Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of Our Nation’s Capital Named a HATC Demonstration School

This past June, HATC CEO Rabbi Andrew Ergas joined the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School community to celebrate their successful completion of four plus years as the first school in the Leading in Hebrew initiative, a project that selects Jewish day schools with a strong commitment to Hebrew education and invests in them to become “demonstration schools.” These schools become models of excellence in Hebrew teaching and learning for other day schools and communities to emulate. These model schools demonstrate successful educational outcomes, which then catalyze similar outcomes in surrounding schools and the broader field. Data dissemination and guidance on curricular approaches will subsequently expand knowledge about Hebrew education to other communities in North America. The ultimate goal of this $1.3 million dollar project is to elevate the quality of Hebrew language teaching and learning such that Hebrew becomes an integral and elevated part of Jewish life in a community. Imagine the shift in the attitudes of parents, students, and the communities in which they live when day schools begin to graduate students with a passion for the language of the Jewish people, taught by Hebrew language teachers who model the best in both language education and education writ large. Consider graduates with a passion for the language of the Jewish people and an intimate understanding of Israeli culture, ready to contribute personally to strengthening bridges between America and Israel. Equally important, these schools will provide inspiration and a new, higher standard demonstrating what is in fact achievable, establishing expectations in North America that will have transformative implications for Hebrew education everywhere and a reframing of the North American Jewish community’s relationship with world Jewry and the Jewish state.

The team at Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School worked closely with HATC’s educators and professionals over the past four and a half years articulating a vision for Hebrew, developing work plans to bring that into reality, using assessment data to inform the pathway forward, and training teachers in a wide range of Hebrew language education pedagogy. This school has worked with the other Leading in Hebrew school, the Chicago Jewish Day School, to address shared or common challenges, present at conferences, and advance the field. Milton’s Hebrew leaders have also been trained as coaches in order to prepare them to both sustain the forward progress as the school moves into its next stage of work and share their expertise with other day schools in the community and beyond. In order to realize these successes has been even more challenging over the past two plus years, as both the school and HATC have wrestled with the numerous issues emerging from the pandemic. In reflecting on the work together, Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School Hebrew leader Aliza Sandalon shared, “I am grateful for HATC’s support, especially last year, in light of the difficulties our team endured.”

As a part of the concluding ceremony, Rabbi Ergas had dinner with the entire Hebrew faculty and joined them at a reception for school Board Members. At this gathering, two eighth graders reflected on their time at the school as they prepared to graduate, with their thoughtful and sophisticated presentations done completely in Hebrew. When Rabbi Ergas later addressed the school Board of Directors, he reflected on these students, saying, “While their Hebrew was beautiful, grammatically accurate, and showed great use of vocabulary, these two non-native speakers really demonstrated their love for the language and the sense that they were completely at home in Hebrew. This only comes out of the tremendous work that we have engaged in over the past few years and the deep commitment to excellence supported by teachers, administrators, parents, and the Board. This sets the bar for every other day school that wants to know that this is truly possible!”

The Heat Of Summer – In Hebrew

Dr. Jeremy Benstein, HATC Senior Consultant

In Israel, we take our vacations very seriously. Even a short respite from work or school here is called a chufsha, from the root ch-f-sh, meaning “freedom” or “liberty.” We don’t just vacation, we escape bondage! Even more dramatically, the two-month summer break from school, which we are currently in the thick of, is called hachofesh hagadol – “The Great Freedom.”

We devote most of this chofesh, an alternative word for “vacation,” to finding ways to beat the “heat,” chom. When there’s a heat wave – gal chom – we look for galim, waves of a different sort down at the chof, “beach” (unrelated to the word for vacation).

Jerusalem, the holy city, ‘ir hakodesh, is landlocked and surrounded by hills. But coastal Tel Aviv has many beautiful beaches, making it the preeminent ‘ir shel chol – meaning both “city of sand” but also “secular city” (chol from chullin, means “secular” or “profane,” while another chol means “sand”).

The words for hot and cold have parallel forms. “Hot” is cham, “warm” is chamim and “heating” is chimum. “Cold” is kar, “cool” is karir, and “cooling” is kirur. You may be chilling drinks in the mekarer, the refrigerator. But when you drink them, please go easy on the environment, and don’t use cups made of that light-cooling stuff – kal, light, fluffy + kar, cold = kalkar, “styrofoam.”

Struggling to find time for a drink? Maybe the kids would enjoy some time at camp. There are two words for camp in Israel. “Overnight camp” – often organized by a youth movement – is a machaneh, also the word for a military encampment.

The root, ch-n-h, also gives us the contemporary word for ‘park’ – not the type where you would go camping, but what you do with your car, lehachnot, “to park,” and chanayah, “parking.” And what do you call going camping in Hebrew? La’asot kemping, of course. Go figure.

The other word for “camp,” usually used for the day camp variety, is kaytana. Since day camp is usually for small children, I used to assume the word had something to do with katan, “small.” But it turns out it’s from the Aramaic word for “summer,” kayta – kayitz in Hebrew – which also gives us kayit, a “recreational holiday.”

If you can’t ship your kids off to camp, you can all go for a dip at the pool. A pool is a bereicha, and while there probably is no linguistic connection, you may feel that on these long days in this ‘Great Freedom,’ the chofesh hagadol, there is no greater blessing, beracha, than that.

Can Computers Invent New Hebrew Words? AI meets the Akademiya, or: “Eliezer Bot Yehudah”

By Dr. Jeremy Benstein, HATC Senior Consultant

Like France and Spain, Israel has a national institution to guide language policy: the Academy of the Hebrew Language – האקדמיה ללשון העברית. One of the tasks it is charged with is coming up with good Hebrew equivalents for foreign words that have made their way into Israeli Hebrew from English or other tongues – known as lo’azit, all languages that are not Hebrew. For this task they have a special committee, composed of members of the Academy, along with representative writers, teachers and other language mavens. They also have started asking the public what they think about new ideas and suggestions for Hebrew neologisms (new words, coinages).

Indeed, in the end it is the public that will decide the fate of a new word, and sometimes it’s hard to predict what will catch on, and what will die an ignominious death of neglect. For instance, no Israeli would ever say kompyuter, since the universally accepted (Academy-coined) word is machshev (from the root ch-sh-v, meaning both think and compute). However, the Academy’s attempt at creating a Hebrew equivalent for telefon in sach-rachok (from words meaning ‘speak at a distance’) failed completely, and t-l-f-n has been accepted as a “Hebrew root,” and a person can even metalfen (call) someone else, though of course now that’s mostly on the nayad (portable), sometimes still called the cellulari.

This important mission of adapting the language to changing realities and needs has been basic since the beginning of bringing Hebrew back as a spoken language. (Actually, even before, since Hebrew in antiquity and the medieval eras also needed new words and concepts to deal with foreign novelties and changing times). One of Eliezer Ben Yehudah’s central tasks in his journalistic and lexicographical work was indeed to enrich the contemporary vocabulary – either with “repurposed” words from the sources, or with new coinages based on earlier roots, or borrowings from the closely related language of Arabic.

Neologizing, or creating a new Hebrew word requires several different skill sets and knowledge bases. A thorough grounding in general linguistics and the structure of the Hebrew language is essential. Familiarity with the different historical strata and classic texts of the language is up there too, but so is imagination and creativity, as well as a common touch, a more emotional intelligence about how words function in society, and what will actually “work.”

Given that, could this complex task be entrusted to a computer? Even with the amazing progress that machine learning and artificial intelligence have demonstrated recently (in everything from self-driving cars, to chat-bots that are almost human), could they acquire and apply the various skills necessary to come up with new Hebrew words?

The answer seems to be yes. Hebrew University computer science students Moran Mizrahi and Stav Yardeni Seelig (under the direction of Prof. Dafna Shahaf) undertook to design a program that can suggest neologisms that are at least as likely and potentially attractive as what the Academy serves up. This brief description is based on their work (see below for reference).

What did they do? They designed a process whereby they take an original English word, tease out its semantic components, translate those components into Hebrew, identify the equivalent roots, run those through a generator with the relevant mishkalim, the nominal or verbal forms that the roots are expressed in, and voilá – out comes a (potential) new word. One example they go into in depth is the word palette (a board artists use to mix colors). Israelis generally say paleta, though there does exist a rarely-used Academy-coined word p’techa (from a Talmudic root p-t-ch that meant “to mix”). The word palette connects to: color (צבע), mix (ערבב, ערבל), and board (לוח, קרש). There are several possible mishkalim, but the most relevant is maf’ela, which can be used for tools. So out comes matzbe’ah, and also ma’arbelah. The generator also will make up compound words – such as luach tzeva, a color board –  and even “portmanteau words,” mushing two words into one, like kaduregel for “football” (kadur + regel) or ramzor for “traffic light” (remez + or). In this case the result was irbuluach, “a mixing board.” They then submit the ideas to a rating process done by actual humans, who grade each idea on three scales: suitability (as a Hebrew translation of the original idea); likability, and creativity.

Some words their generator came up with rated quite highly. For instance, Israelis use the word kapkeyk (ie cupcake) even though there is a “proper” word that has been proposed – עוגונית, oogonit, a diminutive of ‘ooga, “cake.” Their suggestion? גביעוגה, gevi’oogah, combining a word for cup gevi’a with cake, which may be a better proposal than the experts. And occasionally they come up with a whole list of possibilities. You’d think that an argumentative culture like Israel has a good word for debate, but most Israelis use that – dibeyt. The Academy has proposed ma’amat, from ‘imut, “confrontation.” But that has not been accepted at all. Their program suggests: sichuach (from sicha, conversation), pilmus (from the originally Greek pulmus, polemic or argument), krav diyun (a compound meaning “discussion battle”) and others.

Who knows? Maybe some day we will have a self-driving Academy.



The Hebrew essay Eliezer Bot Yehudah, by Moran Mizrahi and Stav Yardeni Seelig (under the direction of Prof. Dafna Shahaf) of the Hebrew University is a “popular” Hebrew language version of their academic paper, “Coming to Terms: Automatic Formation of Neologisms in Hebrew,” (published in Findings of the Association for Computational Linguistics: EMNLP 2020, pp. 4918–4929). The “bot” can be tried here.