Saturday, May 31, 2014

My New Ulpan

As y'all know, I struggle with Hebrew, yes, still.  Yes, after about 2.5 years here I still

  • Tremble in fear before speaking to an Israeli
  • Don a sheepish smile and ask if what I've said is correct
  • Hope that I haven't asked for a cow wearing a pith helmet when what I really want is lettuce
  • Avoid buying anything, doing anything, or being anywhere that involves speaking Hebrew
  • etc. etc. etc.
It still bothers me not to be able to easily express myself, with correct grammar and vocabulary befitting an adult, whenever I want to.  For example, last week I took the kids for pizza.  And realized I did not know the word for "slice" (meshulash).  I asked Ariella and she said, "Oh, it's OK, I'll just order for us."  Sigh.

I am tired of driving to an appointment and preparing my dialogue in advance, which usually is as complicated as this:

  1. I have an appointment with ______________
  2. Yes, I will wait
  3. Here is my ID card
  4. Which room is it
All in all, as I've said before, I know I will sound like an immigrant forever.  

So everyone's solution seems to be: Spend more time with Israelis. 

I agree, so I have registered for a brand new Ulpan called "Teach Bubby Hebrew."  

The instructional staff includes 5 highly trained individuals who have dedicated their lives to improving my Hebrew skills. 

And what I love about this Ulpan is that each instructor has his or her own style.

For instance, the other day Professor Rose the Middle(age 8) explained the nuances for the many ways of saying "stop" and "listen."  When I asked about how to use a particular word, he responded with, "Hmm, so I say it this way."  I love the real life scenarios.

Professor Rose the Younger ("Ani Ben Arba!") utilizes the immersion technique.  He simply speaks only Hebrew to me and so I have no choice but to learn.  What is a bit unfortunate is that he himself seems to struggle with correct grammar at times.  I am only aware of this because his Mommy told me, otherwise how would I know?  He entertains me with long explanations of everything, mostly revolving around which snack he would like and why.  In order to keep him happy, I need to figure out what he is saying.  It is a win win. Also, he speaks a unique blend of Hebrew and English, so it keeps me on my toes ("Bubby ani rotzeh a treat.")

Professor Rose the Eldest (age "almost almost almost 11) is a patient instructor, and is becoming more adept at hiding her gales of laughter when I say something incorrectly.  When she introduces me to her Israeli friends, she tells me "Say Shalom to her, she doesn't speak English."  That's not embarrassing at all.

Professor Klein the Elder (age 7) likes to challenge me.  "Bubby," he says, "let's read this Hebrew book and I'll help you with the hard words.  And it has nekudot to help you!  Come, you  really need practice."  He is kind, this one.

Professor Klein the Younger (age 5), in between doing cartwheels and jumping off the couch, is an entertaining instructor.  I have no idea if he teaches me anything but he is so funny that who cares.

I would encourage you to join me, but alas this is a single-student educational experience so nah nah nah boo boo you can't.

Oh, and this Ulpan is free (well, except for the snacks for the younger Professor Rose). I signed up for a long-term course.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

I Have No Time for You

The store
Just came back from the home goods store.

We were looking for a bathroom rug.  This was not rocket science NOR was it brain surgery.  It wasn't even a Melissa and Doug puzzle.

We found the bathroom rug section.  There was a man sitting there, feet up, talking on his phone or playing Candy Crush (PERSONAL NOTE: I'm on level 364 by the way, people, so nah nah nah boo boo).

We looked around and were discussing the options:

1. This ugly color
2. That ugly color

Suddenly we hear a voice, "Yachol laazor lachem"?  [Can I help you?].

Now please note.  Said person:
1. Had not arisen from his chair
2. Had not even lowered his feet from their resting position
3. Was still looking at his phone.

We declared ourselves non-needing of help so he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

Then we found a light blue rug that wasn't too gross.  Suddenly we hear a voice, "Which room is this for?"
"The bathroom," we say.  He nods and goes back to his phone, his daily requirement of customer service at its end.

Then we decide to get rugs for our room.  "Which room are they for?" he asks.  "The bedroom."  Another nod.  Uh oh!  He's over his quota of customer service!  He probably should just go home now!

Then I decide to ask a question, "Do you have something to put under the rug so that it doesn't slide around?" And believe me I had no idea how to say that in Hebrew, most of it was said in smoke signals.

"Yes," he says, "you need something."
I look at him hopefully (read stupidly), figuring he'd now show us where to purchase said something.

"We don't have it."

Huh.  Guess the conversation is over because he went back to his phone.  Impressively, he had not changed position during this exchange, his feet were still propped up on a pile of rugs, which thankfully we were not looking at, because that would have caused a cosmic shift.

The marketing phone call:
Got a call yesterday, with someone speakingreallyfastHebrew.  I caught the word "Hyundai" - whew!  Unless it means something else in which case she could have been selling hair salon equipment and I wouldn't have known.

When she took a breath, I told her we don't have a Hyundai.

She hung up on me.

The other marketing phone call:
I don't know which company this was from, I really don't.
The woman was also speakingreallyfastHebrew.  I asked her to please tell me again more slowly.

She hung up on me.

The service call:
I was calling someone to arrange a service visit.  I asked if someone could speak in English, because what I had to explain was very complicated.  He said, "Sure, no problem, I'll have someone call you right away."  Never heard from them again.

The positive experience!!
Today I called to make a medical appointment.  The woman spoke slowly and clearly (she's probably the cousin of marketing call lady, who warned her about me).  I made the appointment and checked the time again with her just to be sure and she was very patient.

She probably wasn't born here.

Monday, May 5, 2014

There and Here

Last week we returned from the US - my husband had been there since the end of February, for work, and I was there since the week before Pesach.  It was great seeing our kids in Chicago, and spending part of Pesach in Florida.

Here are things I noticed when I was in the US:

  • There is English
  • There is Target
  • There is CVS
  • The traffic lanes are normal size
Truth is, I fell back into life in America with no trouble at all.  At times I was thinking, "Wow, this is so easy!  Everyone speaks English,  and I can find the products I want, and I get the culture!"  It felt comfy and I didn't have to work so hard at everything.

But there were things I missed - looking at the Judean Hills every day, knowing Jerusalem was 25 minutes away, there for me any time I wanted to go, and hearing Hebrew, even if I didn't understand it. 

The thing is, I chose to make Israel my home, and then when I got here, I realized that "home" had an entirely new meaning.  It's not just the physical environment, it's the belonging. 

I lived in the US for the first 58 years of my life, but I never felt at home.  Maybe I'm unlike other people, but I was always keenly aware of not belonging.

It was never my country, it was their country and I was living in it.  I was grateful for the good life and the freedom, but I was a guest.  The culture revolved around someone else's religion, someone else's holidays and customs.  And the tendrils of anti-semitism would snake around me so often that it was just part of life.

I'll never forget a co worker whom I trusted and respected saying to me, on more than one occasion, how he "Jewed" someone.  And not realizing how insulting and hurtful that was.  And that no one else in the office, aside from my African American friends, got that either. 

When I got here, it hit me with tremendous force - this is my country, my people, my holidays, my customs. This is where I was supposed to be all along, why hadn't I known that?  Why hadn't I acted on it?

So last night we attended the festive Maariv for Yom Haatzmaut, at our shul.  This was one of the most powerful moments since we made aliyah, and I'll never forget it.

The special tefilot were said, and the dancing and singing rocked the shul.  Everyone was wearing white and blue, everyone was joyful and grateful, and when the shofar blew and we all said "Shema Yisrael" together, it was like we were shouting to the heavens in gratitude.

I looked at my friend and said, "Look what we did!  We came here! Yay us!!!" and we both laughed and cried together.

So I am happy to be back with the narrow traffic lanes, missing a lot of what people say, asking "Mah?" a lot, and being unable to find Excedrin.

Home is where my soul is. Thank you, Hashem, for this land and this people and this Torah.