By Devorah Fishman

As evidenced by the high rate of participation in an AVI CHAI webinar yesterday, Hebrew instruction is a topic which elicits passion in many Jewish day school educators and leaders. The webinar – hosted by Dr. Michael Berger, AVI CHAI Program Officer – sought to illuminate the challenges and possibilities of JDS Hebrew language education in the JDS classroom. The recording is available to watch here. It was based off two case studies on this topic from “How Schools Enact Their Jewish Missions: 20 Case Studies of Jewish Day Schools”: “Meshuga La Davar: Hebrew,” about The Epstein School, by Dr. Michael Berger and Pearl Mattenson, and “A School That Places Israel at Its Center,” about the Golda Och Academy, by Dr. Jack Wertheimer, who served as Project Director of the case studies project. Speaking on the webinar were Stan Beiner and Dr. Joyce Raynor, former heads of Epstein and Golda Och, respectively. Beiner is now a consultant to non-profit organizations and schools, and Dr. Raynor currently serves as the Head of School of the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Campus in Las Vegas, NV.

The webinar speakers encouraged attendees who are designing or improving their schools’ Hebrew programs to consider questions such: How do you create an immersive Hebrew environment in your school that simultaneously provides ongoing professional development and teacher support? How do you assess and evaluate your approach? How do you leverage current thinking in bilingual education? How do you effectively market and advocate for your Hebrew program? Do you want your Hebrew program’s aspirations to reflect your community, or to lead it?

In the Q&A, many webinar viewers were thinking about purveyors of Hebrew language programs and how to decide which programs and approaches best fit their school’s needs. The advice given by the speakers was that the answer should stem from thinking about what goals and outcomes you want to see from Hebrew language instruction, its philosophical underpinnings, and what would create a purposeful approach toward these goals. Is the goal speaking fluent modern Hebrew or reading religious texts/comprehension? Also, you shouldn’t be afraid of using multiple programs, or of adopting pieces of various programs to meet your specific needs and goals. You should start with what you want to accomplish and then select appropriate texts rather than vice versa.

Some of the programs mentioned and submitted by viewers included TaL AM; NETA-CET; Bonim B’Yahad – Distance Learning from Israel; JETS Israel – Distance Learning; Morim Shlichim Program of World Zionist Organization; and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL).

Watch the webinar recording here:

This article was originally posted on the AVI CHAI blog. It is reprinted with the author’s permission.