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Sunday, January 18, 2009

What You Learn in Ulpan

In ulpan, or intensive Hebrew language study, a new immigrant to Israel learns the basics. The lessons start with the aleph-bet, but quickly advance to more difficult concepts.

After 4 1/2 years of living in Israel, with poor Hebrew language skills, I finally got the gall and the opportunity to take ulpan.

I enrolled in Ulpan Tikvateinu, also known as Manpower, next to Jerusalem's Central Bus Station. This ulpan focuses on the vocabulary and language skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.

We have been practicing our skills in mock employment interviews, and various work scenarios. In our ulpan, we talk openly about our professions, our talents, our skills and experience.

As such, our group knows about my experience in Journalism and Marketing. I know about my fellow classmates' skills as realtors, accountants, etc. Most of the students in this ulpan are older immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.

We also practice reading the newspaper and discussing the news we hear on the radio. As Israel has been embroiled in military conflict in Gaza, we frequently discuss whether Israel should push for a cease-fire, carry on the operation, and all the possibilities that go with it.

We discuss the players in the government and their positions, as they represent various segments of society.

In addition to learning in ulpan, I am currently holding down several freelance posts, which provide some much needed income and fill my schedule. As such, I have not been such a stickler on completing my daily ulpan homework--even though that homework greatly aids the learning process.

On Thursday, after we reviewed some homework that I did not do, my teacher Gania, who as a rule only speaks to us in Hebrew, came over to me and started speaking seriously in English.

She said, "You know, you have to participate."

I was prepared to give her a song and dance about my schedule, and how it is hard to find the time for homework.

Gania continued, "Have you written anything about what is going on in Israel now? You are a good writer, right? Have you sent emails to your friends and family about the situation, so that they can know the truth?"

I responded, "Well I've spoken to lots of friends and family on the phone, but this time around, I haven't been working as a journalist, and I've been focusing on work and learning Hebrew."

Then Gania let me have it.

"That is unacceptable. The country is at war!"

"The least you can do is take 10 minutes to write about what is going on," Gania insisted. "Talking on the phone is not enough. That cannot be read or forwarded to others. You have a talent, and you must use it now. This is your responsibility during a time of war!"

Gania really lit the match under my tail. She is teaching us the basics, the aleph-bet of living in Israel. I am grateful for the experience.


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