Jewish learning “The Only Time I Actually Enjoy Being on Zoom”: Hebrew College Ulpan

By Josh Polanski
someone writing hebrew and english translation

“If you’re serious about learning Hebrew, the Ulpan program is really one of the best options out there,” said Alexina Haefner, a current Hebrew College Ulpan language learner.

Haefner converted to Judaism while in college. She wanted to learn Hebrew to better understand and participate in prayer services and to study Jewish texts in their original language. “That was seven years ago—I’ve been learning Hebrew in various capacities since, but Ulpan is the first program where I feel that I’ve made substantial and sustained progress in the language,” she said.

Haefner is no stranger to language learning courses. In college, she took a few semesters of biblical Hebrew. “I absolutely loved it, but the classes were focused on decoding texts for academic purposes and didn’t give me the skills to smoothly read and understand Hebrew.” She’s also taken courses in modern Hebrew through other institutions and has even studied with a one-on-one tutor. Since finishing college, she’s also taken courses in French, where she’s found that “language classes for adults are usually more focused on having fun than on making progress in the language.”

“Ulpan is different in that it meets twice a week, which I think is crucial to learning a language… I also like that we work from a well-known textbook and follow a clear curriculum—I can really see the progress I’m making that way, and it’s easier to review and study on my own,” Haefner continued, “Hebrew College’s Ulpan classes are much more intensive, comparable to a college class—and we still have lots of fun!”

Originally from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Haefner now lives in the Triangle area in North Carolina. As a person living in a state that’s only roughly 0.44% Jewish, she has found Hebrew College Ulpan to be an essential resource. “It’s a fantastic resource for those of us who don’t live in a major metropolitan area with a large Jewish community.”

“These classes were such a blessing earlier on in the pandemic when I wasn’t leaving my home. I was able to form real relationships with my fellow students and my teacher, and it was a bright, fun thing to look forward to during a dark time. It’s the only time I actually enjoy being on Zoom. I can’t wait to visit Boston and meet some of my classmates in person one day!”

Hebrew College Ulpan has helped make Jewish texts and prayers more accessible to Haefner. She even led Yom Kippur Shacharit services at her synagogue for the first time this past year. “I’ve noticed that I can read Hebrew prayers and texts much more smoothly… and I’ve been able to breeze through pronouncing the Hebrew and focus on learning the nusach. A year ago that would not have been the case,” she said. “The more I learn, the more meaning I’m able to find in the siddur and in traditional texts. It has made everything much more accessible to me.”

Winter and spring Hebrew College Ulpan classes for all levels start the first week in February . The enrollment deadline is January 30. Learn more and register now.

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