Option Week 2 - Ulpan
After parting from our much loved Ramat Rachel Hotel and saying our good byes, our eagerly anticipated Ulpan journey had finally begun. We arrived at the Ulpan centre and were greeted by our teacher Akiva. After getting to know Akiva and listening to our plans and goals for the next couple of days, he then revealed that we would be speaking only Hebrew for the next three days!!! A daunting yet simultaneously exciting thought.
Akiva's classroom environment was informal. We watched a situation video, listened to audio texts, conversed and answered comprehension texts, all using the new vocabulary we had just learnt.
After a jam packed morning session further increasing our Hebrew knowledge, we were split into pairs and were each designated a different aspect to write about for our 'tiyul' (tour) later in the day. We were going to be the Hebrew speaking tour guides. Enriching our knowledge through reading challenging texts as well as learning from each other was immensely beneficial for our Hebrew and at the same time thoroughly enjoyable.
After a yummy lunch and a short bus ride, we arrived at our touring destination, the Underground Prisoners Museum.
Hidden away in the north of Jerusalem's bustling down town, the Underground Prisoners Museum is a powerful reminder of the violence-wracked recent history in the city. Together we stood in the courtyard of the Jerusalem Central Prison staring at the walls of Jerusalem stone, dulled grey with the years. The long, low stone building was initially constructed in the 1800s as lodging for Russian women. It was later converted into a prison for those deemed a threat by the British Mandatory government, particularly members of the pre-state Jewish underground militias.
As we entered the facility we passed through four types of accommodation. For the majority of the time, Jews, Christians and Muslims dwelled in the same cells and it was not until the last years of the mandate that the authorities found it necessary to segregate Jews and Arabs. Prisoners convicted of the lesser infractions slept eight to a cell in simple beds. The rank and file prisoners also slept eight to a cell but with only one bed for the privileged prisoner who ranked as cell overseer. The less fortunate seven were forced to sleep on uncomfortable mats, made out of ropes woven together.
Following the prison cells, we travelled into a room where many of the preserved prisoner’s arts and crafts were put on display, providing a deep insight into the aspirations and life of the Jewish underground. As we explored the room, looking at the Chanukiahs to hand crafted kitchen mittens, the perseverance and the upholding of Jewish values and traditions was pertinent, even in prison. From this I drew a parallel to my life and how important it is to me, and the rest of us, to ensure we uphold Jewish values and ensure Jewish continuity. If those prisoners were able to uphold such values whilst in prison, why can't we?
Led by Goldie and Hannie, our tour guides for this section, we entered room 23, otherwise known as the 'escape room'. The escape room was a cell located near the prison fence. When the prisoners learned of the sewage tunnel on the other side of the fence, they were determined to build an escape. Goldie and Hannie, vividly described the harsh experiences the prisoners encountered in their attempt to escape. Of course, all of this was communicated in Ivrit!
The engravings on the floors and windows made by the prison inmates are still evident. Among the engravings are names of the prisoners, national symbols such as the Magen David and symbols of organisations including the Etzel symbol (a map of Israel and a hand holding a rifle) and the communist party symbol (a star with a scythe in the center).
Upon hearing this story delivered by my friends, I really understood how privileged I am to be able to walk freely on the streets of Eretz Yisrael today and how grateful I am for those who sacrificed and risked their lives in order to ensure that we, the Jewish people, have Israel today.
Following Hannie and Goldie's insightful speech, Laila and Ella led us into the synagogue. They explained the importance of the synagogue to the Jewish inmates and the heroic actions of Rabbi Aryeh Levin. All of the Jewish prisoners congregated in the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays. The cell is connected to the activities of the Rabbi, the "father of the prisoners." The rabbi devoted his life to helping others, especially the underground prisoners with whom the rabbi established a special bond. The rabbi would lend the prisoners an ear, offer them reassurance, words of comfort and strength and relay regards from the inmates to their dear ones outside the prison walls. For over 20 years, without seeking any recognition, on days of sweltering heat and days of frost, he never abandoned the prisoners.
Following the shule, Levi and Jess led us to the kitchen where they told an emotive story about a palmach prisoner who worked in the kitchen, Gideon ("Johnny") Peli. Also a member of the palmach, Johnny's girlfriend Bracha Fuld, used to write and visit him regularly. However, one day, Bracha didn't show up to the visit as scheduled. A newspaper scrap, found in the bottom of one of the food supply boxes in the kitchen, provided Johnny with the reason – Bracha was killed by the British during an operation to land illegal immigrants from the Orde Wingate ship on the Tel Aviv Shore. After his release from prison, Johnny fought in the War of Independence and was killed in one of the battles for the Kastel.
Led by myself and Liav, we travelled to the execution room of Moshe Bazarni a member of Levi, and Meir Feinstein a member of Etzel. Moshe and Meir were imprisoned in the death row chamber and sentenced to death in 1946 because of their involvement in the attempted assassination of a British officer and a bombing attack on a Jerusalem railway station in which a policeman was killed. The British, fearing that the vehicle taking them to Acre would be ambushed, decided to execute them in Jerusalem. Prior to execution, the men embraced each other, holding a hand grenade between them, and sang Hatikva. The grenade was then detonated, killing them both.
Whilst staring at the shadow of the noose on the wall contrasted against the words of the Hatikva, it struck me as to how fortunate I am to be in Israel today. To be able to walk freely on the streets of Israel and to be able to call it my home, a once unfathomable concept for many of the underground prisoners and soldiers.
After departing the museum, we had a much needed aroma stop. Instructed to speak only Hebrew, we managed to order our classic aroma ice coffees and then returned to the Ulpan centre.
Akiva taught us the song ״יושב בסן פרנסיסקו על המים״ (Sit in San Francisco on the water). After translating the song and understanding what it meant, we all began to establish a strong liking for this song. The song entails the difficulty faced by a Jew who is living in his home in San Francisco, yet still feels so far from his home, Israel. I felt a strong connection to this song. Even though we have been away far from our homes and families for such a long time, we feel a sense of homeliness and comfort being in Eretz Yisrael.
As we said our farewells for the day and recapped all the new Hebrew we had learned, we went back to our hotel excited for the next 2 days to come.
We arrived at Ulpan rejuvenated and eager for the day ahead. Together we sat with Akiva and revised the vocabulary learned on the previous day. As we conversed in Hebrew, it became clear to me as to how much, (even in one day), our confidence in speaking Hebrew had increased and I was excited to see how our Hebrew ability would further flourish throughout the next couple of days.
Split into our pairs, we prepared our speech for our טיול (tour) for the day. We were headed to התכנה הראשונה (the first train station).
As we set off by foot towards the destination, we listened to the sounds of Israelis speaking quickly around us and breathed in the crisp Jerusalem morning air. Walking along the path, we passed a refurbished bus stop, which is now a book station where people can come and read and exchange books. We were encouraged to speak Hebrew with the people around us and discuss the different books and aspects of daily life in Jerusalem.
After our discussions and each choosing a book to take with us, we passed by a juice shop called מיץ פטל. The walls were littered by trays of oranges and tangled in vines and we couldn't resist and just had to order a drink. This was done in Hebrew! We felt such a sense of accomplishment when we managed to order the correct drink.
As we walked throughout the streets, we were encouraged to talk with others in Hebrew. We asked for directions to the destination and again felt a great sense of accomplishment when we were able to converse with others in the streets.
As we arrived at our destination, we were split into pairs and given a task. We had to go around to the nearby restaurants and ask them, in Hebrew, what their most popular meal was and how many shops are located within the vicinity. Putting our Hebrew into practice was exciting and whilst many of the shop owners were amused by our Australian accents, they willingly answered our questions.
We were then given our next task. We had to ask locals for directions to תיאטרון חאן (theatre). After navigating our way and having interesting conversations with Israelis, we eventually arrived at our destination.
We then made our way back to Ulpan and continued with some afternoon lessons. Together, we learned more vocabulary and watched a short film clip. After applying the new vocabulary we had learned through some intense games of pictionary and kahoot as well as learning a couple more songs, we said good bye for the day and returned to our hotel.
After a classic Israeli breakfast of salad, bread and cereal, we ventured out for our third and final day at Ulpan. We continued our studies in learning conversational Hebrew with our new teacher for the day, Tal, and embarked on our most highly anticipated tiyul, Shuk Machane Yehuda. The buzzing and bustling energy was evident as soon as we stepped off the bus. As we walked down the cobblestoned streets, we were stopped by some falafel store owners. After conversing in Hebrew, the shop owners asked us to try some of their falafel, which was voted by our group to definitely be the best falafel we have had.
We were immediately thrusted into the realm of a market place with an abundance of sounds, smells and sights. As we walked through the culture filled streets, bustling with a unique sense of passion and life, we were encouraged to converse with the other Israelis. From having conversations with salesmen and other Israelis walking on the streets, we all really had a taste of Israeli culture.
The captivating smells of rugolach and doughnuts filled us as we visited Marzipan. After buying a few too many cakes and doughnuts, we had a mission to purchase a food item from the markets for 5 shekels, having to converse and attempt to haggle with the store owners speaking only Hebrew.
After a delicious picnic in גן תותים (Strawberry fields) and a debrief of our eye opening adventure at the culture filled shuk, we returned to Ulpan.
After a day filled with learning and fun, our Ulpan experience was nearing its close. We ended with music, and I really understood how privileged I was to be able to further explore Israeli language and culture through my Ulpan experience.
The three days of Ulpan were filled with lessons and activities that gave me an insight into the different facets of Israeli life, culture and the Hebrew language itself. Another part of my incredible IST journey is complete and I cannot wait for what is yet to come.