By Amy Shuter

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The process of making Aliyah and becoming Israeli has many required, and suggested, rights-of-passage. Some are short and painless, others filled with red-tape, long lines, and infuriating bureaucracy. One of the most crucial undertakings for a new Oleh (immigrant) to become a functioning member of Israeli society is Ulpan.

Ulpan is the place where you will meet other Olim to commiserate about the post office hours or (as in my first session) how the Interior Ministry official wanted to change your name to make it more Israeli sounding. However, you are really there to learn to speak Hebrew. The Ministry of Education oversees many of the Ulpanim and tries to provide a rich and varied curriculum, replete with field trips, audio-visual aids, and even an interactive website.

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Even though I have just begun my formal Ministry of Education Ulpan experience, I can already tell it is going to be enjoyable. Well, at the very least – interesting. In order to learn Hebrew that will be useful in everyday activities, we are provided with essays and exercises on a variety of topics. Some are stranger than others.

Want to have a conversation in Hebrew about the problem of the growing world population and declining resources? I’m your gal!

I can even discuss the pluses and minuses of genetically engineered food and alternative solutions! No? Well, how about this.

My instructor likes to talk about special days in Israel’s history to make us well-rounded, informed citizens. True confession time – I love it and I don’t think I am alone. This gives the students a chance to show off our broad general knowledge and prove what dedicated immigrants we are! It’s sort of like “The 64,000 Shekel Question”

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This week, we spoke about the Balfour Declaration.

On November 2, 1917, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour sent a letter to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. In it, he states that:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object

This was a watershed moment for the Zionist movement. It was the first time a world power had recognized the right of the Jewish nation to the land of Israel.

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After the First World War, the League of Nations agreed that the British would govern the area that was then called Palestine, which they had conquered from the Ottomans. This was called the British Mandate and was officially a civil administration run by a governor called the High Commissioner.

This arrangement was in effect until the termination of the Mandate and the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel by David Ben Gurion in 1948.

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Wow. This short little letter opened the door for a hopeful nation, scattered across the world, to be returned to their homeland. Here I am, 96 years later, sitting in that national home, learning to speak our historic national language. Our teacher’s family returned from Yemen. Most of us came via the United States, but before that Poland, Russia, Germany, and Hungary. We have a classmate from France. Jews from all over are no longer wandering and have finally come Home.

Thank you, Lord Balfour.

My new Ulpan words:

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