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By Danita Aziza

I can say with much certainty that completing four and a half months of intensive Hebrew learning ranks in the top 10 greatest challenges I have faced, and I’ve had a share of challenges in my life.  A pretty strong statement I know, but the challenge for me with ulpan is that it has been entirely about me, myself and I and really hasn’t involved any family member although Michel and the kids would probably claim that my learning Hebrew has been one of the most difficult things they have ever had to endure.

Why such a challenge?  Well I guess I was able to articulate it to a friend in a phone conversation last week when I said that learning Hebrew was not just about my mastering the language, but was about the expectation of achieving a level of comfort living in Israel that I believed would come about once I learned the language. Somehow I convinced myself that I would be essentially fluent and settled come the Spring.  Wrong!

After four months of nothing much other than Hebrew, I dare say that I still get tongue- tied muttering the simplest of sentences in inaudible tones to the cashier at the supermarket.  Without making myself out to appear dense, language acquisition is not my strong point  and this entire experience has had me teetering on an emotional tight rope.  I’ve lost weight, Michel has lost more hair and my self- confidence has hit rock bottom all because of my resolve to learn Hebrew.  I wake up in the middle of the night panic stricken with words running wild in my brain and I pop stress- reducing vitamin B's along with Rescue Remedy at an alarming rate.  My house is a mess, my friends are perturbed, my dogs have been neglected, my kids have been affected and my nails are half bitten all because of Hebrew.

Two weeks ago I was at the lowest of lows having returned to ulpan after a week in bed with the flu.  I was in a daze.  I couldn’t seem to understand even the simplest of phrases and my question response reaction time was such that my classmates were prone to shouting out the answer before I could even finish reading the question.  My energy was zapped, my memory was simply not accepting any new information and I was definitely ready to pack my knapsack and head straight home although I started to become more than a little confused as to where home actually was.  The most troubling aspect of all of this was that I began to question our decision to live in Israel, which, with Benji’s army draft date just two months away, was more than a little disturbing.

For the first time in the two and a half years living in Israel, I began to find flaws and faults with the country that I had previously chosen to overlook.  Everything began to feel strange and uncertain and I felt my motivation and spirit being consumed with negativity and thoughts of failure.  Enter Michel, who has the ability to sort quickly through the clutter and self- pity and cut straight to what’s rational and wise.  First on the agenda was his “give your head a shake” pep talk followed by the actual shaking of my head cupped in between his two hands.  Whether or not this sent some words flying out from the deep crevices of my brain or it truly knocked some sense into me, I’m not quite sure.

What is significant is that the “give your head a shake” routine got me unstuck. Before the shaking episode, I had taken the decision that there was no sense in continuing on with classes or studying for my oral test followed by the written exam in February.  My “tete a tete” with Michel got me thinking otherwise. Maybe I would have to work a bit harder, lower my expectations a tad, not be so hard on myself and take a chill pill as they say in order to tackle this huge beast that I had placed in front of me.

Sitting at my kitchen table with books and papers spread out around me and dressed in my sweatpants, I feel like the clock has been turned back in time. I’m almost 49 years old and I’m reliving a part of my life that took place some 30 years previous but with a memory that acts it’s age unfortunately and with a lot more responsibilities and chores to execute than when I was 18 living solo and getting a post secondary education. I sit for hours writing down new words to learn and filling out practice tests.  With every right answer I feel exhilarated and motivated to keep going.  When I take a break to put in a load of laundry or empty the dishwasher, I engage in a private conversation with myself using the words I’ve studied and phrases that I’ve written.  They don’t sound exactly as they should, but at least I’ve remembered what letters they begin with and what they mean and I may be loosing my mind, but this makes my day.

I’m not sure why learning Hebrew came to consume my entire being or why I allowed it to affect me in such a way.  So many challenges present themselves to us in our lives and the way in which we tackle them depends entirely on our attitude and our ability to confront what is difficult and sometimes uncomfortable.  It’s kind of like the children’s storybook where you’re going on a bear hunt and you come up to a river.  You can’t go under the river, you can’t go over the water, you simply must go through it. Well, I’m going through it that’s for sure and taking a few prisoners with me while I’m at it.  Everyone who calls or writes asks when the test is and I’m sure there is a collective sigh of relief from those knowing that the end is in sight.

When you live in Israel quitting is simply not an option.  There are challenges to confront here on a daily and sometimes hourly basis and making Israel home is not for those that run from what is unsettling and difficult nor is it for those that tend to look at the glass as being half empty rather than half full.  Living here is all about self- improvement and contributing to something larger than your self.  Oh, there are definitely times when I wonder how it is that I’ve ended up here or why I chose to trade in comfy cozy for a life that I feel is sometimes just too much for me.  And when those moments hit, I arm myself with thoughts of everything that is good about living here and if that doesn’t do it, well, I simply give my head a shake and “ kadima”, forward I go.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

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