Yahadut be’ivrit- Judaism in Hebrew!!
DAT Goes Hebrew Immersion
Head of School, Rabbi Daniel Alter
The rationale: Most Jewish Day Schools spend a significant percentage of the time allocated to Judaic studies teaching decoding skills; how to dissect a word in order to understand the root, prefix, suffix etc. As such, Hebrew speakers and Israelis have an incredible advantage. In a classroom of Hebrew speakers more class time can be allocated to in depth analysis of the text, integration of the meaning and impact of the text on the life of students, and an overall focus on the spiritual lessons that emanate from the text. Knowledge of Hebrew language is critical to Jewish education. Additionally, there is a religious imperative to teach our children Hebrew. The Sifrei in Parshat Ekev, quoted by Rashi, argues that parents are obligated to teach their children Torah and to teach them Hebrew language. Finally, we are privileged to live in an era where Israel, our homeland, has seen a revival of Hebrew language which is now spoken as a first language by millions of Jews. The ability of our students to speak Hebrew connects them to the vibrancy, dynamism and spirituality of Israeli culture.
The implementation: With these thoughts in mind, we have been working over the last few years to strengthen the culture of Hebrew speaking in our school. Our efforts began a number of years ago, spearheaded by Morah Gross, who was determined to speak only Hebrew to her students, whether in class, at recess, or on Shabbat. She utilized best practices in running her immersion class, such as constant repetition, hand and body communicative gestures and other educational techniques, so that students would be eased into the Hebrew only environment. Over the last few years we have built on Morah Gross's foundation. Last year, Morah Tali and Morah Sunshine began to teach Judaics in our elementary school, and joined Morah Gross in speaking only Hebrew to their students. In the middle school during Hebrew language class, Morah Tali and Morah Inbal speak only Hebrew to their students. This year we added teachers in both Kindergarten and First grade, Morah Tali and Morah Shanit, in addition to Morah Iris, who also speak only Hebrew to our students during Judaic studies. Thus, for the first time in our school's history we are comfortable saying that we have a consistent and strong Hebrew language immersion program! In Hebrew, the term often used for this program is "ivrit be'ivrit," which means Hebrew in Hebrew. You will notice that our teachers have decided to coin a new term and use a different phrase. They are calling our program "Yahadut be'ivrit," which loosely means Judaic studies in Hebrew, and is a better reflection of our program. Our intent at this time is for the middle school Judaics classes, outside of Hebrew language, to continue to be taught in English. This is based on the immersion model we have been following where students spend progressively less time in the target language environment as they get older. As we were unable to renew the sherut leumi program this year, ( we hope to bring it back next year) our strong focus on Hebrew language immersion becomes even more important to our school culture and our focus on strong Judaic skills and religious Zionism. We look forward to continuing to strengthen the program every year and ensuring that our students are able to thrive in their ability to speak fluent Hebrew, navigate Judaic texts with ease, and feel empowered to speak and understand the language that has been our heritage for thousands of years.