top of page

I survived ulpan

Now, for some news that doesn’t involve running: After an eventful few months of studying, I am finishing ulpan, my intensive Hebrew class. I’m relieved and excited to be finishing, and thought I would share some non-running news for a change!

Jews who make Aliyah are entitled to a 5-month intensive Hebrew course, called ulpan (studio…don’t ask me why they chose this word). The class (when taken during the first 18 months after making Aliyah) is free, and there are a number of courses offered across the country.

There are up to 6 levels of ulpan, titled after the first six letters of the Aleph-Bet: aleph, bet, gimmel, dalet, hey, vav. Most ulpanim end after bet, and a few of the larger ones offer up to dalet. After that, you either need a private ulpan, or to study in a university. As a Tel Aviv resident, I decided to enroll in Ulpan Gordon. I chose this ulpan because as one of the largest in Israel, it offered the most course options.

After going to the Ministry of Absorption and obtaining the ulpan voucher, I took a placement test.

NOTE: My experience at the Ministry of Absorption would have been terrible, if I didn’t already speak Hebrew. I was placed with an employee who only spoke Hebrew and Russian, and I had to prompt her to give me the ulpan voucher (paper that tells the ulpan that I can take the class for free, and they bill the Ministry of Absorption for the fee). She then told me that I needed to return for another visit, to have the exact same material explained to me, in English. So I returned, and the English-speaking representative proceeded to give me the exact same information…in Hebrew. She then told me I needed to return for another visit, to discuss employment options…despite the fact that I’m already gainfully employed. I was so impressed by the service I received, that I cancelled the next appointment. I still have a job, so I assume I’m doing something right!

All sarcasm aside, the Ministry of Absorption employees want to help, but the system is so formulaic, that if you don’t neatly fit into one of their boxes, they don’t know how to help.

I completed the placement test, and waited to speak with the proctor. She was extremely kind to all of the people who came up with their test, explained in their native language that they can’t write Hebrew, and gently tried to get them to speak, so she could determine their level. It put me at ease. When it was my turn, she told me in Hebrew, “You know, your grammar isn’t very good…” (Maybe it’s because I wrote “shit” in my essay?) Anyway, she gave me the option of registering for gimmel or gimmel plus…and after I was mistakenly led to believe that I have truly atrocious Hebrew grammar skills, I chose gimmel.

In short, gimmel was the wrong level. I’ve learned how to conjugate Hebrew verbs THREE TIMES. But since I didn’t learn while also practicing speaking on a regular basis, I’d forget…then in the next class, I’d brush up, quickly improve…rinse/repeat. This class was for people who had not learned how to conjugate past, present, and future (mostly future), period. So I’d sit around, bored, while the teacher patiently taught students who genuinely wanted to learn, and had never done so. I felt like a jerk, being so obviously bored and not challenged, but…I was in class from 8:15am-12:50pm, 4 days a week, and didn’t think I was using my time effectively.

After a month, I was blessed with a guardian angel, in the form of a substitute teacher. He didn’t coddle the class like our regular teacher, and after speaking with me for a minute, he said, “Stop wasting your time here, you belong in the next level.” (And some other students said, “Sarah, we like you, but you don’t belong here.”) So I tried out gimmel plus (which had become dalet), decided it was a much better fit, and lived happily ever after.

In conclusion: Thank you, Dafna from Ulpan Gordon, for incorrectly placing me, and not treating me with the same kindness and tolearance you showed to other applicants. May you live a very long, healthy life, working as a proctor in Ulpan Gordon for the rest of your days.

I also blame myself, for not believing in myself. My punishment was that I had to relearn basic Hebrew grammar for a month.

Once I began my new class, the learning actually began! Ulpan classes are conducted entirely in Hebrew. Studying 20-25 hours a week, we learn verb conjugation, general grammar, vocabulary, and that Tel Aviv is better than Rishon LeTzion. I can honestly say that I love my Hebrew teacher–she does a great job of working with all of the students, explaining the content well, while also keeping the course moving at a decent clip.

To complete the level and have the paperwork required for enrolling in the next level, Olim must take a final exam, administered by the Ministry of Education. This exam is two-fold:

  1. Oral/Speaking: Students are asked to give their opinion on a variety of subjects. I was asked:

  2. How to preserve the memory of Holocaust survivors, once they are no longer living

  3. Explain the phenomenon of Israelis volunteering (this is BS and not unique to Israel in any way)

  4. Explain the differences between the workplace in Israel and the US

  5. General things about my life…AKA prove I can speak freely/when not discussing a random prompt

I also gave a 15 minute presentation in class, and this grade was factored into my final score of 90!

  1. Written: The written test, which I have yet to take, has the following sections:

  2. Reading and comprehension. You don’t actually need to understand all of the text, just copy/paste according to the questions…though obviously understanding all of the text helps!

  3. News flow: We read a short “news article” and break it down according to various prompts.

  4. Grammar: conjugating verbs, choosing the correct very conjugation to go into a sentence…all that good stuff.

  5. Reading 3 sentences and picking the correct work to complete the sentence. They try to use words that students don’t know, so I often end up just guessing, or picking the word that looks “less wrong”.

  6. Fill in the blank: There’s a text and we have to fill in the various connecting words. This part is really tough.

  7. Writing: Here, we are asked to express our opinion on a prompt, and judged for our writing, despite the fact that we were never really taught how to construct sentences. #logic

My teacher has done a good job not only teaching the class, but of preparing us for the final exam, so at this point, I’m just ready to take the test and get on with my life as an ulpan graduate!

44 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page