At Ma’agan Michael

I’m on new soil. Planes amaze me – I spend half a day sleeping and watching movies, and when I disembark I’m in another world.

I flew out of Chicago, where I visited family for a few days. So in one flight I moved from Polar Vortex Part II (temperatures in the single and negative digits) to Hebrew Palm Tree Land (66° F, thank you very much).

Frankly, I was glad I made it. I really really hate flying. When we take off I’m suddenly hyper-aware that my feet are a thousand meters above terra firma. I practice controlled fear – accepting fear for a few seconds, then turning it off. Saying, “I’m not afraid,” and then obeying myself. Still, when we passed through some back turbulence over the Alps, I clenched up and anxiously fanned myself with the safety pamphlet like a Southern church-goer. Oh, Lordy.

After the ecstasy of reaching earth again, my start to this new adventure felt a bit anti-climactic (new starts usually do). Instead of some welcoming celebration, I had to (by myself) pick up my bags, buy a train ticket, figure out how to take the train to Binyamina, negotiate a taxi to take me to my kibbutz, and register myself with the ulpan bureaucracy (including being yelled at – excuse me, spoken to – by an Israeli official over visa issues). Then I dumped my luggage in my (tiny) apartment and fell asleep.

I have two roommates – a New Yorker and a South African. We’re all squeezed into one room. We have one bathroom, which includes a small shower, toilet, and sink. Our furniture is: a wardrobe, 3 cots, 3 shelves, 3 cork-boards, and a mini-fridge. We also have AC.

It’s like being in college again.

I feel like I’ve regressed slightly, even though I’m definitely moving forward in my linguistic and travel goals. Well, if living like a college student is what it takes to learn Hebrew, I’m in.

There’s a price of admission for everything.

(here’s the link for information about my ulpan, if you’d like to read more about what I’ll be doing for the next 5 months)

A brief explanation about why I’m in Israel: I’m participating in an intensive Hebrew school, called an ulpan in Hebrew. I’m living on a kibbutz, a socialist Israeli community. I’ll be in class 20 hours per week, and working on the kibbutz for another 20. I don’t yet know my job, but I’m really begging them to work in the elementary school. I took my Hebrew placement test yesterday, and I was originally placed in level Bet. There are 4 levels (from lowest to highest): Aleph, Bet, Gimmel, and Dalet. So I was placed in the second level, BUT I needed to be in at least Gimmel to work with the kids. I ended up talking my way into level Gimmel. Wheeee! It’ll probably be way over my head, but I’d rather be in a too-difficult class than a too-easy one.

There are kind people here. People are, so far as I can tell, quite welcoming.

As long as I avoid the Arab issue. 

That’s what drives me nuts – the moment anyone mentions anything about Arabs or Muslims or especially Palestinians, there’s someone in the group who turns it into an Us vs. Them conversation. And, so far as I can tell, this comes from people who have never lived in a Muslim community.

(An ulpanista I was talking to today, who is a new Israeli immigrant, was trying to convince me that all Muslims wanted to conquer Israel and “kill us all.” Turns out he didn’t even know what, let alone where, the West Bank is. God help me.)

I can promise you, I’ll write more posts about this later.

But, for the meantime, I have a good general first impression of this kibbutz. A lot of the other ulpanistas are Latin American, which means I get to practice Spanish all over the place. And, starting Sunday, I’ll start Hebrew classes as well.

I get to be a full-time linguist!

So happy.

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