Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hebrew Lessons in Cyberspace

Yom sheni, 9 Elul 5772.
Flash cards.  I don't know if they help, actually.  But they don't hurt.
It's the month of Elul -- and besides trying to get our act together spiritually before Rosh Hashanah, it is also a time when Jews start putting together the list of "Things I'm Finally Going to Improve.  Really.  This Year for Sure."  There can be no doubt that for the average oleh, the hardest struggle and the most important task is learning the Hebrew language.

There are no quick fixes.  People who immerse are much more likely to learn the language than people who live in communities of their linguistic peers.
Yeshiva Bochur saying "Lehitra'ot" to a favorite teacher at the Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu Ulpan at which he worked and learned for five months.
People who get jobs in the Israeli mainstream will learn faster, too.  "You want to learn Hebrew?" asked one friend.  "Go into business."  This includes kids in Israeli schools and soldiers.
Stunt Man and a friend from the Old Country barely speak pure English anymore.  "Or I'm going to Ireland, or I'm going to America after the army."  That is actually good Hebrew grammar.
For those of us (like the Dearly Beloved and me) who break all the rules of language immersion, staying in our little linguistic ghettos, working in our country of origin (either by commuting or by working on the internet in our mamaloshen), patience and persistence remain our most important tools.

There are a few additional tools, however, presented by individuals and organizations with the goal of helping the oleh to integrate as quickly as possible.  Lots of these tools cost money -- and some of them are so famous, they don't need my little blog to help them out.  Some are free, and for most people in my income tax bracket, free is a really good option.  Here is a sample of what is available out there in Cyberspace.

Ami Steinberger and Company at Ulpan La-Inyan make the experience of learning Hebrew as organic as possible, with topics that feel natural, using expressions and words that will come up in everyday situations.  Ulpan La-Inyan also teaches in a very natural way, the way a child learns language, rather than inundating the student with piles and piles of grammar laws.  Ami is an expert in Hebrew grammar -- so it is available.  Just not all-consuming of every last brain cell -- a fact which keeps his program fun, and effective.

Be sure to check out the Ulpan La-Inyan website, for more free stuff, and for the best ulpan available in Israel, when you are ready to get what you pay for.

Jacob Richman has made it his one-man mission to offer as many free aids to Hebrew language and cultural education as possible.  From online Torah to Jewish history and holidays, from recipes and radio stations to kashrut and clipart, Jacob's "Hot Sites - Jewish" is an aliyah resource to be visited again and again.

Another interesting website is Learn Hebrew Pod: Hebrew That Goes With You.  While the free lessons are actually a very nice sales pitch for the course, one can get a great deal even from these few free lessons.  The method of Hebrew conversation flowing more-or-less seamlessly with English translation is a refreshing approach when my mind is tired from more intensive study.

And if you haven't a lot of time each day to devote to learning the language, but want to feel "in the know" with a word or phrase added daily to your repertoire, you can also check out Transparent Language's "Word of the Day" in Hebrew, or of course, Ulpan La-Inyan's "Daily Dose" featured word or phrase, with detailed etymological explanations.

YouTube has lots of video clips from TV series and commercials in Hebrew.  I especially like the ads.  Good ads are often little short plays -- so one can feel a sense of accomplishment in finally understanding the little story in a one minute (or shorter) format, that can be paused and replayed as necessary.

Finally, Hebrew language study is never as much fun as when it's sarcastic political commentary, with English subtitles (for clarity.  But don't forgo the opportunity to listen without paying attention to the subtitles, just to test yourself).  Caroline Glick's Latma TV is an exceptional example of the genre.  Wicked enjoyment.

I tell everyone that I'll be in ulpan till I'm eighty.  (I can finally say this well enough in Hebrew to make Israeli young people laugh.  This makes me cool in two languages.  Woo-HOO.)  Please feel free to share with me any sites you have that will fill the gaps between enough money for ulpan tuition.  I wouldn't want to disappoint Ami and my other instructors when I finally get back to the classroom.

Now if I can just lose those last five kilos before Yom Kippur...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Shabbat, With Love

Yom rishon, 1 Elul 5772, Rosh Chodesh.

Having our sons home in ones, twos, threes or many is our greatest Shabbat pleasure.

Well -- almost.

This Shabbat happened to be unusual.  Sports Guy is in Sweden with the Israeli National American Flag Football team, helping his team to some very respectable standings.  Yeshiva Bochur and Stunt Man are still doing their part to protect Israel's borders from people who don't want Israelis to live here.  And Soldier Boy and his family and the other brothers are still in a galaxy far, far away.

So this Shabbat was just the Dearly Beloved and me.

And we decided to do it up in regal style.

"Let's just pretend that we are at a holiday resort, and have Shabbat catered.  It'll be like room service!"

He agreed.  We did.  And I highly recommend you give something like this a try, at some point in your marital career.  (Here I will toss in a brief disclaimer for my young readers with fifteen or twenty little kids still at home.  Don't be jealous.  You will get to do this someday, too.  Trust me.  And we don't feel guilty.  It's our compensation for arthritis, intermittent tooth loss due to gum exhaustion, and never, ever again looking as good as you do in that dress.)

Our meal was catered by the wonderfully talented, educational and conscientious Marc Gottlieb of Culinart Kosher.  While it is convenient for us that he lives and works right here in Neve Daniel, I understand that he was delivering a large number of orders to other areas of the Gush on Friday as well.  (The rumor mill has it that brand-new olah and celebrity kosher chef Jamie Geller and I shared the same caterer this Shabbat.  In case you needed to know just how good our local boy is...)

Everything was reasonably priced, and delivered by his charming children in plenty of time to get things set up on the blech before Shabbat.  And I had zero stress, because my big job of the day had been to set the table.  For two.  Draining, I know -- but a woman does what she must.

For Friday night, we shared the Classic Beef Brisket and the Stuffed Chicken Breast with Roasted Red and Yellow Peppers.  Both dishes were prepared beautifully, and were perfectly complemented by the cheerfully-named Garlic Smashed Potatoes.  As sides, we had a Roasted Summer Squash Duet, juicy and lightly seasoned, and Zucchini Papparadelle, which was so refreshing, it actually cleaned the palate like a sip of wine between bites of more robust foods.  We complemented the meal with possibly the last bottle of 2009 Tabor Cabernet Sauvignon in Super Turgiman.  :-)

Shabbat lunch had me a bit worried, as I wasn't sure I'd ordered enough.  I have often found that appetizers provide enough for a main dish -- but I wasn't sure if my choice of Citrus Salmon Skewers with Herbed Rice would be sufficient.  I needn't have worried.  The salmon held up to the light pre-lunch warming, and was light, lightly-tangy, and not in the least dry.  The creamy rice was seasoned exactly right.  In fact, if there could have been one improvement, it would have been to have the rice presented separately from the fish, as it was abundant, and would have gone nicely with meat as well.  With the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad came a perfectly tangy dressing.  (The dressing was so delicious, we saved some of it for seudat shlishit, and chopped up some vegetables for dipping.)  And with the addition of some leftover Zucchini Papparadelle, and our usual additions of olives, pickles, salatim and hummus, we had a perfect lunch.

As the lovely afternoon wound down, we realized we couldn't wait for seudat shlishit to have our dessert.  So we had the Chocolate Mousse early.  This decadent dish should come with a warning label.  Delicious.  Too much too-muchness.  Probably illegal in most states in America and in all Muslim countries.

I wish I had photos for you -- but it was Shabbat, after all.  Recommendation: Give Marc a call at 02-991-9443, and see what he has to offer for yourself.  You deserve it.
Correction: Well -- you know how rumor mills are.  Twasn't Jamie, it turns out (though when she finally gets to give Marc's fare a try, I'm sure she'll be impressed).  It was Gil Marks, of Encylcopedia of Jewish Food fame.  Ehhhhhh... Seems one way or another, Culiart Kosher is running with the big boys.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rebels with a Cause

Yom chamishi, 28 Av 5772.
A Rebel greets a future IDF soldier
When I was young, I loved opportunities to work with the local theater.  But I never wanted to be on stage.  Too much pressure to get it right.  Besides, the best show was happening backstage.  We stage-hands, makeup artists, and costume and props people had more fun than either the performers or the audience.

On Tuesday this week, former Baltimoreans planned to meet at the Nefesh B'Nefesh welcome ceremony for the 350 new North American olim who joined us as citizens of the Holy Land.  Our goal was to gather to honor our fifth-year anniversary.  My family actually arrived later in the year -- but everyone was invited to catch up in the admittedly emotional atmosphere at Ben Gurion Airport, Terminal 1.  The news has covered more than adequately the highlights of the day: 127 young soldiers-to-be dancing joyfully with old friends and new; Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to the group; Natan Sharansky and all of the usual Nefesh B'Nefesh lineup of inspiring speakers reminding guests and immigrants alike of why we have all come Home.

I didn't participate in the onstage party as I usually would have.  (If you live in or are visiting Israel, and have never done a Nefesh B'Nefesh welcome gig, do yourself a favor: make a point of going to greet the olim.  As Go'el Jasper once remarked, he was too exhausted at his own welcome ceremony to really appreciate it.  But when he attended the ceremony to greet other olim, he couldn't stop crying at the beauty of the experience.)

Instead, I was at the backstage party, hanging out with a bunch of orange-clad Rebels, as they unloaded baggage from the baggage carousels.

If you have trouble viewing the video, you can find it here on YouTube.

The Dearly Beloved, in his new life as guitar instructor and football coach, is now the proud head coach of not only the high school team, the Orli Print Ravens, but also of the Judean Rebels, one of the Israel Football League's ten adult teams.

One of our players, Tani  Kramer, has Nefesh B'Nefesh as his day job.  He had the idea that big, strong, strapping football players might be just the right guys for the job of unloading the amazing amount of very heavy luggage the new immigrants bring in, as they uproot their lives, and replant them in holy soil.

We were proud of our guys.  They worked hard, not stopping with just pulling bags and boxes off of carousels, but also organizing them so that the tired new immigrants could find their possessions easily.

It was a good day, hard as any Rebels workout, and just as satisfying.  A couple of Tel Aviv Pioneers even showed up to assist, and the cooperation was a pleasure to watch.

Which inspired in me a coach-mom prayer: Hashem, see the brotherhood on this "field"?  If You can inspire this kind of sportsmanship on the gridiron, maybe football can go back to what it was meant to be -- a game.

One of the greatest games a guy can play.
Not the whole detail -- just the first guys to show up for this game

Leave a bunch of high-energy guys with nothing to do in a big, open space, and they will toss a pigskin around to fill the time.  "We should get up for practice at 4 AM every day.  We're really good today."

One of the 127 new IDF recruits.  Thank you for your holy service, guys and gals!

Many Israelis got up at 4 AM to cheerfully greet the new citizens.

Apparently, a couple of the guys failed to catch the ball during one handed catch drills.

"Drop and give me ten!"  A man does what a man's gotta do.

Finally, the bags begin to show up.  Game over.  Or just getting started...

Coach gets right into the action with his boys.

Halftime.  Waiting with anticipation for the next onslaught.  "Smoke me, Coach!"

You can only imagine some of the weight these guys hefted.

Working together to make the whole process run smoothly

Hundreds (thousands?) of bags were carefully organized for easy location.

Our Rebels stand for "Hatikva."  The TV monitor shows the new IDF recruits.
Welcome Home, to all of the new olim.  And if any of you future soldiers have a little energy left over after your tour of duty, have you heard that there is American football being played in your new homeland?  See? You didn't leave everything behind after all...

Thank you Uria, Baria, Brill, Tani, Didi, Ari, Yaniv, Jaymes, Michael, David, Yitzchak, Jake -- and anybody else who showed up later to help.  It was a pleasure working with you guys.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Soldier of the People

Yom revi'i, 27 Av 5772.

As much as I love writing this blog, guest posts from my sons are still my favorites.  Here, Yeshiva Bochur (aka Exiled Warrior) shares some feelings about another aspect of being an IDF soldier.

"I'm not a role model... Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids."    (Charles Barkley, 1993)


Today, while walking through the stone passageways of the Old City in my uniform, I was reminded of something. Something that a soldier sitting on the lonely border, counting the hours before he goes home again, can easily forget: my job as an IDF soldier.

Of course, I know that part of my job is to guard the borders of Israel from possible attacks. I know that part of my job is that in case of war I must set aside my individual safety for the continuation of the State of Israel. These things we are reminded of everyday.

What I was reminded of today, however, was the other part of my job. Possibly the part I draw the most pride from.

On my short walk through the Old City, two kids asked me to be in a photo with me, at least five people asked me directions, and a few old Yerushalmi women threw me blessings for safety.

Even though I've only been in the army a year and have seen very little of what would be called "action," to those kids I was Yoni Netanyahu rescuing hostages at Entebbe; I was Ro’i Klein leaping on a grenade to protect his fellow soldiers. To them I was a hero, and they were honored to be standing beside me.

It doesn't matter that I've only been in this country two years -- to those "direction seekers" I was a reliable source of information, because of course, I'm a soldier, so of course, I know.

Our job is to defend these people. Whether that means giving our lives in the field of battle or giving a woman a hand with her bags, our job is to help our fellow Israeli.

We are part of the very fabric of this Land. We are your sons and daughters. We are your brothers and sisters. We are your grandkids.

We represent this country and every human being who sacrificed his life for it.

It doesn’t matter what I was before, what I will be after, or what I am when the uniform comes off.  When I don this garb, I represent sixty-four years of rebuilding the State of Israel, sixty-four years of bravery, sixty-four years of brotherhood.

It is this part of my job, we soldiers tend to forget. And it this part of my job the Old City reminded me of today.

Sleep well Am Yisrael. Your family has got your back.