Posted by Lara Berman
The lesson of the week, in language and love: It’s time to persevere.
The wake-up call started over Shabbat in Tel Aviv when I met two, tiny tykes. We’ll call the older, curly-headed one Geni, since he’s a genius –certifiably. And we’ll call his little brother Mowgli, since he’s a perfect copy of the spunky “Jungle Book” character. These two squirts prattled on and on in Hebrew all night, and after 2 months in ulpan, I understood…nothing. Nothing! And it sent me into a tail spin.
My despair truly set in after dinner. The boys whipped out the board game “Oseh Kesef” (“Make Money”) or as we call it in English, “Monopoly.” As the boys reminded me how to play the game, my face alternated between expressions of perplexed focus and lost frustration. The rules were gobbledygook to me. The game-card directions went completely over my head. Finally, Geni said, “Look, what it’s telling you is…” Yeah, that’s right, he whipped out some perfect English he’d apparently picked up on a family trip to India, and after assessing my language skills realized he’d get further using his 8-year-old English than by trying to work with my broken Hebrew.
I left dinner feeling sunk. On one level I know my Hebrew has improved dramatically. But flopping at this very everyday experience really sent me into a multi-day mope. My inner conversation went something like this: “What’s the point? I can’t understand after all this time and studying?! Should I just go home early? Will all this time and effort be wasted? How embarrassing if after 5 months of focus I fail. I’m probably too old to learn a new language. My friend Odi learned Spanish in 3 months and Hindi in two and all from scratch. Clearly, I don’t have an ear for languages…” v’chooley, v’chooley (etc., etc.)
And after whining to my mom and others misfortunate enough to enter my sulky sphere, clarity struck. I had reached my turning point, my moment of truth. The half-way mark of my trip had arrived and I was due for… a speed bump! Hello?! I should have expected it. After all, every process has ups and downs.
Furthermore, it dawned on me that that my reaction to this test would determine success or failure. If I allowed myself to grow dissuaded and deflated, my actions would follow suit – an inner acceptance of futility would derail all my past and future efforts.
In short, if I continued to pout, everything would be a waste.
Heegia ha’zman le’hachzik mahamad! The time had arrived to hang in there! Recommit myself! Persevere! The experience showed me that I need more exposure to the language, more work, more vocabulary, more, more, more…effort in many ways! But the good news is: there’s time. Ten more weeks, yalla v’tachzik Mahamad. (Let’s go and hang in there.)
Hashem really wanted this lesson to sink in, because I was taught it again, only in the romance department. I did a speed-dating event, intending for it to be a discreet experience…until JPost caught it on tape and put me on their front page. Just what every 30-year-old girl wants: to be the poster child for single-dom. Sheesh.
I tried the event because it was Tu B’Av (the Jewish Valentine’s Day), one of my girlfriends had raved about it, and frankly I needed to put some effort into my love life. This seemed like a good way to meet new people. But (spoiler alert), like many-a-dating experience, it only wound up providing entertainment to my family and friends.
The night was a bust. Only one guy perked my interested – a gorgeous, Israeli guy named Nir. Dimples, great smile, full head of dark hair, 6’4”—classic ‘tall, dark & handsome’ – he reminded me of John Travolta in Grease. (And what girl didn’t have a crush on Danny Zuko?) Problem: he’s 25. So, I felt a little bit like Mrs. Robinson. But, what the heck? He asked me out to dinner after the event and I said sure.
We ordered and suddenly, after knowing Nir for all of 30 minutes, I find myself playing “Whack-a-Mole.” For those of you who haven’t been to an arcade recently, “Whack-a-Mole” is that game where you must smack the moles that quickly pop up from the holes on the board with a giant hammer. The more moles you whack, the more points you get. In this allusion, Nir’s hands would be moles and it was my job to smack them away as they kept popping up on different parts of my body. Later, my walk home consisted of blocking Nir’s various efforts and lines to get into my apartment, and now, you have a sense of the evening.
See, I like gentlemen! I like conversation! I appreciate the common sense and sensitivity to recognize when advances are premature or unwelcome. I do not like the roaming hands of virtual strangers. Suffice it to say, there was no Grease Lightening.
I’d expected a summer of spiritual, strong, Zionist suitors! But all I’d found thus far were lost boys. By evening’s end, I felt exhausted and discouraged. Another flop. Another stupid dating experience. And nothing promising on the horizon.
And then I realized, again: Heegia ha’zman le’hachzik ma’amad. The time had arrived to hang in there.
Look, I wish I could choose the time table for certain things in my life; meeting my beshert (true love) definitely falls into that category. But Hashem has His own plan. The good news is, His plan for me is way better than my plan for me. So, with that in mind, my job is to stay open. As hard as it is sometimes…and it is…I must remember that a clenched fist cannot receive anything. Hashem can be ready to give me all I want and more, but unless I’m open, I’ll miss it; I won’t be able to grab it.
So, this is my work: open up and remain open. Put one foot in front of the other. Refrain from coming to conclusions. And Tachzik Ma’amad. Not being able to see the big picture is no reason to get pissy; especially since the big picture is, it’s all working out perfectly.
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July 22, 2010 | 1:31 pm
Posted by Lara Berman
It’s good to have a spiritual goal when living in Israel.
Now, I’ve always been drawn to the self-help world in NY and later LA. But what stands out about this experience in Israel is that whereas previously, my fuel for these kicks typically came from icky, lurking feelings of inadequacy; here, I just feel good and as a natural extension of that, want to continue to take care of myself and do good for myself. (Imagine!) I mean, quite effortlessly I’m eating healthier (thanks to the most delicious fruits and veggies on the planet for cheap!), exercising all the time (thanks to the 7 hills of Jerusalem and my central apartment), getting enough Vitamin D (thanks to the summer sun), feeling young and sassy (thanks to a rockin’ tan and the Israeli ‘tude), and am thinking clearly (thanks to the welcome absence of MTV, raunchy billboards, the rat race, and the ‘compare-and-despair’ mentality that’s so prevalent…ummm, everywhere else!). Sababa!
And so, when on top of all that blessing and goodness, I also realized that for some reason I’ve merited to live in the holiest place in the world, literally, in Hashem’s nest and most inner sanctum; it happened quite naturally, intuitively, and from the most pure of intentions that I just wanted to be closer to Him. Not because I’m feeling lack, but because I’m feeling full.
So, when I say “spiritual goal,” I mean that I’m “taking something on” that will push me to be a better me. Typically, these spiritual goals involve lifestyle changes or character polishing. But instead of saying, “I am going to do -X- mightily and alone, bwa ha!” You say, “Hiya, Hashem – it’s You and me, babe! Let’s do this!” And knowing you’ve got the ultimate partner, you go forth with gusto, part of an unshakable team.
Now you could say, “Oh, silly Lara – Hashem’s with you everywhere and so you can work with Him whenever, where ever.” And you know what? You’d be super, super right. BUT! It is different here. Sorry. Kind of a bummer for folks chootz l’Aretz (outside of Israel), but a major opportunity while one’s here.
“The air in the land of Israel makes one wise.”
Talmud Bavli, Bava Batra 158b
I’m hardly a religious nut…(maybe more of a spiritual fruit)…and although Hashem is everywhere, there is a direct line to Him here, a different and special connection. It’s like this: If the switchboard of the world is in front of Hashem and day-in, day-out He’s answering calls—when you’re in Israel (and especially Jerusalem, hello?!), you’re accessing the red phone on the side with the flashing light. It rings and Hashem answers no matter what, “Hey Lara, what’s up? What’s up? Lay it on me. I gotcha.”
I mean, it’s not so hard to understand. My mom and dad – classic Jewish parents – are always wanting to know what’s going on, and are trying to help me and be there for me as much as they can and as much as I’ll let them. Now, when I travel to Texas to see them, they’re so happy to have a full house that they hop around trying to take care of me even more than usual. “Want something to eat? Drink? What can I get you? What an occasion! Let’s do something special, and won’t you stay longer?” Being in Israel is exactly the same – you’re visiting home. And so, when you’re here, Hashem gets super excited and wants to be there for you and do for you like a doting parent.
So, my spiritual goal: I’ve decided to take on daily, mindfulness meditation and chats with Hashem. This is a practice I’ve done sporadically for a while. Whenever I do it, the difference in my experience is unmistakable. Days can remain fast-paced and koo koo, but the mindfulness allows me to be present for my life! To experience the koo koo! Good or challenging, I’m there for it and there for myself – and as a result, I notice more, the goodness feels sweeter, and the challenges rock but don’t swallow me. In terms of my yappity yapping with Hashem, I chat in my own words. I basically spill my guts, ask questions, request favors and feedback, and give kudos. And from this I get clarity. I get answers. I get guidance. I get magic and surprises and fun. I feel connected and I usually find things working out in clever, unexpected and positive ways.
With all this in-your-face goodness, why didn’t I do this earlier? Well, I’m not proud to admit that I sometimes get lazy and sloppy, antsy and complacent. Occasionally, that little part of me that’s mean and disparaging can get the better of me, and I don’t do what’s in my own best interest. So, in the past, I’ve let the practice slide, despite knowing that it’s a lifeline to blessings and peace. No more! Now, I want my practice to become a true practice - a non-negotiable, sacrosanct and cherished part of my day, as indispensible to me as my mom’s morning coffee is to her. (And believe me, you don’t want to get between my mom and her coffee. You’ve heard the term “insta-human?” Bidiyuk (exactly).)
So, being a fan of positive reinforcement (and basically a 4-year-old at heart), what did I do? I bought stickers! Yes, I made myself a calendar and bought smiley faced-stickers that say in Hebrew (yeah, that was so cool for me) things like, “kol hakavod!” (all the respect), “avodah yafa!” (great work), and my favorite, “naki v’mesoodar” (clean and orderly) – hopefully an accurate description of my brain after all this meditation!
I am shooting for a daily practice, but to challenge my perfectionist tendencies, will be ok with 5 days a week for now. My meerpeset (balcony) has been a dream for this observance; I look forward to going out there every morning. Trees surround me, but I can see over them to the balconies of neighbors with their bright pink and red flowers blooming. As I close my eyes, cool breezes rustle my hair and the smell of vanilla coffee percolates. It’s beautiful…and timely.
Next week I begin a 10-day program where I’ll be skipping out on ulpan (Yeah, good luck to me catching up on all that – yipes!) to live in the Old City. What a zchut (merit) and what a perfect opportunity to practice being present and connected, nachon (right)?!
Wish me luck and I wish you lots of connection, presence and presents.
July 13, 2010 | 3:03 pm
Posted by Lara Berman
Unless you’ve taken a kabbalah class somewhere along the way, you might not realize that Hebrew is not just a language. It’s a commentary, a philosophy, a teaching, a code filled with insights and secrets. “Oh, Lara, now you’ve really lost it,” you might be thinking. Aval, lo! Ani lo magzima afilu iota! (But, no! I’m not exaggerating even a drop!)
Check it out~
Basic, basic example: “Dahm” means blood (remember dipping your finger in the wine on Passover?).
From that, we get “Ah-dom” which means red, and “Ah-dahm” which means man.
From that we get “Ah-dah-ma” which means earth. As man was created from earth and returns to earth…
“Hebrew is an ancient language,” Tamara, our dynamo of a teacher said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. To her, it must be plainly evident – these connections are all over the Hebrew language!...(And, both her parents are rabbis.)
So, in response to our wonder, Liat, another one of my favorites, might say, “be-tach,” meaning of course; from which we get “ba-too-ach” which means I’m sure, and “le-havtiach” means to promise! All these words have the same root, the essence of their meanings linked.
See, Hebrew is made of “Binyanim” or, buildings, which again is a perfect description of the system because the words build upon themselves, upon their roots, brick by brick.
AND Hebrew also contains within it lessons and messages. Take the word, “ahava” which means to love. The root “hav” means to give. The “ah” is a modifier meaning I. So the word for love, literally translates to I give. Love is giving. So, while in English we speak of passively “falling in love” (a perplexing word choice, by the way, as my teachers point out), in Hebrew, the language itself teaches that first we give, and as a function of giving, create love. There is wisdom in this language!
So, as you can likely see by now, intensive Hebrew language class is fascinating! This is not the same as learning Bulgarian! (Though I’m sure that language has several…redeeming…things…er, nuggets…and…insights!...surely…to offer. And…I love the Bulgarian cheese here, by the way. Really sets off my watermelon well. So…thanks, Bulgaria. I was just…sayin’…)
Furthermore, it’s incredibly satisfying to feel growth every day. Swimming as my head sometimes is in all the binyanim and their different structures, I can’t seem to get enough of this language. Lucky for me, my classmates are also extremely dedicated to learning. Everyone has the aim to actively participate in Israeli life, so this study is far more than recreational.
Seizing the opportunity, I started “Ulpan Café,” essentially class outings where we get together outside of class, expressly to speak in Hebrew. No English allowed! So far, we’ve had lunch gatherings, coffee gatherings, seret v’seecha (movie and conversation – Hebrew movies, of course), drill team where we quiz each other, laila meeschak (Hebrew game night) and coming up soon will be our Shabbat Lunch! We’re quite a unit and feel very lucky to have such a fun and enthusiastic class!
Another thing that’s made our group dynamic such a blast is, of course, our amazing teachers! Let me give some insight into our classroom. Typically, teachers drill us, using the Socratic method of calling on people at random to test their comprehension. They give us a sentence to translate, and we must respond immediately, or they will move on to someone else.
“I had a donkey,” Fina quizzed.
“Hita li…donkey?,” Toby answered.
“Donkey – chamor,” Fina explained, writing the new word on the board.
“Why will I ever need to know the word, donkey?” Toby called out.
Fina turned around, looked him straight in the eye and said, “In Israel, you have many reasons to use the word donkey.”
And the class erupted into laughter.
“He understood,” Liat challenged.
“Hoo heh-veen,” said Shelli.
“He will understand,” Liat continued.
“Hoo ya-veen,” Shelli answered.
“He understands,” Liat asked.
“Hoo…um…mah-veen?” Shelli tried.
“Mehhhhhh!” Liat bleeted like a goosed sheep!
I assure you, my classmates and I never forgot the word, Mehhhhh-veen.
And so it goes. The teachers provide stories, or humor, or songs, or gestures to help us remember…and they work! There’ve been plenty of times when I’ve been called upon and been completely shocked to hear the right answer pop out of my mouth! This sort of automatic response is precisely the aim of our teachers. And they make sure they get what they want: “Don’t mess with me,” Tamara said one time when the whispers at the back of the classroom got too loud. “I was in the army!” she shouted, eyes twinkling. We all laughed but knew she damn-well meant it! The whispers scrammed.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again because it’s so true: Ulpan Morasha rocks! If they can’t teach me this language, nobody can. And fortunately for me, my class happens to be moving faster than any they’ve had in a long time; after 2 ½ months, we’re already at the same level as those who’ve attended 3 ½ - 4 months of ulpan. Yippee! We have been moving along speedily. Our teachers are pushing us, but thank goodness my class is committed to learning and working as much as necessary to become Hebrew speakers by years end.
It’s so exhilarating to have the opportunity to learn Hebrew in Israel, in Jerusalem no less. Since I was 13, I’ve wanted to do this! And now I feel it’s finally within reach. It’s a serious challenge to learn a language in 4 ½ months (especially in a town as Anglo as Jlem), but I feel it’s possible! An Australian who now speaks Hebrew better than English told me it’s tough until you reach a certain threshold and after that, everything just clicks; the speed comes and words you thought you’d forgotten re-emerge from your cranial recesses. As gross as that sounds, I can’t wait for it to happen to me!
Finally, I used to feel that wanting to speak Hebrew was such an irrational, impractical desire. (Wouldn’t Chinese serve me better?) But that was pure hogwash I fed myself. (And how dare I, as a member of the tribe, feed myself hogwash?! To shame!) No, after seeing the insights and joy that learning Hebrew has given me, I see my desire was not irrational, but rather spiritual and so, harder to explain. It was an intuitive directive that led me to all the gifts I’m now receiving here in Israel. Thank goodness I finally listened to that chitter-chatter!
To be practical, a language doesn’t need to be spoken by 80% of the world’s population…or even 10%. Learning Hebrew makes me feel connected to Israel, a place that I’m intensely proud of; it will allow me to teach my children Hebrew, granting them the gift of intimately understanding Judaism and the ability to immediately bond with Israel and her people; and it deepens my connection with own spiritual self. How could I ever have dismissed that as impractical?
Thank goodness, Hashem never gave up on me. He kept that little voice inside me jabbering away and guided me here in the right time. Why did I have to wait until age 30 to follow this dream? Well, surely my appreciation for this experience would not have been the same had I come at 20 years old. Furthermore, as you might have noticed by my ambition of fluency within 4 ½ months, I enjoy visible, tangible, nearly-instantaneous results. Much to my chagrin, sometimes Hashem wants to teach us patience, and what better way than to give us something to be patient about? So, le-aht, le-aht (slowly, slowly); one foot in front of the next; one verb and then another until… tafasti! (I got it!)…can’t wait!
July 9, 2010 | 5:00 pm
Posted by Lara Berman
I think it’s safe to say my fuddy duddy days are over!
To those of you who don’t know, I’ve never been the party animal, per se. Nope: Never loved the taste of alcohol, more of an early bird than a night owl, a planner rather than a spontaneous koo-koo head. Hey, I’m not selling myself short, these aren’t definitive characterizations. When inspired by someone special or in the presence of amazing music, I’ve been known to be the bell of the ball! But, as a general rule, left to my own devices, my default is practical, responsible, goody-goody, fuddy-duddy.
Well, that was my default until Tel Aviv, the BEST city in the world came around and showed me how to party like a rock star…or, at least like an Israeli.
It began last week. My friend called me. She was on her way from Jlem to TLV at 6pm. Usually, you’d head to Tel Aviv early in the day to catch the sun. What was this? It was then that I heard about the White Knight Festival – the day Tel Aviv stays hopping till dawn with free concerts and tours and open museums and shops and every Israeli out to party.
Oof. The back and forthing began: My inner fuddy duddy piping up to voice her opinion. I had just moved apartments that day, hadn’t met my roommates yet (what kind of first impression would this make?), my head was still reeling from the week in ulpan and I was pooped. Furthermore, my friend was with her husband – total 3rd-wheel situation ahead – and besides all that - where exactly would I sleep?
I took a quiet moment. My gut said GO. So, despite all the negatives, off I went. I’d never heard of anything like this! I got into high gear, called friends in TLV, boom! I had a place to stay if I needed it. I threw a bathing suit in a bag and ran off to catch a sheirut (shared taxi) to Tel Aviv. I arrived at 9pm and stayed up all night, enjoying the various acts and performances on Rothschild, open galleries in HaTachana and boutiques in Neve Tzedek. Along the way, I had so many déjà vu experiences. Rothschild felt so European! We turned a corner in the Hatachana and I was back on the waterfront in Cape Town, and Neve Tzedek was totally Soho from NY! I never knew Tel Aviv had so many cosmopolitan neighborhoods! Awesome.
There was no way to see everything, and we’d been walking for ages, so we finally stopped at a beach party to dig our feet in the sand, have some coffee and dance! People of all ages partied together - I love that! Seventy year olds danced beside teenagers – everyone so carefree and just letting go to enjoy the moment. The humidity of the day had disappeared. People splashed in the waves. Fire twirlers threw their batons into the air, illuminating the sky. Every 50 feet another genre of music blasted. We had such fun, and I finally crawled into bed tired and happy at 5:00am.
So, one night is cool. But could I really say I’d broken my inner fuddy duddy? I wasn’t sure. But now I am.
This week, a friend’s birthday party and something called the “Music Parade” drew me back to Tel Aviv. My friend, Michal and I arrived Thursday afternoon to spend some time with her sweet family. I spoke only in Hebrew with them(yay!) and became good friends with the cousin’s, four-year old daughter, Ella. What a doll! We played a Hebrew game of Matching (which probably taught me more than it did her) and she said, “At hachavera yafa v’chachama sheli.” (You are my pretty and smart friend.) How cute is that? I was ready to forget the party and chill with Ella instead.
But the night awaited! We arrived at the Pier in Tel Aviv for the birthday party. Whoa! So many attractive people! Suddenly, I found myself in a swanky, beachside, open-air lounge surrounded by gorgeous guys. I mean gorgeous – could they feel me staring? And all with accents! South African, Australian, Israeli, English – all Israel lovers! So nice and accomplished and smart and…people, this was a good night!
The hours flew – I chatted and chatted. The venue was great, the ocean breeze kept us cool, we ate watermelon with Bulgarian cheese (yum!), and before we knew it, 2:30a had rolled around. Michal and I were staying at the birthday girl, Hila’s apartment that night, and Hila wanted Aboulafia. What the bday girl wishes, the birthday girl gets! The group that was left headed from North Tel Aviv to Jaffo for the famous calzone-looking pitas filled with cheese and zaatar. After Hila got her cheesy fix, we dropped everyone off, stayed up for girl talk and finally went to bed at 5:30a.
Next morning, not wanting to sleep the day away, we woke up and jumped into the Meditteranean which is PERFECT right now! A bathtub! You don’t have to ease your way in, it’s mooooshlam! (Perfeeeeeeect!) My inner mermaid emerged. I couldn’t have been happier, letting the turquoise water rock me and carry me away.
A little more sun and the Music Parade began. Different floats came down the main drag in front of the ocean, each one blasting a different type of music. People would just follow the truck that had the music they liked best. My friend, Michal and I stopped to eat at Yotvata - the amazing dairy restaurant with food straight from the kibbutz. Our lunch came with a prime view of the parade. After eating, we too danced along the street, following the music as though the floats were pied pipers.
The music ended at the Dolphinarium where a huge concert was beginning. The biggest DJs in Israel were there, taking turns, playing their tunes. This was all free! Pelephone, who was sponsoring the event, handed out blue fabric tubes that people were using as hats, tops, skirts, bracelets, you name it. So, when looking into the concert, I saw a sea of 2,000+ blue, bobbing heads, dancing around, against the backdrop of the ocean. This was such a blast I can’t even describe it! It’s the most fun I’ve had yet in Israel. I didn’t even think I liked some of this music; now, I’m looking for it on iTunes. The energy of the place was contagious! Everywhere you looked there were people laughing and dancing.
How lucky to be there! Tel Aviv knows how to party. It MUST be one of the best cities in the world. I’ve lived in NYC, LA and Dallas; I’ve visited London, Cape Town and Sydney and Tel Aviv trumps them all. No contest!
We pryed ourselves away, and I headed home with such a happy heart, just so full of appreciation for this place and these experiences.
Now after these stories, the natural question probably is: am I sorry that I’m living in Jerusalem and not Tel Aviv? Especially, now that my inner fuddy duddy has gone bye bye?
The answer is no. If Tel Aviv is like Manhattan or some other great city; Jerusalem is unlike anywhere else. You cannot compare Jerusalem to any other place on Earth. It’s that special.
Plus, not having something at your fingertips helps maintain appreciation of it. Tel Aviv is only 30 minutes away, so I can get there when I want to, but the peace of Jerusalem is my home for now. Besides, if I lived in Tel Aviv, I think I’d feel pressure to go out every night – there’s always something happening! I don’t think I’d learn Hebrew, I don’t think I’d learn anything! But, I would have the time of my life. Lucky for me, I’m doing that anyway and I’m learning Hebrew. So, no complaints here. Jerusalem allows me to just be. The focus on superficiality is gone here. People have higher goals than looking good and being party animals. And coming from LA, that’s a most welcome change.
Furthermore, don’t underestimate Jerusalem. The famous Odelia Shabi visited me in Jerusalem and we ended up watching the World Cup (woo hoo!) and drinking beers on Ben Yehuda St. with a slew of Israelis and ex-pats. (Yes, I drank beer! The Belgians make a cherry beer that even I can dig. Down the hatch!)
…But all that said…yeah, I’m totally planning to stay in Tel Aviv during my break from ulpan…if I don’t volunteer in the army…