Half the Ulpan is over and with it, half of my trip as well. This is Thursday, July 19—I left
The past two weeks have really enabled me to come to terms with Hebrew and with the whole Jewish Studies to sociology switch. I no longer feel particularly spectacular in Hebrew ability, but I don’t feel bad about that. I am not defined by how I learn or how fast I learn and I didn’t realize to what extent I have come to feel that simply by being in the university system. Instead, I realize that when I learn Hebrew, I focus on my strengths: reading and writing, which are things I can do at my own pace and correct them as I go. So I can look up words while reading or cross out sentences and rewrite an essay. But the same things do not apply while talking. I have to keep the words in my head and on my tongue. I have to hear and comprehend without translating. To do that requires a whole different set of skills and they are skills that I haven’t properly valued, except with piano. I have to hear the sounds of the different words—the music of the words. So the future tense of the verb structure (banyan) “nifal” has the music “ee-AA-ah, like a donkey bray. That’s a little extreme, I suppose, but gets the idea. Seeing it, copying it over, really doesn’t help hearing the sound. The other half of that is speaking. It shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose, that making the sounds correctly takes practice. I’m sure I’ve said to my B’nai Mitzvah students that they need to practice out loud so their mouth gets comfortable with the words. But I haven’t tried the same thing with my own practice. It also reminds me of piano practice—it is easy to understand the theory, but making the fingers move in the correct pattern and timing—well, that’s another story. So this has been a real experience in learning about my own learning.
On the other hand, the Ulpan really does stress grammar out the wazoo. This makes me happy—I like to understand the rules and the structures—the map, if you will. It is the kind of stuff that I was never clear on in the past, but this is giving me really clear tools.
The midterm was interesting, both in studying and in taking it. I studied with other people and alone and had my students in mind as I studied. It also struck me how very different this kind of study is from studying for the oral exams. Here, I was simply following directions; there I am making up the directions as well. The exam itself was (I hope) not too bad. I was fortunate in that the reading was on Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who revived Hebrew as a spoken language. It is a subject I know pretty well so even if I didn’t know the vocabulary, I could figure it out. So a crap shoot and I won—unlike some of my fellow students. Then one of the essay questions asked about what traditions did for family unity. Again, made for me; I wrote about Shabbat dinners and it was easy (except for the part where I felt so nostalgic for them that I got a bit teary—stop laughing, my evil daughters). However I did, it’s over.
This week’s field trip was split—some to
Had an interesting conversation with the friend of one of my roommates. It was illuminating in a number of ways. The guy, who ended up staying here a few days due to other plans falling through, is probably about my age and very much a wanderer. He builds “ecologically correct” houses and is also a chemist. He enjoyed talking, so until he left, the flat was full of conversation. But it was interesting to see how he heard or didn’t hear what people (by which I mean me—really can’t speak for anyone else) said. I think this comes out of different life experiences. So, I am really falling in love with
I never could make him understand the point. I think he saw me as a woman who was submitting to her husband, who somehow kept her down. What I see, though, is someone who hasn’t been rooted in a place and with people long enough to understand the nature of long-term human relationships. Part of the reason I wouldn’t move to
Now, the other side of that is that I don’t, in fact, want to move here. I can say that I would be happy here, and I think that is true, but I have enough ties to home—meaning the
So this conversation was the flip side of the walk through Winsen with Ilka’s mother-in-law. There the roots were centuries deep, so compelling that leaving would be very difficult indeed. What is the balance between being rooted and being free (roots and wings, I suppose)? Both individuals and societies need some of each, I think.