Friday, June 1, 2012

School Haze

Shalom, chaverim! It's been a not-too-busy week here in Nahariya, since we had the luxury of having two days off from Ulpan because of last week's holiday, Shavuot. I am still trying to sweat off all the cheesecake I downed during the festivities, which shouldn't be too difficult, since it's getting hotter and hotter by the day. On the other hand, the screw is still turning relentlessly, as we are entering our last month of Hebrew studies. The exam is scheduled for June 28th, and this olah is starting to fret.

I never worried too much about exams in the past, since I was able to study the materials in my native language. I also had the bad habit of putting off studying until the last minute. In other words, I never really worked too hard when preparing for tests, since I procrastinated so much. Frankly, I was a lazy student and Jeff Spicoli, the character in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" was my personal hero. (If you can't see the link to the video below, please go directly to my website at

But Hebrew is different. There is absolutely no way anyone can cram for an Ulpan exam. It covers so much material that if you haven't really "gotten" it by now, you're not going to "get it" the night before, either. "Don't panic!" says our teacher Yael. "No depression!" I do a poor job of hiding my rolling eyes and snorts of skepticism when she says things like this. At this stage of the game, everyone in the class can make a fairly educated guess about how the others are likely to do. At this stage, I'd put myself somewhere around the bottom of the middle, and I'd put Elul well in the top tier.

"Do the best you can," people say, "and don't worry about it." But I have become uncomfortably self-aware that these days, doing my best just doesn't always cut it. My capacity to get by on little sleep, all the while studying, working, and socializing, like I did in college, has severely diminished with age. My attention span is shorter, and I am resisting and resenting doing homework, just like a truculent child. I'm grouchy if I don't get enough sleep, and I go nuts if the apartment isn't reasonably clean, if there's not enough food in the refrigerator, or if the laundry isn't done. In college I used to live on pizza, beer, Ramen noodles, and coffee, and loved every second of it. I didn't used to be such an old fart!

Other students, like the nice young women in this video, seem much less discouraged with their progress so far. Perhaps it's because they had English/Hebrew labels stuck on all their personal possessions. It's too bad I didn't know about these before we got here, because I would have definitely bought some. I suppose I could make some myself, but...oh yeah, I procrastinate! (If you can't see the link to the video below, please go directly to

Kvetching about Hebrew aside, life is still sweet in Nahariya. We were recently honored by being asked to become the "buddy family" for an olah chadasha (a woman making Aliyah), who will arrive later this summer. Being a buddy family is a responsibility given to families who have made Aliyah in the past, and the job is to welcome a new person or family who has just made Aliyah. Nefesh B'Nefesh handles this as part of the assimilation process for new olim, and it is an excellent feature of the Aliyah program. Our own buddy family has done a marvelous job of welcoming us, helping us out, and giving us very good advice. We've been to their home many times, and have felt truly connected to Israeli life in a way we might have never experienced otherwise.

This week I had the delightful experience of talking to this dear lady, with whom we've been "buddified." We have so much in common it's eerie. She lived in Seattle for decades. I was born in Seattle and spent most of my childhood visiting family there every year. We both spent time in the Southwest: she now lives in Texas, and Elul and I lived in Nevada. We have a keen mutual interest in Middle Eastern dance. We're both adventurous (or is that crazy?) enough to make Aliyah in middle age. And most importantly, we both felt immediately at home in Israel, and felt that insatiable longing to be here the moment we left. But there we differ, in terms of how long we suffered from Israeli homesickness. It was only a couple of years for me, but for her, it was more than forty years! The fact that she's also funny, smart and very nice makes it even better. I am so excited for her, and it feels great to be thrilled about someone else's good fortune.

Shabbat shalom, chaverim!

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