Ulpan Understanding the Words I Read

By Jonathan Bashein

I have been an active member of Temple Sinai in Sharon, Mass., for over 35 years, attending weekly Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services. I’m a choir member, and have occasionally stepped in as a cantorial soloist. I’m a past-president, and an active board member. The first Friday of each month, I assist at a shabbat service at the local assisted living facility.

But I could never fully understand the words I was reading and singing. My Hebrew was limited to what I had learned long ago in my Hebrew school days at a Conservative synagogue in Forest Hills, N.Y. My preying was a combination of rote memorization and slow reading of Hebrew.

When I retired, I realized I finally had the time to do something I’d wanted to for a long time: learn Hebrew and understand the words I had been praying all these years. I’m 76 years old, so learning something new and stretching my memory is always beneficial.

When I started my Hebrew College Ulpan classes, I found a wonderfully talented and dedicated teacher, Maya Dalzell. She’s patient, and endlessly good-humored and encouraging. She’s one of the best I’ve ever met. My fellow students have ranged in age from 18 to 77, and come from many different backgrounds and religious practices. Despite our differences, we quickly developed an esprit de corps and forged meaningful connections.

Shortly after I began the twice-weekly, classes, I reached out to my classmates to form a study group to reinforce what we were learning. Three afternoons a week, we meet for an hour-and-a-half. That gives us five days of Hebrew. Usually, three or four students join the group. In between semesters, we meet daily over Zoom to review what we did the past semester, both readings and exercises.

I’ve been to Israel a dozen times, including for the b’nei mitzvot for four of my children. I’m determined that the next time I go, I’ll be able to speak more fluently. I’m about to start my fourth semester of Hebrew College Ulpan, and I can’t wait for class to begin.

Jonathan Bashein grew up in Forest Hills, New York, and received a bachelors degree from Queens College. He spent most of his career in law firm management, first in New York City, and then Boston. He lives in Foxborough, Mass. 

Learn more and register for Hebrew College’s Ulpan.

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