Rothschild Signs Become Blackboard for Roving Ulpan

Guy Sharett leads walking tours of the activist encampment along the boulevard, providing Anglos and other internationals with some insight into the public discourse.

Most of the conversations about the cost of living in Israel currently taking place on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard and in other tent cities around the country are conducted in Hebrew, but at least one Israeli linguist is providing translation tours of the social protests for interested but uninitiated English-speakers. Soon after protesters set up camp almost four weeks ago, Guy Sharett began leading hour-long walking tours of the activist encampment along the boulevard, providing Anglos and other internationals with some insight into the public discourse.

Since the protests began, the kilometer-plus stretch of Rothschild Boulevard between the Habima Theater and Allenby Street, the heart of the protest, has become covered with temporary shelters, posters, banners, and art installations, broadcasting political statements of every sort almost exclusively in Hebrew.

housing protest tour Tel Aviv
Daneil Bar-On

The boulevard has become the outdoor ulpan, or Hebrew enrichment course, of Sharett, 39, a Hebrew tutor who has made a living out of unconventional ulpans - either a supplement to, or replacement for, conventional courses - geared toward the politically inquisitive.

Sharett, who says he is proficient in seven tongues, believes that the classroom of the world is an amazing learning environment, providing sensory cues that act as mnemonic devices. "Each time I did something, like painting a house in Thai, or making food with an Indonesian friend, in Indonesian, I learned more," says Sharett. "So when we walk here, and we look at a tree, and on the tree there are certain texts, our minds tend to remember and inhale and internalize much better than when we sit with a textbook and we have another list of words we have to memorize."


To that end, Sharett has come up with a number of creative formulas for teaching Hebrew. One of these is a walking tour of the Florentin district in South Tel Aviv. For the last six months, he has been leading his students through the narrow streets of his own neighborhood, stopping at regular intervals to discuss graffiti. "We analyze the graffiti grammatically, linguistically, but also socially, anthropologically."

The tent protest movement has provided Sharett with a convenient new curriculum to work with.

"When these protests started, and I saw the level of copywriting and the level of creativity, I said to myself, 'This is heaven! I could live here in Rothschild Avenue and work here from dawn to dusk only teaching Hebrew through what's written here,'" he said.

His tours run about twice a week and he charges NIS 40 to attend.

Although English-speakers are his primary clientele, curious tourists from as far away as Germany and Japan have been attending his tours, as well. He gets about 15 participants per tour.

Lara Weisz, 23, from Munich, said she is glad that she attended one of Sharett's tours and brought a couple classmates from her conventional ulpan along. "If I go [to the protests], it's interesting, something is happening, but I don't really understand what is happening, even if someone is translating," she says.

The problem, she explains, is that you have to have extensive knowledge of Israel's history in order to understand all of the cultural references that the slogans allude to. When Sharett explains the backstory behind some of these slogans, "It's like I get a little bit more involved in the life of the young people here," Weisz says.

Sharett demonstrates his solidarity with the protesters by donating one-third of the proceeds from his walking tours to the communal kitchen that cooks free meals for the Rothschild camp. "I'm with the protesters, I go to the demonstrations," he professes. "I'm optimistic. I'm proud of young people who suddenly speak out."