At home with the Bible
This week's portion: travelogue

Language lessons

In my ulpan this morning, we got into a long conversation about Israel and the Diaspora, religion and politics, the difficulty of Israel aiming to be at once democratic and religious, the realities of the Orthodox rabbinate here and how the religious landscape here differs from that in the rest of the world. I asked whether the class-at-large thought the Israeli rabbinate would ever broaden beyond Orthodoxy. (Consensus: no; why would they share that religious and political power if they didn't have to?)

We talked about Americans who give money to Israel and tend to want influence over Israeli policy in return, and why that's incredibly problematic for some Israelis. We talked about how hard it can be for Americans to understand Israeli realities and vice versa: because people here are dealing with baggage and trauma and danger which we don't have in the States, and because we in the States are accustomed to separation of religion and state which doesn't exist here, and because our two cultures relate to pluralism in different ways.

And all of this, we said in Hebrew! I had to remind myself to pipe down and let other people talk, because I kept having things to say. In my broken Hebrew, naturally; I fumble for words, I mis-match gender and forget that plural nouns take plural adjectives, I make all the mistakes that foreigners make. But I've come a long way. On the first day of class I was amazed that Michal wasn't using any English in the classroom. When we went around the room and introduced ourselves, I was shy about even venturing my name and where I'm from. And now I'm leaping into animated discussions of religion and politics. Not in elegant Hebrew -- I want to be clear about that. I speak a clunky and incorrect Hebrew! But I'm still pleased.

We've done surprisingly little drilling of verb conjugations (it's arguably not a good use of class time; I should do more of it at home.) Prepositions still kick my ass, especially when it comes to verbs which take specific prepositions and not other ones. But we've covered some new-to-me Hebrew grammar. We've spent a ton of time talking, which is good both for my comprehension and for my ability to speak. We've read a bunch of texts, some of which even transcend their textbook setting -- a very short story by Etgar Keret, an excerpt from a script and some poems by Hanoch Levin, and poems/songs by Naomi Shemer (I posted about one), Zelda, Yehuda Amichai, Arik Einstein. The poems have been a perennial source of joy to me. (I suspect that not every ulpan instructor has a genuine love of poetry. I really lucked out.)

Now my question becomes, how do I keep myself from losing the Hebrew I've acquired? I know that once I settle in to normal life again, Hebrew will be jostling for position alongside my coursework, my work with Zeek, my (first-ever) High Holiday pulpit, a few lifecycle events for which I'll be preparing this fall -- not to mention poetry, blogging, davening, and the workout regimen I really want to try to follow.

But I don't want to lose the ground I've gained. So: can y'all recommend Hebrew radio stations which stream audio, or Hebrew periodicals I might try to follow online? I was given a book of poems by Leah Goldberg, which I plan to read when I get home; tonight I bought books of poems by Zelda, Rachel, and Amichai. I'd like to find someone who wants to study contemporary Hebrew poetry with me when I get home, maybe even for course credit. Anyone out there have other ideas? How do you hold on to a foreign language when you're not in the place where the language is spoken anymore?

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