I owe a massive update. Basically, in the time since I wrote my last post I’ve acquired a totally different set of classes, a bunch of new friends and chevrusas, a volunteering opportunity, and a job.
I’ll start with the academics. Over the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of upheaval in my text classes. As I’ve said in previous entries, we learn chevrusa-style, which ideally leads to a long-term partner, learning styles that complement each other, and helping each other grow and learn. For months now, my chevrusa has also been my roommate. We’re both fine with this in theory, but a little while ago we both decided that we should get out of our comfort zones and actually start interacting with other people. This plan was put into effect when she went to America to visit her family for a few weeks. I was left chevrusa-less and figured that I’d establish a new one while she was gone.
The problem with this was that a few girls moved up to my level and between the difference in experience and the fact that they were missing all of our background information from the year meant that they were quite a bit behind the rest of us. Since I was missing a chevrusa…guess who I ended up with? Now, on one hand it reflected well on me that our teachers trusted me to get these other girls up to speed, but it meant that I was slowed down and not learning much at all, and in the parts of class where we all came together and learned I could tell that the whole environment was different and just not working for me anymore.
So I went to the teacher, to ask her about moving up to the next (and highest!) level. Her first response was to tell me that she didn’t want me to move up for personal reasons, because she didn’t want to lose one of her best students, and I was one of the only ones who consistently knew what was going on, and besides, if I left, she worried that there would be some kind of mass exodus of the couple of other really advanced students.
Although I’m flattered by how she’d described me, I didn’t think that was a legitimate reason–it shouldn’t be my responsibility to singlehandedly keep the class afloat–and I told her so. Then she added, “I don’t think you’re a hundred percent ready, but if you really want to move up, I won’t stop you.”
Well now, that’s something else entirely, if I’m not ready. I had to concede that she was probably right–after all, I’ve only been reading Hebrew for about eight years (and that’s merely reading, not all of this translation and interpretation and such), and I’d be moving into a class full of people with 12+ years of education in the Orthodox school system. Still, she agreed to talk to the head rabbi.
The verdict came in a couple of days later: I was to move up within a week, as soon as the higher-level class finished up the unit it had been working on.
I’ve now been in this class for three sessions, and I’m really glad I made the switch. Both my former teachers and my current teachers warned me repeatedly that I would really be “stretching my muscles” and would be welcome back in the lower level if I felt it was too much, and I wouldn’t be in my comfort zone at all, to which my response every time was “If I’m not going to be in my comfort zone, I’d rather it be too hard than too easy.” After all, I’m here to learn, right? Also, I really like my new classmates. My friend Vivi has become my chevrusa, and though she’s very easy to talk to and get to know, I feel like I know her even better for having to work with her all morning. (She and I’ve also been comparing matchmaker stories. It’s fun.) Now Vivi and I have, in addition to our chevrusa, been working together on typing up the packets that my new teacher hands out, to make it easier on future students, since we all struggle to read our teacher’s handwriting.
Outside of classes, I’ve also been doing a lot of learning in chevrusa. My friend Yaelle and I have recently decided that we need to learn together, as each likes the sorts of questions the other raises in our lecture classes. We’ve started going through Shalom Arush’s “Garden of Emunah” (emunah being the Hebrew word for faith). Neither of us knows much about this book, but we both want to work on our emunah, so we figured this book would be a good place to start.
Lately, I’ve also been roping Yaelle into going over my upper-level stuff with me. Normally, we don’t have homework, but I’m feeling behind enough and slow enough in my new class that I’ve been going over stuff the night before we actually do it, just so I’m more with it. The other day, I started to do that, and Yaelle decided she’d join me. She’s not in that class, but her text skills are actually really good, and she was tremendously helpful.
Okay, so there are my new chevrusas–Vivi and Yaelle. Now for the other new friends, which leads into the volunteer opportunity. Esther, a relatively new student with a vibrant personality. With her fervent “Baruch Hashem!”s and “B.H.!”s, she brings to mind one of those “Praise the L-rd!” type Southern Baptist ministers–and freely admits it!–despite being a Canadian Jew. Anyway, so Esther announced in class one day that an organization she’d once been part of as a student was now looking for new tutors, and we were ideal candidates to volunteer. So I sent an email to the organization–based out of Hebrew University, geared toward irreligious students who don’t know much about their heritage but are interesting in learning–and the head rabbi responded that he was looking forward to meeting me and we were starting the following Monday.
Monday came, I still wasn’t sure exactly how to get to where I needed to go, and Esther wasn’t in school that day! Nor did I have her phone number. But my new friend Michelle asked me out of the blue if I was planning on “doing this volunteer thing” and when I told her yes, she said she too was going, and Esther had given her directions beforehand. So off we went. There’s not actually that much to tell about the evening, except that there was some amazing lo mein and sushi (normally they do bagels. Orientation is apparently special.), and some opening speeches, and we were told we’d find out sometime next week who we’d be working with.
As for the job, it’s not actually that exciting–sweeping and washing dishes for a lady who is pregnant and on bedrest–but it pays 25 shekels an hour, and if I’m going to be here long-term I really need to figure out some kind of income that I can legally acquire before I make aliyah and/or get working papers. Unfortunately, that pretty much limits me to cleaning and babysitting, but I’ll take what I can get.
Oh, and let’s talk about this past Shabbos. By Wednesday, I was secure in my plans to visit the city of Netanya–and then that evening the school Shabbos coordinator came by my apartment to tell me that that had fallen through. Well…so Wednesday night is VERY late to start planning Shabbos, considering that most people have been preparing for it since Sunday! So I started frantically calling people, but it was late enough that nobody was answering.
While waiting for someone else to pick up, I distractedly looked at my email inbox. In one of those amazing Divine Providence moments that are so popular in fiction, I saw that I’d received an invitation to dinner from Shabbat.com, a website on which I’ve signed up as a guest. Also, the invitation was local, in my neighborhood–in fact, two buildings down from me! With immense gratitude to Hashem, I made one last call–the last local number in my cell phone, and my last hope for any Shabbos hospitality unless anyone returned my calls–and reserved an invitation for Shabbos lunch. There–in a matter of seconds, I went from frantically trying to ensure that I’d be able to eat on Shabbos (believe me, it is rather difficult for a single girl with a less-than-ideal kitchen to prepare Shabbos for herself and manage to conform to all of the Shabbos laws in doing so! Aside from that, it’s awfully lonely. Going to a family is an unwritten rule around here.), to both meals totally set up, with minimal effort on my part.
Dinner, the invitation from Shabbat.com, was interesting. Neither of us knew much of anything about each other (though they knew from my profile that I’m local, single, and 20-something and I knew from their profile that they have eight children and a great track record for satisfied guests)–and then we found out that she’d graduated from the same seminary I’m learning at right now, and my rabbi, Rabbi S., had made her shidduch! She also gave me a bunch of networking advice, including the names of two shadchanim (oh, Jewish mothers….) and the location of a public library in our neighborhood that I’d never known. When I commented on their wall-to-wall bookshelves, she insisted that I borrow some, and tried to send me home with ten (!) books. Knowing I’d have to schlep up six flights of stairs, I opted to take four.
…and then I spent most of the rest of Shabbos reading. It’s a welcome break from the insanity that my life has become, what with working on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, this tutoring thing on Mondays, chesed on Thursday afternoons, Shabbos prep on Fridays, and trying to fit in outside learning with Vivi and Yaelle whenever we can. Good grief!