My Millenial Adventure in Ulpan Etzion

Oh, Millennials. Those born between 1982 and 2002 whose characteristics have been highlighted recently in the media: Overconfident. Narcissistic. Needy. Not exactly prime virtues.

I myself am a proud product of Generation X. I didn’t have a cell phone when I was in University; nor did any of my friends, nor did the President of the University, as no one had one yet. With the exception of getting a black and white Game Boy (which was a highlight of my tenth year of life), the only technology I used until high school, when a chirpy AOL voice said, “You’ve Got Mail!,” was the (handheld) telephone and the television. I spent my childhood afternoons overturning rocks and looking for bugs in my front yard by day and playing in the park on summer nights as Smartphones, Ipads and Ipods were yet to be invented. And a ‘Facebook’ was just that; a book of faces to be used freshman year of University, when my friends and I would check out each picture and the name underneath, “Do you think he is Jewish?” being the question we hotly debated.

I made Aliyah this past July from New York City and began living and studying at Ulpan Etzion, a mecca for millennials from 26 different countries. Before I left, my friends in the States, who would share office story woes of millennial co-workers coming off as entitled, warned me of the impending world that I would soon be associating with. “These people are so into themselves,” they would say exasperatingly, “so cliquey and so… millennial!” I decided to take what they said with a grain of salt and investigate this millennial world for myself.

It turned out to be roughly the opposite of what my friends in the States had said. From the beginning, everyone in Ulpan was open, friendly and warm. Wonder, excitement and the aura of new beginnings and aspirations bounced off the walls like sunbeams, tangible in the air and in the hallways and classrooms of our new home at 27 David Raziel.

Every day, I settled into my classroom of millennials from roughly seven different places. When we would read a newspaper article in small groups, everyone would take out their Smartphones to look up a word on Google Translate. I, who with the lack of a cell phone dictionary when first learning Hebrew all those years had been schooled to figure out words from context, marveled at the instant gratification that something such as Google Translate could bring. Yet I still appreciated my training of learning through context, and not having a ready dictionary to rely on.

In addition to sharing Hebrew knowledge, my Ulpan friends shared other experiences together. They raised money for fire victims in Haifa and sang in the volunteer choir, welcoming Natan Sharansky to Ulpan. They started an inner Ulpan WhatsApp Group called ‘Ulfun Etzion,’ asking each other about everything from post office hours to who might have Advil to who could remove a spider from someone’s room. They surprised our Ulpan teacher with a birthday cake and wreath, shouting with joy at her surprise.  Unlike the stereotypical millennial of my friend’s nightmares, they gave of themselves and to others. They became each other’s brothers, sisters, friends, family, countrymen, a melting pot of accents and chavayot, melding into the ultimate Israeli, fulfilling their dreams in the process.

Today was the tekes siyum of Ulpan Etzion Machzor 134. As I sat in the hall at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel during the tekes and marveled at the friends around me, I realized that I had been so privileged to meet these millennials. Their ‘can-do’ attitude and zest for life, unjaded worldview, ability to forge ahead and persevere, and concern for others… It is these qualities that they have taught me these past five months that I will take with me as I continue my journey beyond the walls of David Raziel 27.

Bless you, dear millennial Ulpan Etzion friends. Thank you for your inspiration, friendship, concern, words of wisdom, and for helping this Generation X hipster feel that anything is indeed possible. Wishing you a road paved with everything your hearts desire, and may you bask in the hope that is this land.

About the Author
Batya Jill Virag made aliyah in July from New York City and resides in Katamon. When she is not working in Media Development or education, she enjoys seeing and critiquing independent films at Lev Smadar Jerusalem and visiting Tel Aviv's beaches.