US Hebrew Charter Schools Immerse Non-Jewish Students in Holy Language

“They shall again say this in the land of Yehuda and in its towns, when I restore their fortunes: ‘Hashem bless you, Abode of righteousness, O holy mountain!’” Jeremiah 31:22 (The Israel Bible™)

Two American public charter schools which focus on teaching modern Hebrew sent a diverse group of 32 middle school graduates to tour Israel this past month. The group had been studying the Hebrew language and Israel for the past eight years, and all were excited to get first-hand experience of Hebrew in the Holy Land.

The 10-day trip included hiking and biking through the country as well as boating and camel rides. The students also visited Israel’s historic and religious sites, the Technion Institute of Technology, and Yad b’Yad, a Jewish and Arab school in Jerusalem, among many other stops. Each stop provided the an opportunity to use their acquired Hebrew.

“This trip has helped me understand the different technologies invented in Israel and how they are used,” 13-year-old Michael Brukson said in regard to the Technion and the Innovation Center in Tel Aviv.

“With Israel maintaining its ‘start up nation’ status, knowing Hebrew has many advantages,” noted Roni Segal, academic adviser for The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, a company which teaches Hebrew language and Biblical studies online, to Breaking Israel News.

“Learning Hebrew can be an excellent stepping stone for acquiring other Near Eastern and Asian languages, including Arabic.”

According to its website, Hebrew Public Charter Schools for Global Citizens is a “leading national movement of exceptional, diverse public charter schools that teach modern Hebrew to children of all backgrounds and prepare them to be successful global citizens.” There are nearly 2,100 K-8 students attending nine Hebrew language public schools throughout the US, and eight new schools are in the works.

The schools focus on diversity, with the Harlem Hebrew student body 32 percent African-American, 30 percent Hispanic, 34 percent white, three percent multi-racial and one percent Asian. In addition, 24 percent of its students have special needs.

President and CEO of Hebrew Public Jonathan Rosenberg points out that Hebrew is a distinct language and culture. Therefore, one can study Hebrew as a language with no religious or political strings attached. “It is always uniquely complicated when you are talking about Hebrew and Israel,” he stated. “You are teaching a language, not Israeli politics, but if you are going to teach a language well, you also need to teach a country’s culture and its history.”

Rosenberg believes that through language study, one develops a natural affinity for the country and the people who speak that language. Therefore, students of Hebrew might be less influenced by anti-Semitism.

Hebrew charter schools are located in New York, New Jersey, Washington, DC, California and Minnesota. Once students finish their English and math studies, the schools strive for total immersion in Hebrew. Classrooms are named after Israeli cities rather than numbered and signs throughout the schools are written in both English and Hebrew. The Hebrew teachers are generally Israeli, so students learn to speak the language with a proper accent.

Staff encourages students to converse with each other in Hebrew. Hebrew is the primary language spoken during lunch and recess as the schools have a “Hebrew-only” rule during these times. In addition, students are taught Israeli songs and dances as well as culture and history.

A team-teaching model is used with all subjects except English language. Therefore, a Hebrew teacher and general education or specialist teacher are both present during lessons, exposing students to Hebrew in real time and in different contexts.

“The success of these students in learning Hebrew is impressive,” continued Segal. “Studying Hebrew is filling a void as the school includes non-religious Israelis as well as church-going parents who want to study the Bible in its original language. These Hebrew speaking students are now part of a global society which recognizes that Hebrew knowledge is becoming more and more important, especially within the world of high-tech.”

To study Hebrew online, visit here.

The article was written in cooperation with The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies.