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Tags - hebrew
"Sof, Sof" or "finally" I finished my five month course in modern Hebrew. Along with hundred of other new immigrants, I studied at the Absorption Center here in Ra'anana. To me, the best part was the social interaction. I have made friendships that I think will last a lifetime. It is so helpful to meet people who have also left their countries and families and lifestyle. We share so much in common. The one thing that is different is that I think I am the only Christian.
Because it is an absorption center, about 99.9% of the people there are new Jewish immigrants. I wouldn't suspect otherwise in the Jewish nation of Israel. But my friends have made me feel quite welcome and we have very interesting cultural and religious conversations. Nicole is from Columbia, Lee is from England, Chaim is from France, Tsipi is from Venezuela, Florence is from France, Alona is from the Ukrain and Audry is from the States. And there are even more nations represented in the center which make the whole experience quite enriching on so many levels.
Israel is a phenomenal example of successful assimilation of immigrants. It is a multi-cultural nation with floods of immigrants coming from every corner of the world and speaking dozens of languages with differing symbols and dialects. The daunting task was accomplished through the system of ulpans created to educate new arrivals in Hebrew and thus create, through language, a common bond and identity.
An ulpan is an educational institution run designed specifically for learning Hebrew. Some ulpans are funded by municipalities, others by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, or the Jewish Agency.
Today in Israel over 6,000,000 Israelis speak, read and write modern Hebrew fluently, but for centuries the language was used only by academics and religious leaders. In fact, the notion of speaking Hebrew on the street was even offensive to some as it was considered a holy, consecrated language not to be reduced to idle talk on the streets.
In 1901, when the ideals of the modern Zionist movement were developing, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda made his way to Israel with the ambition to revive the Hebrew language. He published articles in newspapers and began the Ben Yehuda Dictionary program. His motto was "Hebrew in the homes and schools" as well as "talk and talk." He worked zealously and fought against aggressive opposition to raise support for his cause - a Jewish nation with Hebrew as the national language.
In 1948 the state of Israel was officially declared and recognized. Among the first actions of Israel's new parliament was the declaration that Hebrew would replace English as the language of the nation. In 1949 the first ulpan in Jerusalem was founded and since then, it is estimated that two million people have learned Hebrew at ulpans throughout Israel.
Israel's success at making Hebrew the common language is due in large part to the ulpan system. In recognition of the innovative, culture-enriched method of teaching the language, many nations have adopted the ulpan framework in attempts to revive their dying languages. Wales, Azerbaijan, Brittany, Catalonia and New Zealand have all duplicated the Israeli ulpan model of instruction. Wales even decided to keep the Hebrew name "ulpan" or "Wlpan" as it is pronounced in Welsh. The actions of these nations demonstrate that Israel's epic achievement in reviving their ancient language is yet further evidence of the powerful influence this little nation wields.
I am privileged to have been a part of this system. Though I have to say, I am happy to put the grammar exercises behind me and put some practical conversation into practice!
Today I went to the Ministry of Interior and renewed my permanent residency visa. I am still trying to figure out why something with the title "permanent" needs to be renewed, but I guess bureaucracy is the same in every country. It has been just about a year since I really "settled" in Israel. I was in and out before, but the past year was my first official, I have a Taudat Zaut (National Israeli ID), year in Israel. I thought it would be appropriate to review the past year and mention some of my most outstanding memories and invaluable lessons.
Probably the most numerous experiences were those connected with holidays. It seems there is always something to celebrate or mourn or commemorate. I think that is one of my favorite things about life in Israel. While all the Hagim or Holidays are special, I think one stands out as the most unique - the ha yoreah or "first rains". Where I come from rain is a good thing, but we often are frustrated by it when it ruins our plans. There is an abundance of rain and it is not often celebrated. This past September when the first rains fell in Israel I was in Zichon Yacov eating in a restaurant with friends. The place erupted in clapping and singing as torrential rain began pelting the windows. People love to become drenched in the rains that fall only 3-4 months of the year. After 8-9 months of no rain, those first drops are golden!
The most stunning memory would have to be my sunset horseback ride on the Mediterranean Sea. It has always been a dream of mine to ride along the shore and my husband helped make that dream come true on my birthday. What is so spectacular about the Mediterranean Sea is that the Sun sets right into the water giving the impression of a ball of fire sinking into the colorful sun kissed waters.
The funniest thing to happen to me was a "drive by fruiting". One day Yuval and I were driving on Achuza, the main street of Ra'anana, and I noticed a little yellow convertible filled with fresh fruits and vegetables coasting along beside of us. I laughed a little at the sports car turned agricultural vehicle. My amusement caught the attention of the driver who motioned for me to lower the window. For the next few traffic lights he would toss fresh strawberries, oranges and pears into our window with a huge smile. That's a memory that will last a lifetime.
My most embarrassing moment involves a tale of two horses. I have to say that immigrating to a new country is not for the faint of heart. You really start from ground zero. People have no idea of anything you accomplished prior to coming and you have to build a reputation from the ground up. This becomes even harder when a fluke accident happens that could decimate your credibility....such is the situation involving a lovely horse named Lucifer. If I had any doubts, I now know that there truly is something in a name. I was at a premier stable where I had been given a green-light to ride the school horses to give them better training. To make a long story short, before I mounted Lucifer I loosed his girth to straighten the saddle and boom! The next thing I know the saddle and I are lying on the ground and the horse is bolting to the barn. That was fun trying to explain that one to the owner of the facility. They did allow me to continue with the second horse, Shlomo or "Solomon", who, according to Biblical precedent, behaved much better than Lucifer and saved my reputation.
On the flip side of that, I would say the event I am most proud of in the past year is my bold attempt to teach riding lessons in Hebrew. I had a rather rough beginning but I persisted, giving my students full rights to correct all my mistakes. While I still lapse into a bit of Hebrish (Hebrew/English), I am now able to teach young children who do not speak any English at all. I still make many mistakes but I am quite proud of the progress.
The experiences most foreign to me are all those relating to war. Just yesterday there was a country-wide war drill involving air raid sirens. When we heard the sirens we were supposed to practice the procedures we would go through if there were a real attack. I scooped up my cat and walked to our personal bomb shelter where we have stored a few bottles of water, cans of dry food and of course the government issued gas masks. We make fun of people in the US have have these kinds of places in their homes. In Israel you're an idiot of you don't. Sadly, I think the US had better be prepared as well. It is always better to have and not need than to need and not have.
I guess a review of the past year would be incomplete without mentioning how I have learned to hold my own in lines - a subject of more than one of my previous blogs. I still have not managed to say no to those people behind me with one item who want to pass through. They hand me the exact money, ask the cashier to scan the item on my account and rush out of the store. The first time it happened I had mixed feelings. Part of me wanted defend my spot and say "What chutzpa! Stand down!". But the other part that said, "What a brilliant idea" won over. The tax is already included in the sticker price, it doesn't cost me any extra time, and the person with one item is able to pass by quickly. It works! I've almost wanted to do the same, but just can't bring myself to ask. Maybe by this time next year - but I don't think so.
The list could go on. Experiencing a new culture creates untold opportunities to laugh at oneself and to grit one's teeth at the frustration of circumstances beyond one's control and understanding . I am thankful that my experiences this past year in Israel have brought many more laughs than tears.
It is a great country! And it is beginning to feel more and more like home. Thanks to my readers who follow my blog and take the time to comment. Knowing I can share my moments with you keeps me laughing and gives me the boldness I need to try new things. Thanks for walking through this year with me!
Living life in the Holy Land