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July 28, 2006

Ulpan in Netanya

Nicole and I started our Ulpan* program along with the kids on Monday. It’s a on a campus in Netanya right by the beach. We take the half hour drive each morning from Ra’anana but most of the people there stay at the adjoining Hotel. It’s called Ulpan Akiva and we make the trip because it has a great reputation and draws people from around the world.

It’s been an exhausting week. I’ve been getting up before six each morning in order to make it to shul with Ariel and Sam Brody (he decided to stay with us) and then grab some croissants and coffee on my way to pick up Nicole and the kids and somehow drop into our seats in class by 8am – of course we’re late every day. The Ulpan goes until 1pm and then I come home for lunch, catch a quick nap and head over to the office and stay there until about 10 or 11pm by which time I’m too wound up to sleep until a ridiculous hour and the sick pattern repeats itself

The classes have been great – I feel my brain stretched and squeezed as I struggle with my Hebrew vocabulary and grammar. But the best by far are the people that we’ve been meeting there.

Let me tell you about ‘Eedit’ (Edith with an accent like Zsa Zsa Gabor). I met her on the first day when someone asked me to assist her in getting to the Mo’adon (meeting room).
The reason that I had to help her is that Eedit is totally blind. For any of you out there that feel Israel is too dangerous to visit, you have to meet Eedit. Let me tell you about her…

Eedit lives in Budapest and has visited here before. She isn’t Jewish but told me that she has great love and respect for the Jewish people. I asked her (in my tactful way) “Are you nuts? Why are you coming here now, of all times?” She told me that when the war started a couple of weeks ago, she felt that Israel needs as many friends as possible and she wanted to be here to show her support. Moreover, her own family refused to go to the travel agency top pick up the airline tickets and a friend did so instead.

As I held her hand, walking along the flower lined path to the Mo’adon she wanted to know all about me as well. Are you religious? Do you have a beard? Are you in favor of the settlements? When I told her that I am she smiled and whispered “me too, me too”.

I also had the pleasure of sitting on the grass during a break with Zachariah. His English is better then my French so we stuck to English. Zachariah is as university professor and came here from the Ivory Coast to spend his summer vacation learning Hebrew. He’s also not Jewish but told me that he wants to convert. He’s been in the conversion process for five years now. There are, basically next to no Jews in the Ivory Coast so what he is trying to do is like building an ice sculpture on the beach in Herzliyia. The Rabbis that he visited in Paris told him to get out of there. Break finished before I could find out why a black guy from West Africa got it in his head to become Jewish. That will have to wait until next week.

Nicole and I have been put in the same class (Gimmel). Yes, I am the one who was born in Israel and went to Hebrew day school so leave me alone – she’s just way smarter than me. Anyway, it’s fun to be together in the same class. I’ve been able to copy her homework a couple of times already.

In our class there are:

Some Russians – we’re trying to figure out which if any are actually Jewish. Svetlana already told me that she isn’t.
Some French people – love the accent even if their Hebrew is totally wrong
Two Muslim sisters from a neighboring Arab village
A teenager from Toronto who goes to C.H.A.T – her mom is flipped out that she’s still here.
A Christian woman from Milan (her family also thinks she’s nuts to be here)
And a few other people which I’m not sure of yet– perhaps South Americans.

The big surprise for me was the Arab women. I’m starting to think that I have a lot more in common with them than the Russians! They are religious, dress modestly, and have a connection to the land that goes way beyond just being a place to earn a living. I’ve got to get to know them before the course is over.

On Thursday morning the teacher broke us into groups of three to discuss (in Hebrew of course) certain statements that she handed to each group. The statement given to the Arab women was –

“Every Jew, wherever he lives, is obligated to learn Hebrew. Yes or No.

Manar, one of the Muslim women spoke eloquently about how important it is for Jewish people everywhere to be connected to their culture and speak the language of their heritage in their homes. She said that they must continue the tradition of their people and be ready for the day when they may also move to Israel. The Sachnut (Jewish Agency) should hire her for the Aliyah office!

I’d like to say more but Shabbat is coming in and I’ve got to get ready. I’ll tell you more later. One thing more to say, and I’m posting the picture. After picking up my weekend hummus from the best hummus place in the Middle-East I walked past a mobile blood bank. People were STANDING IN LINE in the hot midday sun to give blood. What a country!!! Gotta love it!!! My thoughts and prayers are with those unfortunate people living outside of Israel who cannot be here at this time.

* ULPAN is a place that teaches people Hebrew and Israeli Culture

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