Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Swirling Thoughts #51 - ulpan and tradition

In ulpan we have the makings of an opener for Middle East peace – our teacher pointed out that Ivrit (Hebrew) and Aravit (Arabic) are essentially the same word with two letters inverted. She reviewed some Aravit words that have been absorbed into the Ivrit (Kef (fun), Yalla (come on now), Sababa (okay, cool)) and said, “See - cousins!”

Low class.
When I asked her about some of the words I know that she wasn’t teaching (I thought “where are you from?” was “m’eyfo ata?” as opposed to “m’ayin ata?”) she gave a quick but clear explanation. “There is Shakespeare…” (she held her hand all the way up high) “…and there is Kveesh (street)!” (hand held way down low). Seems much of the Ivrit I’ve picked up along the way is kveesh.

Sakana! (Danger!)
We learned about the otiot garon – throat letters – which, if used in conjunction with the wrong prefix can cause you to choke (choking demonstrated by our instructor) and which, if used with a dagesh or a shvah become lethal. (I don't even know what that means but we'd best be careful!) We learned about the counterintuitive nature of Israeli double negatives. ‘Nobody doesn’t understand’ is the literal translation of a sentence that actually means, ‘Nobody understands.’ He doesn’t understand anything? He doesn’t understand nothing! My inner grammar freak is quivering.

Existentialism in ulpan – “Why?”
When someone asked about the double negatives the answer came in the form of a musical interlude. “Masoret!” she answered and then in her best Tevya, she belted out “Tradition… tradition! Tradition!”

The weather here is a blessing – and not just when it’s good for beach days and bar-b-q’s!
We’re finding ourselves caught up in another Israeli tradition. Tomorrow will be our third consecutive hol hamoed bar-b-q. As for something a little more meaningful…it rained this morning – something even the kids know to appreciate here and at this time of year. I received the following note from my friend Shelomo, a learned historian:

In the old days, when it would not rain, the Sephardic rabbis would all gather in the lower portion of the courtyard of the "Four Synagogues" near the Rova HaYehudi parking lot. There, they would sit for 24 hours - while they would fast, as they prayed for rain.


  1. Lisa - make sure you learn "kveesh" ivrit to go along with your "Shakespeare". No one will laugh at you when you end up saying "Asara Shkalim", but "Eser Shekel" is just as accepted :-)