My friend and former ulpan desk partner Ben decided to initiate a game of ulpan "bingo" about a month and a half ago, in which each tile represents a different ridiculous phenomenon that could take place only within the steamy – and I mean steamy; the heat is always on full blast – confines of our unique Ulpan Morasha classroom.
One of the squares contained an item that comes up daily, without fail, the mention of US President Barack Obama in negative connotation during a sample sentence used to practice Hebrew.
Along with nondescript characters "Sarah" and "Moshe" who regularly show up in sample sentences and exercises at ulpan, the next most frequent figure has almost definitely been Obama.
While this five-month ulpan actually ends on Monday, I have been intending all "semester" to write about how Obama’s name has come into play in both questions provided by the teachers and in responses provided by the students. And this week’s State of the Union Address finally reminded me to publish that blog post that had been sitting in my draft box for over a month.
And even from the class’s very basic beginnings, students made clear that their opinion of the US president was far from optimistic – he was "lo tov" (not good) from day one.
Back on October 21, for example, one of the teachers said in Hebrew, "Understand Obama," in order to practice a future command tense. But a student immediately replied, "It’s hard to to understand him."
Who knew ulpan would end up so political?
Today, we might have a stronger grasp on every Hebrew tense – active or passive – and command of a multitude of verb choices, but the sentiments toward Obama remain the same, as ulpan students and the larger Israeli population alike continue to make clear their discontent toward the president at every opportunity.
While I’m hardly a proponent of Obama’s policies toward Israel – they seem at worst, detrimental, and at best, ineffectual, with regards to Israel’s survival – I’m not sure that ulpan class is the time and the place for continued Obama-bashing. Thankfully, however, the political discourse has simmered down in the past month, as more and more students have resigned from the class – leaving us now with under 10 people, when we started with 40.
Sure, Israel is hardly a place for political correctness, but the one-sided nature of the classroom’s political environment, which was definitely encouraged by the teachers, could certainly prompt some discomfort among students who don’t necessarily agree.