Thursday, 2 October 2014

How time flies...unless it's 3 days of Chagim

...And suddenly, it became October.

I'm not sure how this has happened. It seems like only yesterday I was living my humdrum little life back in Britain. Fast forward to now and the spirit of change is in the air.

I like to think that I'm staying on top of things, news-wise, with my musings for The Israeli Daily - here's my thoughts on Scottish Independence and Lady Gaga's love of Israel. Check 'em before you wreck 'em.

Strangely, the whole Hebrew thing seems to have clicked. Although it takes slightly longer to form a whole sentence - without mistakes, hesitations etc - than it would in English) as I need to think about what I'm saying more, not necessarily a bad thing), my conversational skills and vocabulary are definitely improving. I'm even beginning to understand some of the logic behind the (intensely complex but deep and beautiful) language!

Although sometimes, my accent leads people to assume that I don't know Hebrew, or that I'm American. Both presumptions offend me.

The other day in the shuk, upon stocking up for the 3 day festival bonanza, of which I shall shortly discuss, I was buying fruit. The bloke behind the till, hearing my accent, began to address me in English. In competent - if imperfect, but I can live with this realisation - Hebrew, I let loose: that I needed to practise my Hebrew; that as a new immigrant here, he shouldn't assume that I couldn't or wouldn't speak Hebrew, that I wasn't stupid and he should be happy that I was at least trying to communicate. The bloke apologised, and I asked him how much my purchases would cost.

Just as I did so, by sod's law, there were a chorus of loud noises - someone shouting next to me; a van driving past - and I didn't hear what he said.  I asked him to repeat.

Cue the other chap, next to the first. After my whole, glorious sphiel about proud new immigrants etc, he turned to me and said, in heavily accented English: 'It nine shekel!'

What a time to make a point! I turned, and with my strongest English-accented Hebrew, retorting and enunciating every distinct word: 'I. Understood. I. Didn't. Hear. Because. Of. The. Noise!'

But que sera, sera. I'm now over halfway through my ulpan program - we had our מבחן אמצה - midway test - this week, and I think I did ok. I have noticed my test scores, spoken and written Hebrew have definitely improved since I've been practicing, attending class more and doing my homework every night. I'm willing to begrudgingly admit these are direct correlations.

And so it came to pass that Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year - this year ended up being a 3 day festival, incorporating Shabbat too. It's a time where people go to their family or friends and celebrate with them.

Having precious little of either in this country (most of my ulpan mates had gone to their families, alas), I stayed in ulpan for the 3 days. It did feel a bit weird initially - as usually I'm with my family over the holidays, apart from last year as I was looking after Corny, who wasn't very well, but that passed.

It was actually quite nice - some of my friends from ulpan were also staying there, being in the same boat as I am! - and we tried to make it as special as possible. The ulpan's kitchen tried to make everything that much more special, either because it was a festival or they pitied us poor sods with nowhere to go, but I appreciated it all the same. The food was good, the company was good and I had a really nice time!

And then, on Shabbat, just as a few more people returned to ulpan, we were fed yet another delicacy - beef. Now, I've been a little bit suspect of places which feed people en masse, other than restaurants, for some time. It's a tendency with these places, when people aren't paying directly for their food, to feed as many people as possible, as quickly and cheaply and possible. The unfortunate timing of the 3 day chag/Shabbat combo also meant that he food for Shabbat had to be cooked before the chag began.

Hence the slightly suspect timing of the beef's appearance on the Friday night. nevertheless, with not a care in the world, we ate, drank and were merry.

And then, the next day, we weren't. It soon transpired that the beef had been cooked, cooled and reheated a few days prior (aha!), and to cut a rather unpleasant story, we all got the runs. While painful, revolting and unfortunate, it was also one of the strangest bonding experiences I've yet had in ulpan. Yelling at some other pale, weak-looking soul across the courtyard, 'how many times have you had the shits today?' really goes to show just how close some of us have become.

And so. Not much else to report - this weekend will be the first time in 33 years that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and Eid al Addha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, will coincide. It's due to get heavy, and security has been beefed up across Jerusalem, so that should be fun. But that's probably just how stuff is, when you've got two sets of people (who already have 'issues' with one another), with one set praying, crying and fasting, and the other set feasting, celebrating and making a lot of noise.

Ironically, Eid was always my favoruite time of year when I was a teacher, as none of my pupils would be in, and I'd manage to plough through my work, free of distractions, for one blissful day.

Wishing all a גמרכתיבה וחתימה טובה וצום קל ושבת שלום! - 'may you be written and sealed in the book of life, have an easy fast and shabbat shalom'.

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