Thursday, April 15, 2010

Week one at the Ulpan - learning Hebrew

After two months of being surrounded by Hebrew I am really wishing I knew what people were saying. Things are changing now though, as this week I started learning Hebrew at Ulpan Gordon in Tel Aviv. I go from Sunday to Wednesday, from 9am to 1pm, for five months.

On the first day I discovered that most of the people sitting around me had similar stories to me - they had moved to Israel to be with their boyfriends or girlfriends. Seems like Israelis are going round the world and not just coming home with a tan, they are bringing girls and boys back with them! Mind you, it is mostly women in the class, so it appears that Israeli men are doing a better job at this importing business. The other half of the class are new Jewish immigrants to Israel.

The list of nationalities in the class of 40 people is impressive by any standard. I'm the only Australian, but there are people from the US, Argentina, Sweden, Russia, England, Germany, Brazil, Spain, France, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Kenya and Colombia (I'm sure I've left some out...).

The teacher is very good, but hasn't spoken any English after the first day. Things move quickly, we cover grammar, masculine and feminine forms of nouns... I'm just hoping it all fits into my head.

I've realised I'm terrible at grammar so that is what I'll be practicing most. Fortunately Amit helps me with my homework - learning the Hebrew script letters at the moment, and filling in the gaps of things I missed in class.

Some of my Hebrew homework - learning how to write the cursive script (looks like a bunch of squiggles hey)

I never expected I'd be learning Hebrew in my life. The language of the bible is a pretty strange thing for a non-religious Australian to learn. But then I never thought I'd live in Israel, or meet the love of my life on a cooking class in Vietnam, or talk about the science of slime to thousands of Australian kids, or write a blog, or talk about chocolate on BBC radio, or walk to university in the snow in Montreal, or ride a camel in Jordan either. Life is full of the unexpected, and that makes it wonderful. Learning Hebrew is another part of this adventure, and it has a great reason behind it - making a life with Amit in Israel. Love is always the best reason for doing unexpected things, in my opinion.

And here is a fantastic song by Feist. It has some great lyrics, like "I feel it all, I feel it all". That's what I'm trying to do right now, feel everything that life makes me feel. Hope it makes you feel happy too.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Visiting the doctor, Israeli style

I've had a cough for a week so it was time to see a doctor. I have health insurance here for tourists, so I called up to make an appointment with the local clinic. There I encountered my first problem: recorded instructions in Hebrew. I got an appointment for the next day eventually (with some help from Amit).

I go into the clinic and report to the desk, where they give me a piece of paper and send me off. I sit down on a chair, a nurse comes and says "Are you seeing the nurse? Blood test?" I say no, I'm here to see the doctor. She says to sit next to the doctors door so he can see me and he will call me in.

So I go and sit next to the doctor's door, and he doesn't call anything. It seems the way to see the doctor is to push your way through the door. Open the door when he has a patient with him, retreat, but as soon as that door opens you jump up with your elderly charge and push into the room. An alternative tactic, performed by a religious lady with three kids, was to barricade the door entrance with her double pram and push her way in at every moment.

After 30 minutes I was really wishing that Israel had queues, lines, a doctor who went down a list of names, and people waited their turn, despite being older, more invalid or more religious than you, like in Australia or the UK. Lucky I had my book with me, to say the least.

With all this time passing I continued to sit there and ponder the fact that in Israel elderly people hire young female Filipino carers to look after them, so these old people and their carers can be seen on their daily walks hobling through the park (or being wheeled in their chairs), or being escorted through the doctor's door in a typical Israeli pushy way. In Australia old people go to nursing homes, or live with their children, and are generally not living in the middle of big cities. They hang out with other old people, and I must say I barely saw an old or invalid person in Canberra - like there were all hiding in the suburbs. Here old people are in your face, everywhere, very present. It actually makes me feel like Tel Aviv is more of a real place, with old people, babies, and everything in between.

Eventually the elderly, disabled, religous and crazy had gone ahead of me, I'd waited for 40 minutes, and I finally got in. The doctor started the meeting by saying "Why do you want to live here? People are so rude, I saw you sitting there but I didn't know it was you who are on my list, and all these rude people pushed in front of you! Why do you want to live here, you are educated, polite, well mannered. Israelis are so rude? Are you really going to stay?"

I laughed and said I was here because of my boyfriend, and that it will be much easier to push in when I understand Hebrew. I think he was still wondering why on earth I'd want to live here, rather than in Australia.

Result: He gave me some drugs for my cold, and they were free! And I'm going to learn how to be more pushy...

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A kibbutz experience

The day after the passover Seder meal the whole family went for a drive north, to visit some relatives who live at the Sasa Kibbutz, in Northern Israel, very close to the border with Lebanon.

View from Kibbutz Sasa

The Kibbutz is in the mountains, with beautiful fresh, crisp air and lovely green scenery. Amit's Dad's cousins live there, and all their families were visiting for the holidays. One of the cousins, Varda Yatom, is a ceramics sculptor, and we visited her gallery, filled with interesting pieces.

Sculptures by Varda Yatom

Every Kibbutz has a factory of some sort that is a main source of income. Amongst all this lovely scenery I was surprised to discover that the Sasa factory produces vehicle and body armor for vehicles, with large contracts with the Israeli and American defense forces. We had an interesting tour of the factory there... not at all what I'd expected to find!

me with sculptures

Saturday, April 03, 2010

My first Passover

Monday night was the traditional Passover dinner, called the Seder. Amit's family gathered at his parent's place, where we had toasts for the holidays and exchanged some small gifts - mainly books and clothes.
Amit's dad and nephew reading the Haggadah
Before the meal we started reading the Haggadah, which is the book about the exodus from Egypt, and the Jewish people's freedom from slavery. It talks about Moses, the ten plagues on the people of Egypt sent by God so the Pharaoh would let the Jewish slaves leave Egypt, etc. It's a good story, and the reading of the Haggadah is punctuated by traditional songs. The songs were fun, and I could sing along as they were quite repetitive.
Singing the pesach songs, complete with actions
The food you eat on Passover (Pesach) is very traditional, and you eat different things to represent different aspects of the Jewish people under slavery in Egypt and how they were freed. We ate eggs in salt water, Gefilte fish (eww), matzoh (unleavened bread), chicken soup with Matzoh balls (yum!), and lots of other delicious food... so much food yet again, and our fridge is now full of leftovers from Amit's mum!

You can read more about the Seder meal here.
 Amit and me reading the Haggadah