A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Sarah 2116

The End of the Ulpan Adventure

The very last week of Ulpan was wild. We were scrambling to cover new material up to just a few days before the exam. We did make time for a class party where we all brought treats to share. The entire day before the exam, our teacher gave us one last practice test although this time she gave us the same time restrictions as we would have in the actual test. We were all super nervous to begin with and one by one as we each silently read through the reading portion of the test, groans could be heard from all over the room. The reading portion of the practice test was extremely hard with a lot of unfamiliar word and we all began to fear that the real test was just a little out of our reach. Our teacher was super encouraging and told us that just because the words in this practice test were difficult for us did not mean that the real test would be the same. Maybe the real test would end up being stories full of words and tenses we were really comfortable with. As hard as she tried to calm us, we all left pretty somber.

At home, I reviewed again the area that I am weakest in: prepositions. I was pretty confident I had that settled in my mind so I tried to come up with little ways to remember verb conjugations and also practiced the newest material we had just learned a few days before.

On test day we all arrived uncharacteristically early because, well, prolonging the inevitable really doesn't help. I was feeling confident enough to actually have a conversation (in Hebrew) with the shopkeeper at the corner where I bought a lucky Diet Coke (ha ha) and also with the secretaries of the Ulpan (who speak no English). We had fun reminiscing of the day I first showed up to Ulpan.

Unfortunately, I was unable to take the exam with my class because I am not a new citizen of Israel. I, and the other tourists, had to take the exam in the teachers lounge which still doesn't make any sense to me what so ever. I ended up with the highest score of all the tourists. I do not know how I scored in comparison to the new citizens since we were tested separately. I am supposed to pick up my little certificate this week.

Being on the other side of the exam is a huge relief but I am a little sad that the whole adventure is over. My biggest concern right now is to not lose everything I have learned over the past 6 months. I bought several Dr. Seuss books and a collection of Hans Christian Anderson stories in Hebrew to take home so that I can stay in practice as far as reading goes. I also have several good Israeli friends or American friends who are here still in Ulpan who promised to stay in touch over Skype so I can continue practice speaking. I have looked into a few options in the St Louis area where there may be Hebrew classes because I still have so much more to learn. So, really, this is not the end of the adventure but only just the amazing beginning.

The Hebrew adventure:
............ to be continued!

Posted by Sarah 2116 14:13 Comments (4)

The Serious Touring Plan

Several months into my Ulpan adventure, I found out that my parents had decided to make their first ever trip to Israel at the end of my Ulpan course. This will be a perfect opportunity for me to use my new language skills to navigate the country as well as to see parts of The Land that I have never seen before with two of my favorite people. In my non-studying time I have ransacked my friends bookshelves for their guide books of Israel, scoured the Internet, and made countless inquiries to National Parks and guest houses in key parts of Israel. I scribbled tons of little notes about where I thought we should go and when but it became clear that if this was going to be a successfully thorough tour, I was going to need to come up with something more organized. That is when I got the idea........and THE SERIOUS TOURING PLAN was born.

First I printed out all the sites that were absolute "must see" places and color coded them according to region. (I made a color coded region map too because I kept losing track of what was where.)

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Finally, I made an overview chart with a breakdown of the sites that we will visit each day. The chart is by hour as I calculated the approximate time that it would take to visit each particular site and the traveling distance between sites. I gave each day a slot in a folder and divided all the maps, Internet printouts and notes into the appropriate day.

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To much strategy? My Israeli friend's just laugh when I ask for their advice on my plan. Planning anything in advance is very counter-cultural here. Israel is a very unpredictable land filled with very spontaneous people so I am anticipating a million and one things to alter the plan but if this plan gives this American family a basic guide to follow in seeing this amazing country, it will have performed it's task well.

Posted by Sarah 2116 03:19 Comments (3)

Home Stretch

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The last two weeks of Ulpan have been focused on preparing us to pass our final exams. Everyday consists of hours of drills and practice test sheets. As an added stress factor, since our class has had so many teacher changes (6 teachers in 5 months) we have run into several areas where one teacher thought the other taught it and that teacher thought another teacher taught it. When something came up she used to say "WHAT?! So and so didn't teach you this?!" But then she had to deal with class panic so now when she gets a deer in the headlights stare from us because a certain tense or grammar principle is completely foreign to us, now she says "Ok, don't panic we will study this right now."

The last two days, the teachers have gone over in detail what we can expect to have on the test and how many points each section is worth. There are two grammar sections of the test (level A and level B) which are each worth 15 points. Level C grammar is only worth 6 points which tells me that either that section is super short, or those are just bonus points and they don't really expect that any of us will know very much in that section. The story writing assignment is worth 25 points which makes it the one worth the most. We also have a possible 10 letters to write although I am pretty sure we only have to choose certain ones to demonstrate that we know how. The letter writing exercise is worth 20 points. The remaining points come from the reading exercise. In that assignment, we are given a one page biography about someone significant in Israel's history and we have to submit our written answers to the questions about the text. All of the instructions are given in Hebrew but we have done enough practice tests that follow the form that we are pretty comfortable with what is expected of us.

I am most worried about the writing part. It is easier for me to understand than to be the one that has to try to form the sentence correctly. Even just yesterday, my teacher brought my homework to me and said "In English, can you explain to me what you meant in this story?" Great.

One more week!

Posted by Sarah 2116 02:59 Comments (2)

Petra

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It has been a goal of mine for years to see firsthand the wonders of the ancient city of Petra located in southern Jordan. I finally had the opportunity this week to join a tour group to make a day trip there. I took a midnight bus from Tel Aviv to Eilat. My bus arrived at Eilat's Central Bus Station at 4:30 in the morning so I took a taxi over to an Aroma coffee shop that I had heard was open 24 hours. I watched the sun rise over the Red Sea and tried to pass the time with a fictional book that I had brought about a girl who grew up in Jordan but the book tuned out to be boring.

The Petra tour bus arrived at 7 am to take me and the other 13 passenger already on board to the border. After surviving the exit questions on the Israeli side, we walked across the border to wait to be admitted by the Jordanian border control. While our passports were being examined I got to know my travel companions and looked around the little tourist booth of dust covered trinkets. I selected a thread bookmark with a scene of Petra and the word Petra woven in English and Arabic. It had a price sticker of $1 on it but the man at the counter waved his hand at me and said "It's a present." I thanked him in Arabic and dashed out the door to join my group. After our passports were returned, we were led to where our next bus was waiting to take us to Petra. Our Jordanian tour guide, personal policeman (why does that not make me feel safe?!) and driver were already on board.

It was a 2 hour bus ride from Eilat to Petra. Petra is north of Eilat. Even though we drove on the Trans Jordanian Expressway, there were hardly any other cars on the highway with us. When we drove through the few large towns, especially Aqaba, there was more traffic but not nearly what I am used to or would expect from a country of about 6 million. Many of Jordan's citizens still live the nomadic lifestyles of their ancestors. The rest live in villages according to tribe. Only in the largest cities is there a mixing of the tribes. The tribal lifestyle may account for there not being a need for cars.

Our tour guide took part of the bus ride there to give us a history and cultural lesson of the country. I learned that Jordan is the most expensive of the Arab countries. For example, gas prices:
Saudi Arabia: 3 cents/per liter
Jordan: $1/per liter. What a rip off. (I am joking, of course!!)
I also learned that Jordan is governed by a monarchy which is the Hashemite family who are decedents of the prophet Mohammad. The current king is the 45 generation from Mohammad. Our tour guide pointed out the interesting sites we passed like the tomb in which Aaron (Moses brother) is traditionally buried in.

Out my window was a silent film of everyday village life in Jordan: the groups of men clustered around store entrances smoking hookah, boys coming home from school their books under their arm, glimpses into shops and quiet streets. The absence of woman was painfully obvious although our tour guide informed us that it is compulsory for men and woman to receive a university education and men and woman equally serve in the army. At one point we passed what I thought was a huge shoe mart because there were rows and rows of shoes along some stairs and on a shelf to the side. I thought that until I saw a man slide his feet into a pair and walk off. That is when I realized it was a mosque and not a shoe sale.

After driving through the newer part of Petra which in now the inhabited part, we parked the bus and prepared to go the rest of the way by foot; partly by our own feet partly by animal feet. That's right, a stretch of the tour is taken on donkey, or if you are willing to pay a little more there is an option to go by camel. If you are willing to pay a little more than that and run the risk of whiplash, there is also the chariot option in which the driver gives you enough time to climb into a 3 seater buggy and close your eyes before he tares off on original hand hewn rock. The faster he gets your ride over with the sooner he can pick up another rider and consequently make more money. In a country where at least 60% of the country's income is tourism, every bit counts. I was happy with my donkey.

Petra was the capitol city of the Nabateans who were an Arabic tribe and inhabited the area until the 1990's. It was virtually unknown to the Western World until 1812 when a Swiss explorer stumbled upon it on his way to Lebanon (sounds like the Christopher Columbus story!) Enclosed by towering rocks Petra not only possessed the advantages of a fortress, but controlled the main commercial routes of the Middle East. Petra is a unique city of skyscrapers carved out of the actual, massive rocks of that region. The most famous is called The Treasury.

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Browsing the little tea cafes and trinket shops I met a woman from New Zealand who married a Bedouin and actually lived in caves near Petra. I decided to buy her book to keep me occupied while I waited for the return bus since the other book that I had brought had turned out to be such a dud. I scoured every shop until I finally found the Bedouin herb tea blend that is so popular in Arabic homes here in Israel. (Although, most Arab's living in Israel get the tea from Bedouin's living in Israel or prepare it themselves but I was anxious to taste the difference.) Then I made the mistake of listening to one smooth salesman. That's a Middle Eastern trait that I thought I had successfully immune myself to. This time it was good since I came away with a gorgeous scarf in addition to the fragrant tea.

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I kept thinking the guys looked an awful lot like Captain Jack Sparrow and it wasn't until that smooth salesman that I finally figured out why: Jordanian men wear eyeliner!

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After another 2 hour bus ride, a bus tour through the city of Aqaba and stops through the two passport checkpoints, me and my tired band of happy tourists were back on Israeli soil. I felt like whistling HaTikva (Israel's national anthem) while walking to the border. Since I had a 5 hour wait for my 1 am bus back to Tel Aviv, I browsed the out door shops along the coast in Eilat and wandered around the big sea coast mall for awhile before catching a taxi to the Central Bus Station. I should have bought toothpicks too to keep my eyes open when I bought the book from the woman who married the Bedouin. I didn't get very far in the book while waiting for the bus to show up.

Warmed by my Bedouin scarf, I slept the bus ride away. Another bus ride from Tel Aviv brought me to Petach Tikva where I rushed home to take a quick power nap, shower and grab my books for ulpan!

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Posted by Sarah 2116 15:36 Comments (1)

October Holiday's in Israel

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Five days after Yom Kipper is the week long holiday Sukkot. A sukkah is a hut or booth so sometimes this holiday is called the Feast of Boothes or the Feast of Tabernacles. The season of Sukkot commemorates the 40 years of wandering in the desert for the children of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. In those days they lived in fragile, portable dwellings in land that was not their own. During the festival of Sukkot families erect little sukkah's for their family on the back porch or in the yard. People camp out in their sukkah for the week. Or if not to that extent, many families at least eat their meals out in the sukkah and gather around with friends and neighbors in the evenings of Sukkot for evening conversation. Most restaurants have sukkah's too for their patrons to continue participating in the Sukkot festival even away from home.

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Sukkah's are constructed with simple materials. Usually the structure of it is some type of plastic or bamboo poles which is covered with either fabric or plastic. Stores even sell special plastic sheets which are predecorated that look like giant tablecloths and may be simply attached to the poles for quick construction and simple break down. Some sukkah's are made of wood. They are usually decorated with the symbols of Sukkot and have colorful streamers, Chinese lamps dangling from the ceiling. It is believed that there is a special heavenly reward for those who take extra care to decorate their sukkah with extra special creative flair. Sukkah's must have some type of raw vegetation for the roof such as palm branches, reeds, corn stalks, evergreen branches depending on what is available in your geographical region. The sukkah tradition comes from Leviticus 23:42-43 which says: "Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

Sukkot is also the season of harvest in Israel. It is one of the three biblical pilgrim holidays in which people of Israel made a trip to the temple in Jerusalem to thank God for the harvest. Offerings of the first fruits were made to the Lord during the season of Sukkot as a way of acknowledging that He was the giver of all of the bounty and to thank Him for His provision. Even though there is no temple in Jerusalem today, token visits are still made to Jerusalem in remembrance. Ironically King Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem on Sukkot (1 Kings 8 and 2 Chron. 7).

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There are special prayers and blessings recited every night of Sukkot as well as certain symbols for the season. All over Israel in city squares before the holiday begins are tables filled with all of the Sukkot items for sale. People flock to purchase their sukkah supplies and also their 4 Fruits: palm (lulav), willow (aravah), citrus (etrog), and myrtle (hadas). Each of these are symbols representing different Israeli's. These symbols are made into a bouquet in each home in Israel and when the Sukkot prayers are said each evening the bouquet is held to signify that although there are differences in Israel, there is unity.

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In the words of the Midrash:
The etrog (citrus) has both a taste and an aroma; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who have both Torah learning and good deeds. The date (the fruit of the lulav) (palm) has a taste but does not have an aroma; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who have Torah but do not have good deeds. The hadas (myrtle) has an aroma but not a taste; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who have good deeds but do not have Torah. The aravah (willow) has no taste and no aroma; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who do not have Torah and do not have good deeds. Says G-d: "Let them all bond together in one bundle and atone for each other." Many additional interpretations have been extracted from this "many and yet one" way of thinking. For example on writer explained that in addition to many different kinds of people one nation, individuals have many different personal qualities and goals that fluctuate in an individuals life sometimes conflicting and yet exist simultaneously.

The day after Sukkot ends (but in no way connected to Sukkot) is the holiday Simchat Torah which means "the joy of the law". This day concludes the annual reading of the Torah and celebrates a new year to reread it. In the synagogues (in the evening and the next morning), Simchat Torah is the only day the Torah scrolls are taken down. They are paraded around the synagogue where there is great dancing and singing. Special treats and candles are given and received. After the dancing three sections of the Torah are read by the people. Each man and the children (and in some synagogues the woman participate too) are given a special passage to read aloud. To save time, sometimes passages are given to couples or groups. It is a special honor to be given the portion from Genesis. There is also a portion read from Joshua and a portion from one of the prophets.

Posted by Sarah 2116 06:00 Comments (1)

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