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Danita and Michel Aziza

 
TIME TO BURY “I CAN’T”-THE CHALLENGES OF LEARNING HEBREW

A Land Filled With Lessons to Be Learned: Lesson #15

By Danita Aziza, Evan Yehudah, Israel, September 22, 2010

Whenever I’m not attempting to conjugate Hebrew verbs or not pondering menus for the chagim (holidays), I’m preoccupied with finding a lesson to write about.  During my morning drive to Ulpan I remembered an incident I witnessed, which believe me is no small feat given the enormous balagan (chaos) going on in my brain ever since I started full-time Hebrew lessons.

I was at the stairwell of  the school of  my youngest daughter Rachel when I encountered two young girls.  I would say they were in about grade four and one was trying to carry a rather large book bag on wheels up the stairs.  Obviously frustrated by the weight of her bag combined with her noticeable fatigue, she turned to her friend and said “I can’t do this”.  Her outwardly mature and quite precocious friend, turned around and with great resolve said; “don’t you remember we buried I can’t last year.”

I was stunned by the exchange and in typical fashion (at least that’s what my kids would say) I had to engage them in conversation.  I was to discover that last year they had a full day devoted to burying their, “I can’t s” where each student had to write down two things they said they couldn’t do and then they had a ceremony where they dug a hole in the ground and each student threw in their two pieces of paper signifying the final demise of those things which they believed they couldn’t do.

As I was running late, I was unfortunately not able to glean more info than that, but I was certainly taken by the whole concept and even more so by the fact that the youngster was obviously very much affected by the exercise.  It got me to thinking about my own “I can’t s”.

I must have been an “I can’t” kind of individual from birth because I vividly remember my Dad always telling me that the word, Can’t, wasn’t in the dictionary.  This was a particularly favourite saying of his and whether it be me telling him I can’t ride the two wheel bike, can’t drive my new standard second hand car up the hill or can’t be left in Toronto all alone to attend university.  I do remember him countering such teary eyed exclamations with the phrase, “can’t is not a word found in the dictionary”.  

Most days in Israel, I’m totally content and able to deal with the variety of challenges that are thrown my way, but somehow this week, the “I can’t” part of me has raised it’s ugly head ever so slightly.  I guess it began on day two of ulpan when I had papers flying off my small desk in a stuffy classroom in the Absorption Centre in Raanana.  The very poised and exceptionally engaging Morah (teacher) had started the morning with particular gusto.  It wasn’t long until a definite disconnect  took place between the speed at which she was explaining the concept of changing present tense verbs into the past and the rate in which my brain was processing the information.  To make matters worse, I had written down (mostly with incorrect spelling) about 40 new words that would need to be learned and memorized and it just all seemed a bit too much for 48 year old me who has never been very good with languages.

I drove home swiftly to complete the usual household duties with great speed so that I could sit down and get ready for the roughly two hours of homework that awaited me.  The first page went quickly and I filled in the blank spaces with relative ease.  And then came something much harder and I could feel the tears begin to well up and that’s when I put my head down on the table and thought to myself ....I can’t do this.  The, I can’t possibly keep up with everyone in the class who seems to know so much more than me, the, I can’t remember how to pronounce the words properly , the, I can’t have five hours of intensive learning and two-three hours of homework with so many other responsibilities,... I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

After a good cry (usually my best tonic for curing  ”I can’t” episodes), I gathered my composure and had a little talk with myself.  I told myself that going to ulpan was my choice and something that I knew would help me feel more comfortable and confident living in Israel.  I acknowledged that unlike many of my young classmates, I do not have to go out and get a job tomorrow so really don’t have the stress that many Olim feel about learning the language.  I realized that I actually did learn many new words and that if I put in the extra effort I require to grasp the fundamental concepts, I could in fact actually learn the language eventually.  I also realized that I was able to understand almost everything the teacher said and that being able to understand what people are saying is for me, the most important motivator for learning Hebrew.
When I have the tendency to regress into thinking I can’t do something I am drawn to those who have overcome so many obstacles.  Many in my ulpan have made aliyah on their own without any family here to support them.  They are living in the Absorption Center and have much to deal with besides learning the language.  There is a married couple, two doctors from Brazil who have to write their medical exams and have a long road ahead to be able to secure positions in their fields.  I gave a ride home to a woman who came from New York with four young children.  Her husband was a hot shot lawyer there and has taken a very low paying job in a hi-tech company here and she struggles to find the time to get her ulpan homework done with all the demands of having young kids.

If that should not be enough “I can’t” shock treatment, I think about how I can’t must be a foreign concept in the Land of Israel.  If the kibbutzniks looked at the barren fields and shrugged their shoulders and said they couldn’t possibly produce crops without plentiful water supply then there wouldn’t be the strong agricultural industry that there is today in Israel.  If the soldiers in the Yom Kippur war had thrown their hands up and said there simply was no way to counter the military force that surprised them many more lives would have been lost and land seized.  If Israelis had stopped riding buses, visiting markets , malls and restaurants  and left the country during months of random terrorist attacks, then the terrorists would have been triumphant in their quest to have the country come to a grinding halt.  There certainly is no evidence of I can’t here in Israel and in fact, every indication that this is a country of I can and I will succeed.
 
Ani  yechola (I can ) is something I learned this week and  I must be getting the drift that if you want something badly enough and you work hard enough then what seems to be impossible actually becomes possible even for 48 year old me.  So  while I’m  getting that queezy  feeling in my stomach thinking about ulpan tomorrow and feeling a bit like the grade 4 student with the heavy book bag, it’s funny but I can’t seem to find my “ I can’t “. I Must have buried it in the holy Land somewhere along the way.

 
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