Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hebrew, Bring it On!

Gerard Behar Centre (our ulpan building in the city center)
This week, I started my very first week of "ulpan" which is the Hebrew term referencing "the intensive study of Hebrew language".  This ulpan should last for six months, five days a week from 8-12:30 everyday, and amazingly, it's completely paid for by the state of Israel. It's all part of my Aliyah package. Basically, when you immigrate to Israel as a Jewish person, which is a relatively easy procedure to do, you are given a plethora of incentives. Not only does the Israeli government pay for your one-way flight to Israel (a return to your homeland), but also, they provide you with generous monthly stipends (beginning with the first stipend given upon arrival at the airport), job assistance, health insurance, an Israeli ID and passport, monetary assistance for housing and cars, and of course, Hebrew lessons. Likely, there is no other place in the world that makes it so enticing to immigrate. Israel truly welcomes you with open arms and gives seemingly endless help and assistance that goes far beyond anything you would receive in any other foreign country. 

The outside patio at Gerad Behar Centre
Our ulpan building is well located in the center of town, just a minute's walk from where King George and Ben Yehuda Street(s) meet. The six story building is filled with about five or six classrooms on each floor, in which you will find about 30 students in each room. In our particular course (for beginners) located on the 5th floor, there are about 30 students, several of them hailing from the US and Russia, and others from Latin America (Guatemala, Colombia, and Chile), France, Austria, Finland, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium and Belarus. We are truly a diverse group! Our teacher, Alex, is a funny guy and we cannot figure out where he is from. I have never seen someone speak so many languages as him. He will blurt out a different language to each student when he realizes where they are from! We have him pegged as either from Russia or Ukraine, because he seems to speak almost fluent Russian and I can't figure out why or how someone would know Russian so well without hailing from that part of the world. Who knows, perhaps we will find out in time! Anyhow, here is a little taste of the Alef-Bet (the "alphabet") that I have mastered over the last week (you read and write from right to left):

The Alef-Bet Cursive Form

Boy do I miss my Spanish classes from a few years back! This is a whole other cup of tea. The notion of putting sounds to foreign symbols is mind boggling. If you're curious to see what sounds each letter makes, here are the names of the letters below (remember to go from right to left):

There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and five of them take a different form when they are the last letter in a word. That is why you will see two symbols on five of the letters above. The cursive form of Hebrew is the one you write with, so it is the one more commonly used. There are no capital letters at all and in general, no vowels are used (vowels, when used, are indicated by symbols and dots such as these):

Basically, you are supposed to eventually be able to recognize all words without the help of vowels. Why, I ask you!? If it were up to me, vowels would be used. Here's a look at the printed form of the Hebrew alphabet, which is used solely in print, i.e. books, advertisements, newspapers, etc:

The Alef-Bet Print Form

Though I have a little head start due to my previous Bat Mitzvah training and Hebrew School days, this whole Hebrew thing is basically like starting from scratch. I'm getting certain letters confused and pairing the wrong sound with the wrong letters. Here's a look at a little bit of my Hebrew handwriting thus far:

Learning Hebrew words
I'm supposed to be able to read this quickly by Sunday morning!
Something funny here is that my initials have changed from "ER" to "AA" since my new name, Erin Amsili, is written with the letter "alef" for each name. I just moved to the front of the alphabet, which is pretty cool if I might say so myself! Here is my name in Hebrew:

    'אר'ן אמס'ל

I had forgotten how much fun learning a new language is! I find myself looking forward to going to class everyday, both for the social aspect as well the stimulation of learning something so new and exciting. At this point, however, I can't imagine ever being fluent or reading and writing with ease, but let me get back to you on that in some time.  On a final note for the day, is this not a scary looking keyboard below? Fingers crossed that one of these days I will actually know how to type on it. Thank goodness everyone here seems to speak English!

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