New US Hebrew teachers group holds first conference

“In all levels of Israeli society we need to promote Hebrew all around the world, because it promotes a connection with Israel."

November 18, 2015 21:50
4 minute read.

MEMBERS OF the Council for Hebrew Language and Culture pose with WZO chairman Avraham Duvdevani (third from right), at the National Association of Hebrew Teachers conference in Newark this week.. (photo credit: ILANIT SOLOMONOVICH HABOT)


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Hebrew teachers across North America came together this week to take part in the first annual conference of the National Association of Hebrew Teachers in Newark, New Jersey.

The professional network of teachers was created to address the needs and professional growth of the tens of thousands of people teaching Hebrew in schools, synagogues, community centers and youth movements in North America, and to unite them under one parent organization to advance the study of the Hebrew language.

“Our vision and one of our goals is to bring back the Hebrew language to American Jewry,” Dr. Simcha Leibovich, representative of the WZO Executive in North America and a founder of the Council for Hebrew Language and Culture and the teacher’s association told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

The association is an offshoot of the council, which was established in 2013 with the aim of “raising the profile” of Hebrew language and culture in North America and bringing together organizations and institutions that advance Hebrew.

“In all levels of Israeli society we need to promote Hebrew all around the world, because it promotes a connection with Israel and we need to ensure that Jews around the world have a connection to Israel,” he said.

“Hebrew is the Jewish language and we need to promote this so that people from Buenos Aires and people from Moscow will have a common language,” he said.

According to Leibovich, one of the main ways to achieve this is through empowering teachers and expanding their knowledge and skills in teaching Hebrew.

“Over the years people decided to give up on Hebrew because it is a challenge to learn a new language, to find good teachers and so on, and so schools simply began teaching Judaic studies in English,” he said.

Despite this, he said, “I felt that there are many people who still really want to deal with Hebrew – but there is nobody to connect them to this.”

The National Association of Hebrew Teachers aims to bridge the gap, he explained.

For the first time, there will be a focused effort to locate and connect Hebrew teachers to better identify and support their needs, foster collaboration, and facilitate the sharing of pedagogic resources and materials – all in an effort to promote the study and teaching of Hebrew.

The historic three-day conference has already brought together teachers from across the US – from New York to Atlanta to Omaha.

“We were able to subsidize about 100 teachers [for the conference], and we expected only 80 and in the end we got 120. It was really frustrating, because we even had to turn some teachers away for a lack of funding, but this only shows that there is a real need for this,” said Leibovich.

During the conference, educators engaged in roundtable discussions about innovative approaches for teaching Hebrew in the 21st century; discussed the role of language in Israel education; learned about integrating technology and online tools in the classroom; and participated in expert-guided workshops on topics like multi-age classrooms, experiential learning, and teaching via music and song.

In addition, teachers were able to benefit from the academic guidance of two leading figures in Hebrew education – Prof. Moshe Bar-Asher, president of the Academy for the Hebrew Language, and Prof. Vardit Ringvald, director of The School of Hebrew in Middlebury College.

“We are very excited that this is happening right now, because this really is an historical moment and it just shows that people are enthusiastic about Hebrew language and want to support it,” Prof.

Ringvald told the Post.

Ringvald gave the keynote speech on “Hebrew Educators in the 21st Century.” According to her, the teacher’s association is supposed to allow Hebrew teachers to express their needs and engage with other teachers, as well as help them to become better teachers.

“We want the teachers to be informed, to be able to make decisions to be independent professionals,” she said. “We would like to professionalize the teaching of Hebrew.”

According to Ringvald, today there is a growing focus on the Hebrew language as people have begun to realize that there is room for improvement within the profession to “achieve better outcomes.”

“What does it mean to teach Hebrew in the 21st century? It means to be well immersed in every insight related to all the tools of language acquisition, the profession, to know how to modify it for the new learner and to ask yourself who are the learners?” she said.

“The level of enthusiasm and the level of willingness from teachers is very exciting, and we are so happy that we are able to be here,” she said.

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