Now that we’ve arrived, gotten our papers, set up a bank account and shopped a bit, it’s become painfully clear; we need to learn the language. And we are powerfully motivated. Imagine being able to shout and argue with everyone about everything, just like the natives. In the process of our “absorption” (there is a Government Ministry here for that) we’ll soon begin formal Hebrew lessons, “Ulpan,” a school for the intensive study of Hebrew, but our education has already begun.
We’ve already learned three new words. Inexpertly transliterated they are shneeah, balagan, and sababa.
We learned “Shneeah!” from Elvira, a service rep at the bank branch in Rechavia near where we’ll be living. The Hebrew word for second transliterates to shenee, thus shneeah means, roughly, “Just a second,” and that’s what Elvira shot back when I tried to get her attention.
She made a joke. Nothing here happens in a second.
Some examples; we spent nearly 3 1/2 hours waiting to buy cell phones; it took two plus hours at the Ministry of Interior to get ID cards; the “fast track” through customs and immigration at the airport in Tel Aviv took well over an hour; and we’ve had several lengthy sessions at the bank. But t’s not entirely the natives fault that things take so long to happen here. Yes, things could be more efficient but we haven’t been much help. We know just enough Hebrew to establish our ignorance. While everyone in Jerusalem seems to speak at least some English, our being better at Hebrew would help.
It was also at the bank where we learned the slang word, balagan. “You must know this word to live in Israel,” Elvira told us during a dark time in the account opening process. “It means everything is messed up.”
We like Elvira, she’s fun.
But our favorite word of the three, also slang, is sababa. “I will teach you a word that the natives know and people will be impressed,” Yehiel, our helper at the CellCom store, told us. “It is sababa,” he said. “You say it and it means everything is okay. People like to hear it.” [Note, April 16: Our landlord, Merriam, a wonderful person who has been of great help to us in settling in, does not like this word: “It’s for young people.” So that eliminates us.]
Early afternoon on our first full day here, we had walked about a mile in town with faith in hazy directions and finally found the store tucked away in the corner of an indoor mall. We drew a ticket that implied we were behind over 40 other people. The small showroom was packed shoulder to shoulder. After 30 minutes we were able to find chairs. After nearly two hours our number came up. (Shneeah!) Then everything went balagan. The processed required we each sign a ten-page contract printed entirely in minuscule Hebrew letters. Since we had only American credit cards at the time, the CellCom folks were not so sure they wanted us as customers. A profound international credit check followed. “It will be just a minute,” Yehiel told us. Then ten minutes, then twenty.
By the time we had finished the phone store had closed. It was well past dark. The mall was empty and the lights in the main hall had been dimmed. A guard had pulled the storefront gate halfway down. Marcia and I were the last ones standing when Yehiel was finally able to hand us our SIMM cards and wish us well. “So, good?” he asked.
We smiled at him, too exhausted to complain, and answered, “Sababa.”
“Ah! Sababa,” the guard said, thumbs up as we walked past.
Just as Yehiel had predicted, he was impressed.
Tuesday, April 12: We ate lunch today at a bagel shop on the Ben Yehuda Mall. The wind was blowing hard but it didn’t seem to bother anyone on the street. It’s spring here of course but today it seemed like late fall; like snow might be coming. This little shop has a good-sized dining area upstairs, warm, with seats beside windows facing the street. We took our time eating and looked around. Inside and out were Jews from America, France, Russia, everywhere; visitors (Passover is coming) and residents, Orthodox, conservative, non-observant, all walking, shopping, chatting.
The place is easily within walking distance of the Old City. Almost 600 years ago King Nebuchadnezzar’s troops set up siege works around Jerusalem (how far from where we ate our meal?) and in 586 BC broke through the city walls, destroyed the first temple and effectively ended Israel’s existence as a nation until just recently.
Seems likely that none of the Babylonian soldiers involved in that thorough destruction could have possibly anticipated a reconstituted Jewish nation.
From Chapter 30 of Jeremiah: For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds…and the city shall be builded upon her own heap. And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry…and I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small…in the latter days ye shall consider it.
Here’s another video: