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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Back in the USSR

My ulpan (language class for immigrants) has started.   I was very much looking forward to ulpan b/c I wanted to bridge the gap between my current Hebrew speaking ability and being able to speak Hebrew.  When we first went to the absorption office in July, I was told that my ulpan would start September 1st in the nearby city of Rehovot and I would be contacted about the details.  I hadn't heard from anyone by the end of August so I decided to call myself.  Every day I was told to "call back tomorrow" when the person who could help me was scheduled to return.  After 5 tomorrows I went in person to the office and was told that there is no ulpan in Rehovot.  Would I like to try one in the city of Rishon Lezion?  OK.  Well not really b/c that's 30 minutes away but if it's my only option.    I called the office in Rishon and they told me to come the next day for my test.  Test?  Now we're talking.  I actually got excited.  We're making progress now.  They are going to give me a test and find out how good my Hebrew is and where I need to be.  Maybe Rishon is farther away but these people seem to know what they're talking about.  Michael barely suppressed his smirk.  

Driving into Rishon the next morning I was really pumped.  I'll spare you the details of getting into the school where the ulpan was held but suffice it to say there are quite a few gates at that school each with its own unique entry point and I somehow managed to go to every single wrong one.  Eventually I made it to the ulpan office and met with the administrator.  She asked me my name, where I was from, and if I had ever studied Hebrew.   A full ten seconds later she announced the test result with the decree: "ulpan aleph".  "Aleph", I asked?  "The first level that you have"?  A class for people who don't know the alphabet?  How could that be possible?  I went to day school through 7th grade and what about daily prayer, adult learning etc.  Those of you have spent some time here probably know where this one is going.  I told her I wanted to be put in ulpan bet (second level).  "Let me try it out.  If it's too difficult I can go back to aleph."  Which is of course when she told me that they only have ulpan aleph in Rishon.    

"So.  I just drove out here to take a placement exam for a class that only has one level?"  "Yes".  Alright.  Just checking.  And that dear readers (i.e. mom and dad) is how I ended up in Ulpan aleph.   The good news is that since my absorption office neglected to give me the proper information about the class they had already been meeting for 6 weeks so at least I didn't have to start with the ABC's.

Now that I am in ulpan I am learning tons of important things,  such as:  I'm really glad I wasn't born in Russia (or the Ukraine.  From hereon out I will call them both "Russia").  Seriously though there are 25 people in my class and 4 of us are from outside of Russia.  One woman from Switzerland is a lawyer,  another woman (not Jewish) from Romania is a dentist and she wants to convert to Judaism though I am going to have to get more details there because frankly how in the world would some random woman from Romania get the idea of moving to Israel and becoming Jewish into her head?  Third is a woman from Iran.  She and her husband came through Turkey because clearly there are no flights from Tehran to Tel-Aviv.  And furthermore, the Israelis did not stamp her passport that she has been to Israel or else she could never go back.  And last is me.  Everyone else is from Russia.

These are not Jewish people from Russia.   I know this because I've done some informal polling--I don't bother asking the ones wearing crosses b/c it seems sort of unnecessary.    Why is the Jewishness or non-Jewishness of most of my classmates interesting?   Because if you are Jewish and from the Western world and you want to move to Israel, there are so many wonderful things about it, but you are not increasing your physical comfort and you are probably taking a pay cut to be here (and you're paying $9/gallon for gas).   So when my Russian classmates tell me they didn't move to Israel because of Judaism or anything like that, but solely because they consider it many steps up in terms of material and physical comforts, I realize that I am very fortunate not to have been born in Russia.   Though I am forever thankful for my Russian Bubbie!

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