Yesterday marked my last day in ulpan at Hebrew University. After five weeks and two days of five days a week, five hours a day (that’s 135 hours for those of you not terribly mathematically inclined), I have completed the course.
It was long, grueling, and incredibly challenging for me, and I would seriously recommend the program to anyone looking to improve their Hebrew in a jiffy. I’ll provide a more substantive review of the program a bit later, for now suffice it to say that I am very satisfied with my experience, and I am very aware of a marked improvement in my language comprehension and ability to engage in intelligent conversation.
Our final exam was long and tricky, but I felt it was a very fair assessment of what we studied in the course. It consisted of several sections: reading comprehension, verb conjugation, switching between singular, indefinite case to plural definite case, an essay, and a whole array of other subjects that have slipped my mind. The reading comprehension section required that we understand and analyze an article summarizing some recent research on early childhood language development; basically a nature versus nurture study.
As with previous exercises in this course, the exciting thing was not necessarily the article itself but the fact that I could understand what the article was saying. For the essay, we could choose from a number of subjects. The one I picked was a response to the recent Peter Beinhart article in the New York Review of Books on what he termed “the failure of the American Jewish establishment” to foster connections between American Jewry and Israel. Again, my excitement is more about my ability to write such an analysis (no matter how simplistic) than the article itself.
Once the exam was completed, I got onto my next adventure for the day: opening an Israeli bank account. For the sake of simplicity, I went to the nearby Bank Hapoalim. I had heard all kinds of horror stories about dealing with Israeli banks in terms of wait times, customer service, and fees, so I was prepared for the worst. Walking in, I was at first quite intimidated, but once I figured out the system it was pretty simple. At the door is an atm-type machine where you type in your passport number (or bank card or Israeli ID number) and you tell the machine the purpose of your visit. It then spits out a number and you have a seat until you are called.
After about 5 minutes, I was called to a teller’s desk and explained why I was there and what I needed, again mostly in Hebrew. The teller was surprisingly friendly and helpful. She got me set up with a student account with few to no fees, signed me up for a debit card, and got me to sign piles and piles of papers. Now the devil may be in the details, and there was no way I could scrutinize all the fine print at my level of knowledge, but I feel like I was dealt with fairly, honestly, and respectfully. Another myth of Israeli rudeness… out the window.
The one drawback was that it took so long to sign all the papers and get the documents filed that the bank closed while we were working for their lunch break. This meant I had to come back in the afternoon to actually deposit money in my new account. Returning later in the afternoon, the process was again really smooth on the Israeli end except for two challenges: 1) the ATM would not let me withdraw a significant amount of cash and 2) if the bank were to take an American cheque from me to fill my account, they would have to hold it for several months.
The first difficultly originates from my bank in the States and their withdrawal limits. The second stems from the fact that the bank here cannot be sure how long the monies would take to transfer so they would have to essentially give me a loan to ensure that I had funds available. As a new customer, this was not a risk they want to take for all the obvious reasons. In the end, what has been more challenging is getting my bank in the US to make a wire transfer to Israel. I won’t get into details here as they are not terribly pertinent to my “Israeli” experience, but I am thankful that it does not appear that being a customer with Bank Hapoalim will be dreadful.
Last night and this morning have been spent wrapping up loose ends here at Kfar HaStudentim, packing, and preparing for my move to Rehavia later today. I found that despite the modest amount of things I have acquired since arriving in Israel, my bags are nearly as full as they were when I initially packed plus a full duffel. Most of this is book weight. Oof. We all have our weaknesses, mine is for buying books.
In the absence of a coherent conclusion to this post, thanks for reading and stay turned for more dispatches from Israel…