Carrying a torch for modern Hebrew

Iris Halperin-Peleg, principal of country’s first Hebrew-speaking elementary school, says her parents instilled in her a love for education.

IRIS HALPERIN-PELEG lights torch 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
IRIS HALPERIN-PELEG lights torch 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
By the age of five, Iris Halperin-Peleg knew she wanted to be teacher. The Rishon Lezion native, who lit the sixth torch together with her city’s Mayor Dov Tzur at the ceremony marking Israel’s 65th Independence Day on Mount Herzl Monday night, recalls writing on her walls at home pretending to be a teacher in front of her class.
“It was really a normal childhood,” says Halperin-Peleg, 46, whose mother worked for the Rishon Lezion Municipality and father worked in construction, in an interview Monday on her way to Jerusalem.
For the last 19 years, Halperin-Peleg has been the principal of Rishon Lezion’s Haviv School, considered to be Israel’s first elementary school with all of its classes taught in Hebrew. She has worked in education for 24 years, as an Arabic teacher and school counselor at Haviv and elsewhere.
Halperin-Peleg says she is proud of the school’s legacy of absorbing immigrants and revitalizing the Hebrew language in the modern state. The father of the contemporary Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, taught at the school and wrote its curriculum 127 years ago, when it was founded in 1886.
The second Jewish farm settlement, Rishon Lezion was established during the First Aliya in 1882.
“Until today, we keep our heritage,” she says of Haviv’s commitment to Hebrew language and instruction.
Despite being only 28 when she became the school’s principal, Halperin-Peleg says that she wasn’t nervous about taking on the responsibility.
“It was really complex,” she says. “I have had many years to understand the depth of the role, the meaning of it and what is required of me.”
The Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Icons chose for this year’s ceremony the theme of national legacy and the preservation of the state’s cultural assets for future generations.
As one of the 14 lighters of the 12 ceremonial torches, Halperin-Peleg represents the tradition of Hebrew education and the revival of the Hebrew language. It was her parents, she says, who instilled this love of learning in her.
Her father, a seventh-generation Israeli from a Jerusalemite family, and her mother, born in Israel to parents who fled the Holocaust from Poland, wanted Halperin-Peleg and her sister to receive the best education possible.
“What was important to them was that we be educated people,” she says. “That we would have all the conditions to study and to advance. They were educators... not teachers, but actual educators.”