LGBT Olim (LGBT Immigrants) group has given the old Ulpan - the Hebrew class for immigrants to Israel - a new twist: “Qulpan,” a queer Ulpan, is a Hebrew class that focuses on life in the LGBT community.

“It’s a safe place for LGBT people to learn and practice Hebrew without having to censor themselves,” says Roy Freeman, manager of the LGBT Olim group and organizer of the class. "We discuss topics that are of interest to the LGBT community and also learn vocabulary that wouldn't be taught at Ulpan, street language that gay and lesbian Israelis would use.”

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The Ulpan is designed to teach adult immigrants to Israel the basic language skills of conversation, writing and comprehension. In addition, according to Freeman, topics that are being discussed in the Ulpan include: should women should stay at home or whether the busses should run on Shabbat, "Topics that aren't worth discussing," Freeman says. In the Qulpan, the topics that are being covered are taken from the real lives of LGBT people in Tel Aviv, and topics that the students bring to class from their own experience. “I think the best way to learn a language is not only by reciting grammatical rules,” says Amit Lev, the instructor of the class, “but speaking the language, reading poems and song lyrics, watching TV, talking to strangers - all of these methods can enrich one's vocabulary much more than looking at a list of words and memorizing them.”


Also, according to Amit, it's easier to learn words if you know their origin or an anecdote related to them. “Since modern Hebrew is a resurrected language, we have a lot of information about etymology, and I  love to bring it into the group, “he says. "For example, did you know that a Sherut Taxi (those minivans that run along bus routes in Tel Aviv) is not named Sherut, Hebrew for Service, because they service places. It came from the British ‘Shared Route Taxis,’ when the Brits ruled Palestine.”

The idea for an Ulpan for gay people came to Freeman over a year ago, and with the help of Yaron Adini, a student volunteer, Freeman gathered a group of Israeli immigrants to try the idea for a few weeks. The classes where successful, but Adini had to go back to his studies out of town, and Freeman started looking for a new instructor.  That’s when he found Lev, a 32 year old Israel-born copywriter for a company that develops mobile apps.

As a past columnist for popular Israeli website Ynet and LGBT portal GoGay and now a copywriter, Lev is passionate about Hebrew. “I find it to be very picturesque and rich, and it is important for me to speak it correctly,” he says, “so if I can pass this love of the language to other people and help them improve their skills, I'm all for it.”

Despite the nature of the classes, both Freeman and Alexander-Lev emphasize that the classes are not designed to replace the formal Ulpan. “We're not a real Ulpan, and I don't intend to teaching Hebrew. Rather, I want to help the students practice it,” says Amit. “There's no text-book, and no real homework. The group decides where it goes, and I just help. Also, it's easier for our members to practice the language with other LGBT people - since Hebrew is a sexist language. If I talk about things I did with my partner, I will have to expose his or her gender. People don't always feel comfortable with this in a new group. Or in other cases, if your appearance doesn't match your gender, you'd want everybody addressing you according to your gender, and it's important. We want to be inclusive, even if heterosexual cisgender people decide to join.”

The Qulpan is also preparing for Pride Week in Tel Aviv with a special LGBT-theme basic Hebrew class for tourists on Wednesday, June 10 – two days before the famous Tel Aviv Pride Parade. “We’ll teach basic Hebrew words and some LGBT slang that can help tourists get around in Tel Aviv, and also will give them a chance to schmooze with English speaking locals.”

For exact times and places of Qulpan please check the Qulpan's Facebook group.
 


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