Monday, November 3, 2008

Second Day of Classes

The day started off on the wrong foot, when I woke up too late and had to rush out of the apartment in order to get to class on time. Daniel, ever supportive, packed my lunch as I frantically put notebooks and pencils into my backpack.
I caught the 7am bus to Hebrew University, and arrived in my Historiography of the Holocaust classroom at 7:45. There were already a few students seated in the classroom - they were all second year Masters students and there was something very intimidating about their comfort with the classroom, the program, and even the professor (whose class they had also taken the previous semester). A few more students entered, and eventually there were about ten of us, in addition to the professor. He began by asking us each to introduce ourselves, and then he explained the basic information about the class: we will read about fifty pages a week and write a final paper, class will mostly consist of discussion of the reading, etc. He then lectured a bit on the beginnings of Holocaust Historiography, which he says occurs at the moment when historians, commentators, etc. start noticing that Hitler's antiSemitism is different from previous forms. The lecture walked us through what this difference was by describing the first two written documents of Hitlers that historians have found that discuss "the Jewish Question." Unlike Jew-hatred of the Middle Ages, which was based on the idea that Jews had killed Jesus, had poisoned wells to cause the plague, were smelly, crude, etc. and antiSemitism of the 19th century in which Jews were hated on the basis of what were believed to be inherrent racial characteristics (and the solution to the "problem" of the Jews was believed to be antiSemitic legislation), Hitler's vision was apocalyptic and required a much more drastic "solution." Hitler believed that not only did Jews want to take over the world, but because they were pests and incapable of creative thought, even if they did take over the world and were the only people left alive in the whole world, they would eventually die out themselves because they would be incapable of supporting themselves. Humanity would cease to exist, and the Jews would be at fault. Therefore, pogroms ("emotional antiSemitism) was not the "solution," as it was merely a mechanism for catharsis and did not solve the "problem" that Jews' very existence posed. Hitler believed that a "rational" solution must be found, that the Jews must be gotten rid of. We don't know if, in his earlier writings, this meant killing Jews or simply sending them to another place or isolating them or who knows what. It was a very dark and depressing class, as I expected a class on the Holocaust to be, which I think is why I've been avoiding them thus far. The Holocaust is not a fun topic to learn about. But I think it is an important one, and one in which I am seriously lacking background, so I think this will be a good class for me. The teacher seemed nice and understanding and interested in helping his students to learn and to succeed - he offered to meet with us outside of class, said we could always send him e-mails, and will be e-mailing supplemental reading to those of us who think we could use a little extra background in the history of the Holocaust before we proceed further.

I went straight from Historiography to Hebrew class, where I met my other Hebrew teacher, Batia. I like her A LOT. The teacher from yesterday spoke a little too slowly, and Batia speaks a little too fast, though by the end of class I felt used to it and acclimated to her speech. We covered a lot of material - some verbs, vocabulary, and a reading from an Amos Oz book. Batia, as it turns out, taught at UVA for a semester, right before my Hebrew teacher replaced her. She was pleased to hear that I was from UVA and told me that I'm the first UVA student she's taught at Hebrew University. She asked after several of my professors, and says she looks forward to reminiscing more about Charlottesville with me in the future. Batia is also the author of our Hebrew textbook, which is pretty awesome.

I had a long lunch break, during which I ate lunch, went for a walk in the Botannical Gardens, and bought some Hebrew textbooks, and did some Hebrew homework. I then went to Advanced Yiddish, a course in the Humanities department of "regular" Hebrew University (as in not the international school, so the students were all Israeli).

I was so nervous about the Yiddish class - I really want, and in fact need, to take Yiddish, and there are only two levels here: beginner and advanced. My grammar, writing, and speaking are all very poor, though my reading and listening are OK, and I wasn't sure if I would fit in an "advanced" class. However, the class seemed to be at just the right level for me. The teacher spoke mostly in Yiddish, translating some things into Hebrew if he felt that the class didn't understand (a bit of a problem for me, but usually I understood either the Yiddish or the Hebrew if not both). He spoke slowly and clearly. He wrote the book that we are using, and explained to us the format of the text - each lesson we will read a piece of literature that is about two pages long, do some grammar exercises, and read some poems. The grammar exercises were hard for me, but I think will prove very useful, as grammar is probably what I need most. I am quite excited about this class - it will be hard but I think I will learn a lot.

My next class was also in Hebrew University itself, and was a class on Sholom Aleichem and Mendele Mocher Seforim, two Yiddish writers. I wasn't sure what to expect, but quickly came to find that the class is taught in Hebrew, and that the texts are all in Hebrew, translated from the original Yiddish. I understood the whole lecture, but I think the readings will be almost impossible for me to complete - so I'm thinking about purchasing a Hebrew and an English set of the books, so I can be on the right page while in class, but read the text in English at home. I don't know if I will stay in the class - I understood and enjoyed the lecture, but I imagine that it will only get harder as we start discussing the reading. If I do manage to stay in the class and keep up with it, it will do a world of good for my Hebrew, but I'm not sure if it is too much of a challenge or not. I'd like to audit the course and just do what I can. I think I'll try to do the reading for next week and then talk to the professor after class and see what he says about reading English transltions, auditing, etc. If he is amenable, I'll try to stick it out.

I arrived home at about 7pm, gabbed with Daniel for a little while (he went to Qumran and Masada today with his school), and cooked dinner (breaded eggplant, pasta, green beans, tomato sauce). Now, it's 9:00 pm, and I am tired, a little overwhelmed, and certainly not in the mood to do homework, though I think I'll do some anyway. Monday will by far be my hardest day - tomorrow I have one class, and it starts at 4:30 pm.

I think it's going to be a great semester: challenging, interesting, new. Hebrew U has so much energy now that all the students are there and not just the summer ulpan classes. I really feel like I am sort of a part of it all, and I am excited to see how the semester progresses.

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