Hebrew Diversity: Snapshots of Learning Options

As we all know, there is no single magic bullet to ensure our students connect to the language of their tradition.

It would be easy if the only choice of Hebrew approach was one-size-fits-all. But there’s no right answer. There are so many interesting and different ways students learn Hebrew these days. Some schools begin teaching Hebrew in the earliest grades and have very good outcomes. Others delay teaching Hebrew until just before the b’nai mitzvah year and prepare their students capably. What’s right for one school and its students is all wrong for another. 

Gone are the days when Hebrew learning looked the same everywhere. Jewish education has progressed and evolved and provided many pathways to engaging children of all abilities and interests.

“The new inclusiveness we’re seeing today, new technology, new knowledge about learning, and desire for flexibility to develop educational goals that best suit our community’s individual needs, all requires choice,” says David Behrman.I want to be able to choose a learning modality—or multiple learning modalities—best suiting the unique combination of answers” to these questions:

  1. 1. What are my Hebrew goals: To teach liturgical competence, Hebrew as a modern language, or simply provide a familiarity with the sights and sounds of Hebrew?
  2. 2. What resources do I have: How much class time is available, how confident are my teachers in Hebrew, is there technology available, what’s the level of congregational and parental support?
  3. 3. Who else is doing what I want to do? Educators make great teachers – explore models of success in places that have similar goals.

We see amazing richness in response to these questions from schools across North America. As providers of Hebrew learning materials for close to a century, we see educational programs of all flavors and have a lot of experience identifying solutions that match goals and resources. We know that Hebrew learning can be deep and fun and meaningful because we see it often, and in many different packages.

Here are some snapshots from innovative educators across North America:

 Rabbi Ariel Boxman of Temple Shalom in Dallas distinguishes prayer learning from Hebrew, and the school teaches students modern Hebrew for two hours each week, in addition to a separate tefillah service on Sundays.

 “Hebrew is Hebrew,” Boxman says. “If I can read modern Hebrew, I can also read prayers. Our goal is for kids to decode and read. We want to make the experience more relatable by using words that have meaning to them.”

 In Seattle, Stacey Delcau of Temple DeHirsch Sinai is remaking her classes by embracing small groups for Hebrew.

 “We’ve had success with stations and small groups in teaching Hebrew,” says Delcau. “It gives teachers one more tool at their disposal to mix up the class routine.”

Alissa Frankel of Temple Emanu-El in Palm Beach, Florida, uses Skype and FaceTime for working with students one-on-one for decoding and reading practice. 

Cantor Allen Leider and Dara Holop, religious school director, at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia, are doing interesting work with their sixth-grade students. They found that students were unprepared for their bnai mitzvah tutors, so they revamped the sixth grade Hebrew program to spend half the year purely on prayer learning. 

 Students learn trope and have group discussions on prayer concepts. They mostly work in stations that include games, CDs with the prayer melodies, a teacher table for one-on-one work, using personal folders to track their work. “We’ve received extremely positive feedback from the tutors about how much better prepared and equipped students are,” Holop says.


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