. For example, before we left for Israel, a friend who'd lived here years ago told us a story about being set up with her girlfriend on two blind dates with some local Israeli guys. They arrived at the house, and were introduced to our friend. One's name was "Peenie" and the other's name was "Doodoo"! Of course, "Pini" is a common nickname for Pinkhas, and "Dudu" is a nickname for  David. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in fact, is informally referred to here as "Bibi." So in honor of Israel, our love of third-grade humor, and the terrible weather we've had since we got here, then, we have decided to name our cat (that we will soon be getting) "Pini Dudu Galoshes!"

Shabbat shalom, chaverim! And as usual, if you can't see the pictures I've posted on this site, go directly to my blog at



  1. Enjoying your blog as usuall. I fully understand the oddities of names and words falsely translating to English words being brought up in a home where my parents spoke almost completely in anything but english. My parents spoke at least seven european languages slipping back and forth as we picked up words so we couldnt follow their conversations.

  2. היי, סלה, קראתי, צחקתי ושמחתי
    זה בדיוק האולפן שלנו,
    כל הכבוד!♥


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