Does Challenge and Change Improve One’s Brain?

There is a white dove perching on my balcony that overlooks Ra’anana. I check to see whether it has an olive branch in its mouth and then realise that’s silly. On seeing the dove however, I feel the promise of possibility on this my eighth day in Israel. In Genesis 17:12, God commanded Abraham to circumcise baby boys on the 8th day of their lives.

Jewish tradition believes that the first 7 days of an infant’s life represent the finished creation of the physical world in seven days. The number 8 represents a beginning where the child now transcends the physical world and initiates the child into the Abrahamic covenant. Notwithstanding the controversy over the rightness or wrongness of circumcision day eight feels to me significant.

  In Hebrew every letter represents a number and the 8th letter is a Chet. It represents LIFE. So today is the beginning of a new life.

In truth every day is the beginning of a new life if we choose it to be but we often forget to acknowledge the blessing of life whilst in the middle of it all. Moving to Israel, even for 5 months has been a major upheaval in our life. Selling our home, leaving our children and granddaughter and setting up house is a completely new place is nothing if not challenging.

So I began to think whether putting oneself in a situation that is challenging on so many levels benefits the brain.

The human brain is composed of billions of nerve cells which communicate through specialized connections called synapses. At each synapse, a chemical neurotransmitter is released from one cell and binds to receptors on another cell. Am I developing my brain?

Since leaving Australia, I have been in the process of learning the Hebrew letters to the names of the streets surrounding my new home. In truth I struggle to find the supermarket, I stumble over how to ask for baking powder, I dodge traffic that flows in the opposite direction to what I have been used to, and when the check out person speaks a hundred miles an hour to see if I want to pay in instalments and do I have a discount card and do I want one and did I know that socks are 50% off if I buy the latest floor polish I can feel my brain spinning…. or is it growing?

 Although my spoken Hebrew is passable, reading signs, whether they be road signs or signs in the supermarket isles, challenges my every neurotransmitter. Finding caster sugar, especially when both salt and sugar are on the same shelf is not only confusing but quite frankly has left me with a rather recalcitrant headache. I like to think this dull ache is a sign that I’m getting smarter because of all the new things I am learning and trying to memorise but I suspect its just my poor brain holding up its own sign that says, enough already!

Having said that this first week has touched and moved me in so many ways. Every person in our five floor building has warmly welcomed us and offered to help us if we need anything. Smadar, my next door neighbour took me shopping tonight to buy fish. I know, what’s the big deal to buy fish? But the fish here have different names and as she is an amazing fish cook I decided I could really do with some one to one time with this Moroccan gourmet cook.

We walk almost everywhere within an hour from our home. Although it appears saying Boker Tov  (Good Morning) to passers by does not get the expected reply, ( usually it’s a humph) when I stop to talk to someone in the street about their baby, or the weather, or which way to the library, it can usually result in a wonderful 20 minute conversation and an invitation to have coffee next week.

The food here is literally heaven on earth. Even buying olives is exciting.

Tonight we are going to hear the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv. I am so excited. Something I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember.

We will hear :-

Mozart Cosi fun tutte – overture

Tchaikovsky Lensky’s aria from Yevgeny Onegin (Arr. for cello)

Mozart Symphony no. 1, K. 16

Respighi Adagio con variazioni for cello

Haydn   Symphony no.1, in D major

Haydn   Symphony no. 103 (“Drum Roll”)

A new week has begun and life in this country of polarities is never dull.  Undoubtedly there will be more, much more to share later. In the mean time I’m going to shut my eyes for an hour so that I don’t miss a second of the concert tonight.


Comment (1)

  • Ulli

    I( do totally agree with you Sharon about how new situations getting the neurons into play. It is a joy to travel with your words it is as if a transplant has come into being in your life and its new experiences ...language, food, people, culture, music, neighbours, earth, sky all different ...changing channels in your Life. Knowing you and your curiousity for Life it is sure to be a grand adventure of your very personal and generous sharing and I thank you so much for keeping us in touch with you doings and beings... One moment you are here moment you are there ....I would love to have been at that Concert. much love Ulli

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