Which, Why, and How to Hebrew? A New Intensive with Dr. Sivan Zakai

January 25, 2024

Why Hebrew?
Which Hebrew? Biblical Hebrew, Mishnaic Hebrew, Modern Hebrew, Hebraicized English, etc.?
Is the primary focus on reading, writing, speaking, listening, etc.?
How is Hebrew learned?
What kind of Jew does Hebrew education strive to develop?
What about Israel?
Good for what? Good for whom?

These are the essential questions that students in the Master of Educational Leadership (MEdL) and rabbinic education programs explored in a new winter intensive taught on the Los Angeles campus by Sara S. Lee Associate Professor of Education, Dr. Sivan Zakai.

A group of students smiling at the camera

Over the course of one week, students experienced a range of approaches to teaching and learning Hebrew: Hebrew Infusion, Hebrew Proficiency, Hebrew through Movement, Hebrew Immersion, Siddur/Prayerbook Hebrew and Hebrew through Comprehensible Input. With Dr. Zakai as their guide, they navigated their way across Los Angeles, starting with HUC’s own Hebrew Infusion expert Dr. Sarah Benor, and visiting four different day schools and congregations in person and another virtually. With access to multiple masterful Hebrew educators, they were able to experience, observe and analyze firsthand the different methods and goals of Hebrew education in action.

Our readers may be surprised that there are this many ideologies and methods of Hebrew teaching in America. In fact, the teaching and learning of Hebrew is shaped by a variety of competing aspirations for Jewish life that may be about religion, peoplehood, Israel, classical text learning, prayer, history and/or culture. Students in course came away with an enhanced capacity to imagine how and why they might design an institution’s Hebrew program in a particular way.

For their final projects, students are creating valuable resources for the field: original books, using the Book Creator app, with titles like, Teaching Hebrew: Notes for my Future Colleagues. Many educators, administrators and clergy have to decide how their institutions will teach Hebrew and toward what end. With so many ways of thinking about the questions, these books will share the surveys of the options with students’ analysis of the why, the how and the what.

“I loved the unique opportunity learn about different ways of teaching Hebrew through site visits both virtually and in person. Being able to meet with expert educators in the field of teaching Hebrew and hear first-hand about their approaches enriched our class discussions and our learning as developing educators.” — Yael Farber

At the start of this week, students thought about Hebrew and wondered “which approach to Hebrew education is best?” As we learned from masterful educators implementing different approaches to Hebrew education in their institutions, students came to think about Hebrews as a plural construct and Hebrew education as embedded in a range of deeply ideological commitments about Judaism, Israel, education, and the relationships among the three. — Dr. Sivan Zakai