What a week! Ulpan has totally taken over our lives. David gets up at 5 am to get to shul by 6:15 am. He sets the alarm for me to get up about 6:45, but I usually wake up by 6:30. At 8:00 we're out the door. Ulpan is held at the matnas (community center) which is about a 20-25 minute walk. The hard part is walking all the way up the stairs on Habesor, our (pedestrian) street to Dolev. Once we get up there, we can turn either right or left; Dolev is a huge circle and the matnas is exactly halfway around either side.
It's so nice in the mornings. Everywhere are people walking to school or work or bus stops. Little tiny kids with their little tiny backpacks walk by holding their imma or abba's hands. Cars are honking (people love to honk here), buses are whizzing by, you hear sounds from open windows. It's like a perfect scenario of good, clean living.
What's funny is that the things you do in America don't necessarily happen the same way here. For instance, you're walking down the sidewalk and someone is walking towards you. You automatically move to the right, no? Lo po! (That's "not here" for those of you without the extensive Hebrew knowledge that I know possess). The other person wouldn't think of veering from his or her original path just because someone might be in that path. Or on the off chance that it would enter their consciousness that they might have to move, they could just as easily move to the left as to the right. So basically all your instincts of the right way to do things - toss 'em out the window and start right over learning a whole new set of rules. Except when you think you have a handle on what the rules are - they turn out to be different for each situation! Definitely keeps you on your toes!
Okay, so back to ulpan. I try to get there by 8:20 or 8:25. It starts at 8:30, but I like to get there, turn the air conditioning on, get myself settled. David can leave the apartment a good 10 minutes after I do and still get there on time. There are about 17 people in our Aleph class. David and I are the only married couple, and there's only one other guy who's probably no more than 20, if that. His mom's in the class, too. There are 3 women; one from Venezuela, one from Thailand and one from the Philippines who are all married to Israeli men and are definitely not religious or even Jewish. Actually, Glenda said she converted in Jerusalem, but I don't think rabbis will convert someone who doesn't convert to orthodox. Everyone is very nice, and we're all getting to know each other very well. Sara is our morah (teacher) from Yom Rishon to Yom R'vi-ee (Sunday through Wednesday) and Chaviva is our morah on Yom Chamishi (Thursday). Sara's great, but she goes through the material at lightning speed. She's actually slowed down the last couple of days, after she she called on Yolga, an older woman (yes, older than me) from Holland who doesn't speak any English - burst into tears when Sara called on her to answer a question in Hebrew. We all felt bad for Yolga. Sara will sometimes speak to us in a little English, just to make sure we understand something, and there are those in the class who speak French, Spanish and Farsi to help out the others who don't speak English, but no one knows Dutch. They took Yolga out of class yesterday to learn privately with a young girl who floats around to help different classes.
I felt like crying one day last week when my brain just shut down after 3 hours. It felt like everyone knew what Sara was saying except me, and she was shooting questions at people who answered her quickly. This week has been much better. In fact, my memory is really getting much better and I'm remembering quite a bit. We do a lot of repetition which helps. Then I come home and re-type everything and practice writing. It's actually pretty fun sometimes - I think we're up to the challenge. Of course today Chaviva kept dictating questions to us, and I couldn't write anything correctly. Every time there should have been a hay, I put an aleph, and everytime there should have been an aleph, I didn't put anything. It all comes with practice!
So David has become good friends with a guy named Kalmon, whose wife, Ellen, is in our class. The 3 of us sit up in the front row, along with Michal who made aliyah alone with 3 teenagers and a dog! I'm in awe of her. Kalmon took David with him on Sunday on a 7 mile hike to an old monastery and some very old ruins up in the hills near us. David wore his camelback backpack (it holds 3 liters of water and has a tube that comes around to the front so you can drink without having to take off the backpack). He and Kalmon both wore dorky caps and were quite pleased, thinking that the other was at least if not more geeky than they were - great match! On Tuesday they only hiked 4 miles, but I think David may have gotten a little dehydrated; he wasn't feeling well the last couple of days, and he didn't walk today. People here really have to drink a LOT more water - everyone walks around with water bottles. I keep bottles in the freezer half full, so I can just add cold water to the ice and then it stays colder longer (the ice still melts pretty quickly).
Ellen and I are going to Yerushalyim on Sunday after ulpan. We want to check out a butcher there who delivers to Ramat Beit Shemesh, and see "Flight 93" (our husbands won't see any movies) and have some dinner. It's so nice to finally have friends again! I miss my friends back in the states (I got a little teary eyed on Wednesday when I realized that I was missing my mahj game once again .... I actually thought about getting up at 4 or 4:30 this morning to call and say hi...), but it's good to be meeting people here.
There are 3 other couples that we're starting to spend a lot of time with. Toby and Zvi, Kalmon and Ellen, and Andrea and Aron Dovid. The 4 of us girls (Andrea hasn't told me if she can come yet) are going to a women's play in Efrat, about 20 minutes from here, during Chol Hamoed Succos (the middle days of the holiday). Someone chartered a bus from here, and we have seats down front and right in the middle. It will be a nice evening. I'm assuming we won't have ulpan that week.
The Turners want to have a BBQ for St. Louisans who live here for a meal during Chol Hamoed. That should be fun! All of our friends have cars, so I'm hoping someone will suggest a tiyul (trip) somewhere that we can go on. We'll probably also see Dov and Lisa, our friends from Kochav Yaakov. They came to open up Lisa's parents' house in Beit Shemesh for them earlier this week (her parents spend half the year here and half in the states and they're coming back here this week) and stopped by. We all went to Grillburger for dinner. David had fun playing with Chanita, who's 4. He was really excited when he said to her, "Mi at?" ("Who are you?") She looked surprised that he would speak to her in Hebrew, but then answered, "Chanita. Mi atah?" He almost fell out of his seat. She actually knew to use the masculine form of "you". Okay, so yeah - we're excited to be able to converse with a 4 year old - I bet we'll be able to hold our own with 8 year olds by the end of ulpan - just wait and see!
We get home from ulpan about 1 pm, which is when our air conditioner turns on. They're all on timers and you don't leave them on when you're not at home, to cut down on costs. Our apartment cools off in about 2 minutes. It clicks off at 7 pm, although it's getting dark by 6:30 so we may change the timer since it cools off so much in the evenings.
Toby and Zvi and their 19 year old daughter, Daniella, and Kalmon and Ellen and their 20 year old daughter, Ali, are coming for dinner tomorrow night. They haven't met each other yet. I'm really looking forward to the evening. David paid dues this week at Menorah Ha-Maor so we would have seats for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. All the shuls are too small for the number of congregants. So many people are moving here. Many of the shuls are in the middle of building campaigns and a lot of them already have new buildings started, but right now everyone's just packed in like sardines. We still don't know if this is the right shul for us, but it's literally less than a block away, and they daven nusach Ashkenaz and we know some of the people there, so it makes sense.
My apartment is clean except for the kitchen, our table is set (that was David's job), and a good portion of the meal is cooked for tomorrow night. I have a roast in the crock pot; I hope it turns out okay. David and I are just staying home for lunch. The last couple of weeks I've been playing mahj with a different group of women (who play by some pretty strange rules...) and then I have a 5:00 shiur I really love. Last week when I showed up she had cancelled it. But 2 other women showed up, so she ended up speaking just to us.
Oh, and Tuesday night I went to hear Rabbi Pinchas Winston, finally. He was PHENOMENAL! He made an analogy at the beginning of a guy who buys an old car, but unbeknownst to him, it has the engine of a Maserati. He realizes over the 3 or 4 years that the motor works well, but he's afraid to drive it too fast because it's an old car and he doesn't want it to break down. He finally sells it to someone and buys another old car which doesn't drive half as well. After a couple of weeks, the guy that bought his car called him and thanked him profusely for such a great vehicle and also expressed surprise that he would sell such a great car at such a low price. The ikkur is that each of us has inside us the potential to do and be much more than we think we can. We can't let ourselves give up on things because we don't think we can achieve more than what we do - because we can and we should always reach higher and higher. I can't think exactly how he said it, but that was just the lead-in to the rest of his talk. I can't wait until next week.
It's very late; David went to bed almost 2 hours ago. I can actually sleep as late as I want tomorrow!! (But I'll be up early because my body no longer wants to sleep late; don't know why - probably because I don't want to waste any time not experiencing the awareness of just being here!).
Have a wonderful Shabbos and please feel free to post a comment - I changed the setting so everyone can write something now!