Monday, August 17, 2009

Reintegration Ain't Easy.

I'm warning you now: There are going to be a lot of Ulpan posts in the coming two weeks. I'll be writing about the catfish/kosher food fiasco, being observant and in a program where I was definitely not the norm, and more. The catfish issue will BLOW your mind. Here's a preview of how I feel:
But now. At long last (sof sof), I have returned to the English-speaking world. On Thursday night, halfway through our end-of-the-program party in the Juice Bar of the campus's "student center," the teachers all climbed on stage, boogied a bit, and did a countdown in Hebrew to announce that we could speak English. All the students (all 38 of us or so) stood there, counting, in anticipation, and the moment that pledge was up, the students were blabbering at light speed, running from person to person screaming "Say something to me in English!" There were some students that hadn't showed up until after the pledge, so we actually had no clue what people sounded like. It was outrageously funny -- a girl with a deep lusty Hebrew accent spoke in English with a heavy New York accent; the guy with the deep gronit (throaty) Hebrew voice had a much higher voice in English; the teachers all had exceedingly heavy Israeli accents.

But after the party, after Evan and I hopped onto the road and headed back to Connecticut, and after I entered the community for Shabbat, it really hit me that there was this divide, this difference, this unfortunate alienation because of my language experience in Vermont. Maybe alienation is too strong of a word. I found myself throughout the weekend exhausted, thinking about how weird it was to be around all these English conversations. At shul people walked up to me and spoke in Hebrew with a heavy American accent, I spoke to a guy who had a nice accent who was fluent, and I spoke to my Israeli friends in Hebrew -- mostly without hesitation, but with that over-arching fear that I was going to screw something up. A day out of bootcamp and I was anxious as hell that I was going to mispronounce a word or use a masculine verb instead of feminine. The anxiety. Oy. I woke up Saturday morning after a delicious REAL kosher meal on Friday night (oh the delicious Italian, thanks hosts!), and said to Evan "maybe coming to the community wasn't such a good idea."

It's sort of like returning to some place you lived for years, only to realize that everything's changed. New people, changes, new things. But it wasn't all that, it was that I wasn't sure how to talk to people. I'm sure the experience would have been the same anywhere. I'm guessing I'll feel like this for a long time. Wanting desperately to speak in Hebrew but not being sure if it's right or acceptable or if anyone will understand me. At the same time, worrying that what I'm saying won't be right. It's a teeter-tottering flux of anxiety.

On Saturday afternoon I crawled into bed. I snuck out of the room, out of the conversation, and crawled into bed to rest. I wanted quiet. I wanted peace. Although I'd been in the middle of nowhere for seven weeks, I'd spent 24 hours a day 7 days a week speaking Hebrew nestled within a group of 38 other people. Every minute and second of my time there was spent doing something, and because the subject was Hebrew, it never felt like I was just hanging out. I was never just being Chavi. I was always working, thinking, studying.

As a result, I felt like I didn't sleep for seven weeks. (Okay, I didn't much. We didn't have air conditioning, it was hot as hades, and the homework and studying kept me constantly going.)

Did I come out on the other end of the program in a better position than I was before? Yes and no. I can write better, I can speak better. I don't feel that I can read better or understand the spoken word any better. Part of the summer left me alienated as an "observant" Jew, and part of the summer left me feeling excited about my classmates and THEIR excitement about Judaism. I managed to discover some interesting perspectives on the Middle East conflict from my classmates from Palestine, too. I learned that images can be horrifying, and that people can be judgmental. I learned that we live in a big world, with a lot of people, and that in the end, we all want the same thing. I also learned that we all don't learn the same.

As I mentioned, I'm beat, still. I've slept a lot the past few days, and I still feel exhausted. My mind has finally stopped running around in Hebrew, and it's part of why I'm so anxious, but at least I'm sleeping.

Right now, I'm just scared that without the immersion, I'm going to lose it all.

But on a much, much happier note: I got to see one of my most AWESOME and most intelligent friends, @kosheracademic and her family in New Haven for some yummy kosher food. It wasn't nearly enough time to talk about the past year of our lives, but it felt like it's only been a few days. Boy do I miss her.