Friday, March 25, 2005

A Freilecha Purim!

In shul this morning the Rabbi was passing out miniature bottles of vodka, so it must be PURIM TIME! Happy Purim to everyone!

Things have been moving along nicely here in Walnut Creek. First off, I found out that I passed the EIT exam. What a load off my shoulders! A few weeks later, I got a 3.88% raise, which felt even better. It would appear that Environmental Engineers (Environmental is the latest euphemism for sewage treatment) are in great demand these days. About 15% of the engineers at my company have left over the last two months, recruited mostly by our clients, the local municipalities. I think passing the EIT exam demonstrated my seriousness about advancement to my bosses, and they want to keep me, hence the raise.

When I was studying for the EIT exam, I would usually go to the library for two or three hours every night and spend all day Sunday studying at the coffee shop. I think that the brain is like a muscle, and once you start pushing it, you build up your strength. In order to better understand this process, I invented a new engineering unit. I figure that one fully-functional brain operating at full capacity for a standard hour is one "brain-hour." By long hours of studying, I increased my daily brain-hour capacity by about 40% from 8 hours per day to 11 hours per day. Once I finished the exam, I suddenly found that I had leisure time, something unknown in Israel, and I didn't know what to do with myself. I would finish work, come home, and just vegetate on video games or movies. Like a well-honed endurance runner suddenly sidelined, I found myself going crazy, so I decided to do something about it.

There are many hobbies that I've wanted to do. I've always been embarrassed about being a mechanical engineer and not being able to fix my car, so I could enroll in auto mechanic's courses at the local community college. I also wanted to improve my Hebrew, grow a vegetable garden, and maybe even learn an instrument. Well, I think that one of the reasons that the KBH (Kadosh Baruch Hu, a.k.a. God) sent me out here was to learn about focus. I really have to focus myself to get out of debt and stay on track. So I eliminated three and decided that the most important thing by far is to improve my Hebrew. I figure if I can learn Hebrew well enough, then I'll be able to get a better job after Aliyah, so I can hire someone else to fix my car and I'll be able to haggle with the mechanic better. I will also be able to afford vegetables instead of growing them, and I could buy a nice stereo instead of learning piano.

Thanks to friends in Israel I have some Ulpan (intensive Hebrew) workbooks, so I started with those. I've been going to the library for two hours every night, slowly working through the problems. I have several Israeli expatriate friends from Chabad and one in particular has spent many hours helping me. I fill out about five pages of grammar and vocabulary exercises per night and then fax them to him. He usually returns them, corrected, the next day at morning davening. He's been an amazing help.
Also, I really hit the jackpot when an older friend of mine, Meshullam got married. His wife moved into town and is a total Chabad-style Yiddishe Mame, who happens to have lived in Israel for twenty years. I have been going over to their house every night of the week for a sumptuous and highly kosher meal. After the meal, I have to earn my keep by reading from a Hebrew book of stories about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I usually read for an hour or more, with her gently correcting and translating the parts I don't understand. It's a fantastic arrangement, and it's a relief to interact with non-engineers from time to time.