Monday, March 19, 2012

Gas Masks, Friends, & Hebrew

Today I was part of a Ladies of Ulpan field trip to Holon.  A couple of new immigrants and myself figured out how to get to the mall in Holon and actually found our way there.  We asked in the mall, found the line of people waiting for gas masks, showed our Teudat Zehut, and got our gas masks.  I know it's a small thing, but we felt very accomplished having done all of that by ourselves.

It's always better to do these things with friends - that way you have buddies equally terrified of getting lost and ending up somehow in Ramallah (I think that's every Israeli's innermost fear, by the way). Also, it's great having a new "chevra" of friends.  It's exciting meeting new people, hearing their life stories, and realizing how much we have in common, even though we grew up thousands of miles apart.

It feels like, in "upper middle age" we are re-creating ourselves.  We were born and raised in Baltimore, have most of our friends from there and from our college years in New York, and Baltimore held everything familiar and comfortable.  Shul, schools, stores, etc.

Now everything is new and on top of that we don't really speak the local language all that well. But you know what?  It's ok.  It is more than OK.

It's not that we don't miss our friends and family in the US - it's just that we are reinventing our lives from scratch.  We also don't want to re-create the US in Israel - we want to live as Israelis and learn how to do that, as slowly as we need to. 

And of course it is not without its embarrassing moments.

For example, the other day I was in the famous Rami Levy grocery store (best prices around) and wanted to sign up for a "club card."  I handled the discussion with the person in the store OK, and then she gave me a form and told me to stand (I thought) at Cashier 1.  Actually what she said was to stand at the counter in FRONT of Cashier 1.  So there I was standing in the line for Cashier 1 with a little piece of paper.  The cashier looked at me a little (ok, a lot) strange and I showed her the paper.  She said (with a look like "Oh you weird person") you go THERE and pointed to the counter in front of hers, where the store managers are (makes sense, no?).

OK, embarrassing moment #549 of probably several trillion.

It's kind of good for you, humbling even, to be the new guy in town.  In Ulpan we often laugh at our mistakes and wonder how we will ever, ever, remember all of the rules and conjugations.  Just when we think we have it, boom, we get it wrong.

But at least it proves, to us "older" people, that our brains still work and can absorb new information.  Slowly, but it does get in.  One day I will probably stop referring to my vocabulary list every time I want to remember a word I learned probably five times already.  And I will definitely not have to think, "OK, if it's a 'hiphil' - is it a 'hiphil'? - then the past tense for a man is....."  and have it take like 5 minutes to get a sentence out.  Or wonder if you use the feminine or masculine forms of the numbers in a given situation.

I am in awe of little kids and how quickly they pick up the language - they just absorb it wthout thinking about it too much, something I'm afraid adults can't do.

But it's ok I can always ask my grandkds to help me with my Ulpan homework.  "No, Bubby, it's n'kayva - didn't I tell you that yesterday?"

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