Ulpan…the birthday party

Birthday Cake

Today was the first of the birthdays. A young Russian girl named Anna, who’s as quiet as a church mouse, turned 18.

Encouraged by the teacher, who seems to be obsessed with everyone’s age, most of us brought something in to celebrate. A cake, biscuits, coke (the drink), popcorn…you get the picture. I, however completely forgot and watched ashamedly as my classmates wandered in with their goodies. At least no one saw me come in empty handed as I had arrived first, as usual.

When the time came for the ‘party’ some of the more prominent members of the class (the teacher’s pets who sit at the front) sprang into action, setting out the buffet. Cakes were cut, popcorn put into cups and drinks poured. We all stood round awkwardly singing happy birthday in Hebrew (thankfully it’s rather repetitive) as the birthday girl grew puce with embarrassment. To add to her agony, her mother, who’s also in my class along with her father, then planted a big kiss on her cheek! I couldn’t watch. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse for the poor girl, the teacher asked for a chair and some strong men…you know what’s coming! Anna, however, had no idea about the fate which awaited her. She looked on with a mixture of fear and confusion as the teacher invited her to sit on the chair which had been brought to the front of the classroom. Those who knew what was about to happen looked on in horror and disbelief as 4 ‘strong’ men were chosen and ordered to lift the chair and hold it aloft as the poor girl, who was clearly unfamiliar with this custom, clung on for dear life with her free hand (the other was clutching her phone). She screamed, twice, but alas, to no avail. Instead, the 4 strong men were then instructed to jerk the chair up and down 18 times, one for each year of her life. At this point, I and many others feared the worst. It’s one thing to be subjected to this strange tradition while half cut, in the middle of your wedding, surrounded by your nearest and dearest. It’s quite another however, to have it sprung on you in a stark classroom, with a bunch of strangers looking on. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief when the whole terrifying episode came to an end and the poor girl was lowered to the ground.

Luckily for the designated chair bearers, this morning’s celebrant was a slip of a thing. I dread to think what will happen when 6 foot 2” Alexander from Ukraine turns 39 next month!

One thing I know for sure…I won’t be going in on my birthday!

About the Author
I’m a British lawyer from Manchester. I made aliyah in 2016 and now live in Netanya with my husband, 3 children and 3 dogs. As I wasn’t able to pursue my legal career here in Israel, I started a small business editing English language papers for academics. I also write short stories or ‘blogs’ about the trials and tribulations of my new life.
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