Here is a little piece I wrote that is going to be in the OTZMA guidebook that I am helping put together.
A Twelve Step Guide to Surviving Ulpan.
By David Korenthal
1. ACCEPT the fact that there is no “right” level. Remember that these classes need to cater to the lowest common denominator. Unless you are at the absolute beginner’s level, you will either be too advanced or not advanced enough for the level you are placed in. That being said, the classes are also a numbers game. The less people on OTZMA, the fewer classes there will be. For my year, there was only one class. Make do with what you have, and make it work for you.
2. KNOW that your Hebrew skills are totally and completely on you. You can sit in a class and be taught Hebrew forever, but that does not mean that you will learn anything. The learning part is your responsibility. Whatever work you put into it you will receive twofold.
3. EXPECT it to be difficult. The only people who think learning languages is easy are the people who know a million of them. It takes work. It takes effort. Asking “why is this so hard” will only frustrate you. Know that it is difficult, get past it, and remember that it is a slow process.
4. PRACTICE everywhere. Are you the only customer in the store? Great, then take each item up to the counter and practice your Hebrew. Ask what things are, point to something and say what you think the Hebrew word for it is. Practice with your friends, practice with the neighborhood kids, practice with the guards, practice with the Russians. If you’re volunteering in a school, use the break times to hang out with the kids and learn from them.
5. DON’T be afraid to look like an idiot. You’re going to make mistakes. A lot of mistakes. However, do not think for a second that people are judging you for it. If anything, the Israelis that you will encounter will be impressed that you are willing to try their language. What is more, realize that you don’t LOOK like an idiot, you just feel like one, and that is OK. Your Hebrew level will be just one of many things that makes you uncomfortable in Israel that you will grow out of by the end of your year here.
6. LAUGH at your mistakes. They really are funny. Did you cause a scene going through security at the mall because you actually had a pomegranate with you? (“Rimon” means both ‘Pomegranate’ and ‘Grenade’). Did you just accidentally tell that soldier that you liked his big kiss? (‘Neshek’ means ‘Weapon. ‘Neshika’ means ‘Kiss’) Scary and embarrassing at the time, hilaaaaarious a month later.
7. READ everything you can. You’re turning into your father anyway, so you may as well start reading every sign you see out loud. Read a newspaper (Yisrael HaYom has all the vowels), and especially find some kids books. Everyone was at Level Zero once, and you are there now with your Hebrew. So start at the starting point. Reacquaint yourself with The Cat in the Hat and Madeline, but this time in Hebrew!
8. WRITE everything down. It will help you practice your writing and help you learn new words. Keep a little book in your back pocket to write new words in. Bring it everywhere with you, because if you don’t remember the words, you will remember that you wrote them down. Plus, people will be impressed with your initiative and it will lead to an enormous vocabulary.
9. DRILL yourself. Practice your verb tenses. Practice your vocabulary sets. Whether you do it with 30-second self-administered “name as many colors as you can” type tests, with flashcards, or with any other method, just do it. It’s boring. It sucks. But it helps.
10. REWARD yourself for small accomplishments. Did you just successfully ask for directions in Hebrew? Did you find what you want in the grocery store by looking at the signs? Pat yourself on the back, buddy, mazal tov! As with everything in the beginning of your OTZMA journey, celebrate every small victory. It makes the big victories better and helps you through the mistake that you are inevitably going to make next.
11. BE persistent. People will want to practice their English with you. Keep responding b’Ivrit and eventually they will yield to your effort. You will get tired, you will want to quit. It is OK to take a break and only speak English for a day, but the more persistent you are the better your Hebrew will become.
12. RELAX. It will be fine. You’ll survive. And people will think you’re pretty lame if Ulpan killed you. Imagine what that would look like on your tombstone….
Everyone, meet Odef Bagg O’Change, or Odie for short. And don’t let the Irish last name fool you. While Odie does indeed have a wide ranging and international heritage, he is Israeli through and through.
Odie was a special little friend who was born in an empty water bottle in our first week in Karmiel. I had a bunch of coins in my pocket from a week of spending money on new shiny Israeli things, and they were weighing me down mightily. As such, Odie began to grow out of my spare Odef (which means “Change” in Hebrew. But not Obama change, money change).
As Odie grew in his little water bottle, he accumulated LOTS of different types of coins. Agurot, chetzi shekelim, single shekelim, shnekelim, even some 5’s and some 10’s. And lets not forget about the Jordanian Dinars, Czech Crowns, and Euros. Somehow a quarter and a nickel and a few pennies ended up inside Odie too!
Odie lived a long and prosperous life. After suffering through that water bottle in Karmiel, he moved to a manila envelope that used to house a T-shirt. It was much drier and infinitely better for his metallic insides (rust is the number one illness for coin-beings like Odie). Unfortunatly, Odie left us this morning; a victim of excessive weight and nontransferable value. One of the most difficult things for coin-beings is to keep a slender and shapely figure. They are gluttonous by nature, and tend to eat all of the spare change in one’s pocket at the end of the day. Odie was also only valuable here in Israel, and his innards needed to be exchanged for larger bills.
And so, with sadness in my heart and a bit more room in my back pack, Dganit (My program’s director) and I laid Odie to rest. We counted his insides, which we gave to Betty (our office manager) who provided me with cold, hard cash. Here are some photos Odie’s tragic demise:
And here is a picture of me with Odie’s remains. In the end, our dear friend Odie turned out to be worth a total of 524.50NIS, which comes out to $135.26.
RIP Odie, may your memory be a blessing on my wallet. Z”L.
"Kadima" is the Hebrew word for "Forward." This is often used as a command, and its use speaks so much not only to the Israeli psyche, but to my present state of being.
I have exactly 5 weeks left in Israel as of today, and the sense of forward momentum is almost unbearable. I am enjoying every second of being here, but I just want to ride down a giant hill on horseback with a sword raised triumphantly over my head and scream “KADIMAAAAAAAAAAAA” as the trusty steed of life hurls me towards the unknown. Think “Braveheart,” but switch out Mel Gibson for me, maybe put set in the Roman era, and don’t throw that kid out of the window. I have applied to 2 jobs for which I am VERY far into the interview process- I might even get one of them! I might even get one of them before I leave Israel! What a change from this time of year last year, when I was in the middle of my stint waiting tables and being miserable and not getting interviews, much less jobs. I feel as if I have a direction, which as I look back on my lonely blog posts from earlier in the year, I was craving. And even though this is the direction of NOW, it is a direction from which many roads can diverge.
With this forward momentum though has also come a certain closed-ness. I don’t want to form any new relationships with my new Israeli roommates. I don’t want to meet new people or do new things. I don’t want to find anything else that I could get attached to before I leave. Ends are a blessing and a curse. Time for the whirlwind to stop, and not of its own accord.
That being said, my exit will be seamless and jarring at the same time. I leave early on Sunday June 3, right after a Shabbat, which I know that I will be spending in Jerusalem packing and cleaning and tying up what loose ends I can. I leave early in the morning so there will be no heart-wrenching long-lasting goodbye hugs or tears. I only have 2 days at home before I go to camp, so my time to be depressed is limited before I need to jump into whats next.
I will go quietly in the morning, slip out before the city and my friends rise to continue their own lives and journeys. And though I will probably leave no note, or anything tangible of myself here, something- I don’t know what- will always be here in Israel. A piece in Karmiel, a piece in K-Gat, a piece in Jerusalem, and even a piece for Gretchen Wieners.*
*Does the “Mean Girls” reference kill it? Mitztaer, I couldn’t help myself.
In the beginning of the year, there is a slew of High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and then Sukkot. In April, the situation is somewhat similar. In rapid succession, we have Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Ha’Atzmaout.
On both Yom HaShoah- Holocaust Rememberance day, and YomHazikaron- memorial day- there are sirens to commemorate those who died. During these sirens, the ENTIRE country stops. If you are on the road, you pull over, get out, and stand at attention for the duration of the siren. If you’re at the grocery store, you stop wherever you are. It is eerie, inspiring, and strange all at once.
On Yom HaZikaron in particular, Israelis are very serious and solemn. Memorial day here is not beaches and barbecues. Memorial day here is remembering everyone you know who has been killed while in the Army or as the result of a terrorist attack. And thats the thing, EVERYONE knows someone or is related to someone who has been killed. That’s right. Not died. Been killed. It is a very heavy and intense day, with lots of ceremonies and memorials. One of the very interesting things that happens is “Gravesitting.” In the big military cemeteries, Har Herzl in particular, a soldier who is currently serving will stand guard at a grave until the family arrives. If there is no family, that soldier will stand guard at that grave for a while so that everyone has someone mourning them. People go to great lengths to make sure that everyone they know who has been killed has someone to remember them.
Immediately after YomHazikaron, however, is Yom Ha’Atzmaout, independence day. As the sun sets on YomHazikaron, people start gearing up for one of the biggest party days of the year. This year, I went with my friends to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Everyone was drinking and having fun. Families were out and about and all the kids had blow up baseball bats and hammers with the Israeli flag on them to hit each other with. There was a huuuuuuge concert, great fireworks, and then all the young people party the night away. Needless to say, I cannot remember much of the evening, but I know that it was fun! The next day, everyone barbecues and hangs out.
I live in Jerusalem now!!! I moved here on the 17th of April, after a 2-day job seminar which seemed only to be relevant to me. Chaval for everyone else, Chaval HaZman for me.
We are living in the K’far HaStudentim, the Hebrew University dorms. I am in an apartment with 4 random Israeli guys who seem not to live there at all. It is the strangest apartment ever, as there is NOTHING in any of the public space, except for dishes in the kitchen. Not a poster on the walls, not a tube of toothpaste next to the bathroom sink. Strange, but whatever, I’m only here for 6 weeks.
For my internship, I am working at the OTZMA offices putting together a practical and spiritual guidebook for future participants. I am soliciting submissions from former OTZMAnikim, editing them, and deciding what to use. I am also looking for outside sources, and organizing the cabinets of pre-existing educational materials. Furthermore, I am holding focus groups for my fellow current OTZMAnikim about what they would have found helpful in an OTZMA-specific guidebook. I also get to hang out with Erika and Sarah and Dganit and Betty and distract them from doing work that they actually need to do. Mostly though, I send lots of emails on my fancy JFNA email account.
Last week, Sarah and I did a photoshoot to celebrate the launching of the new OTZMA website. My high school math teacher “liked” the photo on facebook, which provided an opportunity to reconnect and learn that he was on OTZMA 3 in 1988-89. This was my first year of life, though I did not tell him that. But what a small world, no?!?!
Kiryat Gat is my favorite place in Israel. Absolutely. Unequivocally.
A few weeks ago I went to go visit one of the groups I volunteered with- the high schoolers who are going to Camp Chi this summer, and I slept over at the house. When I walked in, I felt so at home, and even got a little homesick for it that I could not be there all the time. I haven’t been homesick since I was 10 and at my first summer of camp.
And so, a deeply profound thanks to everyone who was involved in my time in Kiryat Gat. Thank you Davey, Tiegs, and Greenie for being the best housemates ever. Thank you Orit for being the best teacher and resource ever. Thank you Einat, Niva, Yaffa, Omer, Susan, and Ofer for being the best federation staff of all the federations that we worked with. Thank you arsim and frechot for providing endless entertainment. Than you Barmochas for feeding me until I burst and being the best host family I could have asked for. Thank you students for being awful and awesome and hilarious and irritating. Thank you Cafe Cafe and Aroma for all the coffee and sandwichim.
Thank you K-Gat.
AND I WAS IN PARIS FOR PESACH!!!! It was fantastic. I stayed with my friend Angie and had a lot of fun! I did touristy stuff in the mornings by myself, and then me and Angie did off the beaten path stuff in the afternoons. I also spent a day with Tiegs and got to spend a couple nights in her hotel room. Overall it was lovely and a great break from Israel, even though I missed Pesach.
Also, I had seder with the family that Angie aupairs for. It was really fun and all in French. The dad kept asking me if I knew what was going on, and my answer was “Rabbi Eliezer says the same thing every year in every language, its fine.” And when it was my turn to read the Hebrew, I found myself actually reading the Hebrew instead of the transliterations, because they were all in French! It was very funny and I’m glad that I at least did a seder in between eating all that chametz.
Why? Because instead of offering yet ANOTHER apology for not being a consistent blogger, I am just going to make a really long post and go back in time and tell you about all the things that I should have told you about. How am I going to do this, you ask? Well, I will create entries and fill them in… later. But the emptiness in the entries will force me to fill them up with happenings and musings and all things bloggable. B’seder?
Wow, this was SO long ago. It is now Sunday, May 13, and this seminar was in the middle of February. As, unfortunately, my memory has faded somewhat, details might be scant. Also, as it is a touchy subject, that might actually be a good thing.
We met a LOT of people. We learned a LOT of things. See? Few details.
But really, we heard from people like Eve Harrow, ultra-liberal. radio-host, and then we heard from Rabbi’s For Human Rights, who are ultra-left wing. We stayed with “settlers” in T’koa, we met with a PR guy from the Palestinan Authority, we talked to professors, we met with “Breaking the Silence,” a group of former soldiers who are speaking up about their experiences serving in the West Bank.
From this I learned two things:
1) Words- and word choices- matter.
You may notice above that I used quotations around “settler.” This is because that term, believe it or not, is completely relative. The family that I stayed with in T’koa were not the first to live in their house, that “settlement” has been around for years. In fact, the only reason we know them as “settlers” who live in a “settlement” is becuase that is the only word to describe it in Hebrew- yishuv. These people are not Pioneers in the sense that they hitched their starving horse to a covered wagon, forded the river, and died of dysentery. These are poeple who moved out there because, above all, its CHEAP. They were not crazy idealogues who point to the heavens and proclaim “HE will save us!” (That happened at Shabbos dinner with them, though it was their neighbor, whom the family admitted was “a bit of a conspiracy theorist”). Furthermore, you can usually tell by the names people use for places
2) I know nothing, and the people who march around college campuses declaring their allegiance to either side know even less.
If I have learned anything, it is that I know nothing. Every time I learn a “fact,” there is also another “fact” on the contrary, depending on who you ask. If I can live here all year, meet all these people, and learn all these things and STILL feel like I know nothing, than how can the crazies (on BOTH sides) on campus know anything? It is so easy to argue and yell and make a scene on an American college campus when you are so far removed from the realities. I thought all those people were crazy and stupid before, but now I KNOW they’re crazy and stupid. For better or for worse, knowing that I know nothing about this has really detached me from the conflict. At the end of the day, it is not my conflict to be involved in.
This is where we get into the intersections of being a Jew, being an Israeli, and a Diaspora Jew’s connections to Israel. I am a Jew, yes, and thus feel it important to fight for the state of Israel abroad. However, I am not Israeli, and so as a political issue, this is not my issue. I think some of my uncertainty/unknowing stems from the fact that I do not know where I fit in. On the one hand I see the state of Israel as essential to the continuation of the Jewish people, and thus feel the need to defend it and fight for it- but on a personal level. When some of my friends post articles disparaging Israel, I get upset because I feel like they’re also attacking me as a Jew. Is it latent anti-Semitism, purely impersonal political jabber, or is it actual anti-Semitism and pointed anti-Semitism? SEE! I just did it- I just assumed that it was all anti-Semitic. But I have to look on the other hand, because the state of Israel is also a political entity in which I, as an American, should not have anything to do with- as they are not my politics. Then again, that also means that anyone who is not an Israeli or Palestinian should not have a say. And so, my head starts spinning. Some days I agree with myself, and some days I think I’m an idiot.
MASA is an arm of the Ministry of Education of the Israeli government. They support the long-term Israel experiences for Diaspora Jews from all around the world. Not only do they run many of these programs, but they also provide massive scholarships to enable young Jews from around the world to come to Israel. Every year, they have the BFL- Building Future Leaders seminar, a weeklong conference with kids from every program that teaches leadership and career skills.
This year, content wise, it was so-so. However, I also wasn’t looking for content. I was looking for a job. As such, I used this conference to network network network, and actually got some results! The great thing about this conference was that it brought in leaders in the North American Jewish Community- so higher-ups from Hillel International, the Federations, Jewish Non-Profits- everyone was there. I worked it, I worked it good. Though no job has come of it yet, the contacts I have made have been really helpful, and it felt good to be getting my feet wet in the job market so early.
I also learned that OTZMA is better than everyone else, and that the only people who really hold a candle to us were the Israel Government Fellows- who are spending 10 months interning with different ministries in the Israeli government. The other programs- most of which are only 5 months (eyeroll!), just have different goals. I, and the others on my program, came to Israel knowing that we would be living in the middle of nowhere, we came wanting to volunteer, and we came wanting to learn. WHile this clearly isn’t true for everyone, the people on other programs came to live in places Tel Aviv and have a fun 5 months. We came to make a difference to others, they came to build there resume. I am also building my resume, but in a way that benefits everyone around me as well.