Thursday, 23 June 2011

In Jerusalem

This blog has been dormant for a while. Back when I had the time and the motivation, I used to write stuff about liberalism and UK politics. Over the last couple of years, I’m afraid I got out of the habit. Now, I’m studying in Israel for a few weeks, and I’d like to keep my family and friends posted. This old blog seems as good a place as any. If my Facebook friends, Twitter followers and former Lib Dem readership want to join the party too, you’re more than welcome.

I’m in Jerusalem, on the top of Mount Scopus, watching the sun set through the window of my dorm room. If I walked round the other side of the building, I’d see the Dome of the Rock glowing red below me in the heart of the Old City. I’ve decided to come to Israel to lean the Hebrew language, and I’m on an intensive five-week course at the Hebrew University.

As a modern linguist, it'll be a great challenge learning a new language, especially one that's unrelated to anything I've studied before. As a Jew, I hope having a basic grasp of Hebrew will make it easier to explore my own culture and heritage. As someone who cares about the politics of the Middle East, I hope my time here will give me more of an insight into this complex, beautiful and war-torn region.

I flew out from Manchester nearly a week ago, and spent a few days with my cousins in Ra’anana, which is a coastal town slightly to the north of Tel Aviv. On Sunday, I got the bus over to Jerusalem, and registered at the University for one of their summer crash courses.

Hebrew U has two campuses. Humanities are on Mount Scopus, which is where I’m based. The Mount Scopus campus, overlooking the Old City, was the original home of the university from 1925, but after the 1948 war, it was cut off – a little exclave of Israeli territory surrounded on all sides by the Jordanian-occupied West Bank. As a result, the university built its other campus in Givat Ram, central Jerusalem, which nowadays houses the science faculty.

In typical Jonny style, I managed to apply for the course about six weeks after the deadline. I don’t think I would even have found the course if it hadn’t been for my brother Alex, who sent me a link to Hebrew U’s website. I rang them up and pestered them in pidgin Hebrew for a bit, and they caved in. Within three days of the first phonecall, I was getting on the plane, and my formal acceptance letter from the University was waiting in my inbox when I touched down at Ben Gurion.

So far, I’ve had three days of tuition, and it’s been a challenge. Before you start, you sit a test, and get sorted into a class based on ability, starting with Aleph (beginners), and working through the Hebrew alphabet to Heh (advanced). Aleph is sub-divided into levels 1-5. I could already read and write Hebrew script, and had a smattering of vocab, so they’ve put me in Aleph 3. The tuition is entirely in Hebrew. If I said it was intense, it'd be an understatement.

First thoughts: I need to start picking it up quickly. I hate being in a country where I can’t string a sentence together. It feels like losing a limb, especially having studied modern languages, and being able to at least get by in most of Western Europe.

Best get cracking with the homework, then. I’ll keep you posted.

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