Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Israel – CCLVI. The Language of the Realm (6 of 7)

The ultimate objective of the ulpan was to teach us to read, write, and speak a grammatically correct Hebrew.  There was no question of acquiring a complete mastery of the language; that obviously was not possible in 6 months.

There were two classes:  The first taught us to read, write, and count; the second (and main one) concerned itself with grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and some history and geography  Many students spent only a limited amount of time in the first class since, as part of their religious instruction, Jews were taught to read (and occasionally write) Hebrew.  In my case, I only spent two weeks in this class since I already knew how to read and to a large extent write (this I learned in the kibbutz ulpan).

There was a third instructor that came occasionally to teach business Hebrew.  He did more than provide us with terms.  He covered job interviews; how to complete an application (resumes didn’t exist) for a potential post; and in general how to make the best impression possible.  He was a down to earth individual, and provided us with the coaching needed to land the best possible position.

We now come to mora (teacher) Sima.  She was the kind of person you remember years later.  She did more than teaching us Hebrew; she introduced us to our new country; Israel came alive when she spoke of her native and beloved nation.

She was able to juggle a classroom filled with disparate individuals.  Grammar, vocabulary, history, and geography were stitched into a seamless whole.  And lest I forget, she effortlessly accommodated the students coming from the first class.  Yes, she repeated the lessons, but the other students did not feel put upon; she presented it as a revision, and we graciously accepted her reasoning.

Sima was an attractive young woman.  She early on informed the class that she was married; obviously to convey the message that she was taken.  After five months she advised us that she was beharayon (pregnant).  By then this was no longer a secret; most of the class had noticed, and had informed the ones who didn’t catch on.

The book used for teaching was called Elef Millim (A Thousand Words).  It included many pictures showing the object and/or the action.

The instruction was carried out entirely in Hebrew, no other languages were supposed to be spoken in the classroom.  Nevertheless, conversations in Russian, French, Polish, Hungarian, and English were carried out to cope with the vocabulary and grammar of that new language.  When that happened, Sima had a look of disapproval, but didn’t say anything.  I suspect she understood why we had to revert at times to our mother tongues.

Once we learned new words, we were encouraged to write them in a notebook together with the equivalent word in our language.



Learning a new language in the country where that language is used is both a frustrating and rewarding process.  If like me you’ ve learned the basic in a school, you`re now ready to add to your knowledge.  It will be both a maddening and exhilarating voyage of discovery.  Slowly but surely, the language will reveal its inner working.  When that`s done you`re not finished, you begin to learn the expressions and sayings that are an integral part of every language.  You then add the slang, for without that you come across as uncool!  Don`t worry about the swear words, you will acquire them effortlessly!  And since a language continually evolves you will need to play a catch-up game.  I would say that that sums it up except that in Hebrew there is one more challenge to overcome.

Hebrew has no vowels; they are included as dashes and dots under the letter.  Up to, say, grade four, the young reader will find them in his textbooks; thereafter, they disappear; children at this point can properly sound the words up, and the dots and dashes are no longer needed.

What about the newcomers who didn`t grow up in Israel?  Our textbooks included the “vowels.”  Books and newspapers for olim hadashim (new immigrants) that included the vowels were available.  Of course, you didn`t want to get your news and political analysis from a basic newspaper; for that you needed a paper for “grown-ups,” something like Haaretz (The Land) or Yedi’ot Aharonot (The Latest News).

It would take me three years before being comfortable reading the paper.  Books?  It never happened; instead I read French and English books!  I bought close to 100 used English books, and used my years in Israel to improve my English!

Comments are closed.