Commemorating and Celebrating Israel’s 76th birthday at Luria Academy of Brooklyn 

Never in the history of the Modern State of Israel have Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut been so fraught as this year. How to commemorate and then celebrate when never have so many civilians lost their lives to terrorism, nor have so many soldiers been lost in the fight against terrorism? Many Hebrew leaders and teachers participated in Hebrew at the Center webinars and online Mifgashim to discuss how to mark these “holidays” this year as “unprecedented Holy Days.” This week’s Member School Highlight describes how the Luria Academy of Brooklyn leaned in to these two days, and specifically, to the twilight of transition from commemoration of remembrance to the celebration of independent statehood. 

We begin at the twilight between the end of Yom HaZikaron and the start of Yom HaAtzmaut. 

Luria Academy’s administration decided to have their middle school Tekes (טקס or “ceremony”) in the evening, enabling working parents to be in attendance. Over 150 members of the Brooklyn community came to participate. This is no small matter for the Luria community, a progressive Jewish day school in a progressive neighborhood in Brooklyn, whose focus has long been on seeking peace, and whose families by and large are strong supporters of equal rights for all. Like all Jewish communities, the events of October 7th, 2023 and its aftermath, have shaken this community to the core, but for this community in particular, shards of hope for peace needed to be at the forefront of any communal commemoration and celebration. 

Preparations for the post Pesach ימים קדושים began far in advance.  

An arts educator, Ellen Alt, was brought in to do a professional development program for the full faculty, on how to release their feelings about the tragic day of October 7th through creating a work of art. This was a powerful experience for the Luria educators which included viewing works of art created by Israeli artists. It also prepared the 6th through 8th grade teachers to replicate and facilitate a similar visual art experience for their students. 

At the Tekes, the resulting student art was on display in the school’s Beit Midrash and guests did a gallery walk to take in the work by the Luria Middle School artists.  

Between readings, each grade sang a song that they had learned for the Tekes, from a new repertoire of Hebrew music that has recently been composed, turning prose and poetry left behind by soldiers who have fallen in Israel’s wars. This collection is called עוד מעט נהפוך לשיר, or in English “Soon we will turn into a Song.” Various well-known Israeli musicians were each given a piece of writing left behind in letters and journals of different fallen soldiers to turn into a song. This includes Idan Reichel’s אמא, אבא, וכל השאר. (“Mommy, Daddy, and all the rest”). In preparing for the ceremony, each class learned the key vocabulary of their song as well as the overall spirit or meaning of the lyrics. Though all the words were written by fallen soldiers during their active duty in Israel’s military, all were “hope oriented” for a peaceful resolution to the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Though the musically enriched ceremony lasted 90 minutes, all remained riveted. 

Following the Tekes, the transition from remembrance to celebration took the form of Israeli food and music. 

The day of Yom HaAtzmaut at Luria Academy of Brooklyn was similar to past years, with fun stations highlighting the best of Israel. One activity was added this year, specifically linked to the events of October 7th. Fourth through Eighth grade students took a part in an initiative organized by The Jewish Agency For Israel (JAFI) in honor of the עפיפוניאדה, a Kite Festival held every October in Kfar Aza, Israel for the past four decades. The purpose of the annual Kite Festival is to promote peaceful connections between the south of Israel עוטף עזה and the Gaza strip. Ironically, this year’s event, scheduled for October 7, 2023, did not take place. Instead, on that very day, members of the Kotz family, the organizers of the Kite Festival and residents of Kfar Aza, were killed in their home.  

In its reconstituted format, now known as “Kites for Freedom,” the kites represent the Bring them Home Now movement. Each student decorated their hand-made kite with a message of Peace and Hope that they composed in Hebrew and in English. Sadly, it was not deemed safe to run through Prospect Park with Hebrew inscribed kites. Yet while running and flying their own hand-created kites along the Brooklyn streets surrounding their school, the children of Luria Academy processed and released at least some of the tension that has been a constant presence since that black day in October. 

Super-Cool SHINSHINIM: Magic Potion for Enthusiastic Middle School Hebrew Studies at The Brandeis School of San Francisco

At The Brandeis School of San Francisco Students have the choice to continue their Hebrew language studies or switch to Spanish when they enter 6th grade.  

The numbers of self-selected Hebrew students remain strong, thanks to the influence of smaller groups and accelerated progress of those who decide to continue learning Hebrew. However, developing close relationships with the Shinshinim is a major motivating factor for continuing to study Hebrew in Middle School. 

Shinshinim are 18-year-old Israeli emissaries that come to communities in America to spread knowledge and love for Israel. According to Debby Arzt-Mor, Director of Jewish Learning at The Brandeis School, the Shinshinim bring Ruach, lots of games, up-to-date Israeli music, and enthusiasm for both Israel and for Hebrew language. The selection process in Israeli high schools to become a Shinshin is highly competitive, and is cannot be overstated that Israel’s best and brightest high school graduates are taking a gap year before beginning their army service to serve in Jewish communities. Inspiring Shinshinim increase motivation as they bring Modern Hebrew language to life, throughout the K-8 school, “making Hebrew cool.”   

Over the past few years, a strategic decision was implemented to focus a major part of Brandeis’ Shininims’ time to support the work of the 5th, 6th, 7th. and 8th grade Hebrew classes. This has resulted in greater interest among 5th graders to continue their formal study of Hebrew when they move into 6th grade.   

Shinshinim are not trained teachers, however they prepare and run a wide range of Israel and holiday related programs. They function as “intern teachers” and interact with students during formal and informal learning times, such as assemblies, arrivals, recess, and aftercare. The Shinshinim that work at the Brandeis School are highly motivated to “teach” Hebrew throughout the school, as they see and feel how their leadership impacts student motivation. 

This year The Brandeis School has had one full-time and one part-time Shinshinit, Lia and Avya. Both Shinshiniyot work with 4 Hebrew teachers as well as with Debby, infusing the spirit of Israel throughout the school. The Middle School Hebrew teachers work with the shiniyot an average of 3 times a week, in the different classes and most teachers spend some of their prep time mentoring the Shinshinim, working with them on their ideas, and helping them adapt their ideas to a language class environment. By way of example: the Shinishinim don’t just get to teach a new, trendy Israeli song. They learn to give context, teach vocabulary, and help students integrate the new vocabulary into their own receptive and productive language skills.   

When this academic year ends and Lia and Avia return to Israel to begin their army service, they will be able to apply their new skills to their service. No doubt they will employ some recently acquired teaching skills from their year as a Shinshiniyot at The Brandeis School of San Francisco. 

For more information on effective utilization of Shinshinim in Hebrew ool classrooms, contact Debby Arzt-Mor at darzt-mor@sfbrandeis.org. Click HERE or more information on bringing Shinshinim to your school and community. 

In Memphis, Tennessee, Israeli Music Soothes Bornblum’s Soul

Music quite naturally stands at the core of learning at the Jewish day school in the heart of Memphis, Tennessee. After all, the city of Memphis is anchored by “Graceland,” the legendary home of Elvis Presley, of blessed memory, arguably one of the greatest American songwriters, singers, and performers of all time. The Bornblum Jewish Community Day School is nourished by both Israel’s and Tennessee’s deep wells of lyrical and liturgical inspiration.  

Since Israel was brutally attacked by Hamas on October 7th, many new Israeli songs of inspiration, determination, mourning, and hope have been written and recorded. As fast as Israeli radio stations get new songs out to the public, Bornblum’s Hebrew faculty members integrate the new music into the teaching of Hebrew, particularly in the Middle School.  Member School Highlight sat down with Michal Almalem, Bornblum’s Judaic Studies Principal and the Hebrew teachers, Rinat Kremer, Sapir Pinto, and Maya Sharabi, to learn how Israeli music is utilized to build Hebrew language and Israeli cultural proficiency, as well as strengthen Jewish identity. MSH wanted to know more about how learning emerging Israeli music over the past 6 months has benefited the teaching of Hebrew language and touched Bornblum’s students, their parents, the wider Memphis community, and even the Israeli community of Memphis’ sister city, Shoham. 

Whereas instinct guides many good Hebrew teachers to believe that learning the Hebrew words and the beautiful melodies of Israeli music will bring students closer to Israel, and that learning some of the vocabulary will bring them even closer, the Hebrew teachers at Bornblum were able to add grammatical constructs, sentence composition, and perfecting multiple drafts for deeper student learning. As first-year Members of Hebrew at the Center, they requested of their coach, Nili Pinhasi, to help the teachers connect the teaching of Israeli songs, in Hebrew, to ACTFL’s standards for second language acquisition. Once these techniques were applied to the first song, the teachers became increasingly adept at teaching Hebrew language and Israeli culture through music. 

In middle school, Rinat, Sapir, and Michal first play the music, then pull out vocabulary words that are already familiar, then add some new Hebrew vocabulary. Students then orally express and write in simple Hebrew their understanding of the meaning of the song, all while listening to the song again and again. Then the teachers introduce and teach one or two new grammatical structures that appear in the song. The next step is for the students to translate the song from its original Hebrew to English. At this point, students go back to their first Hebrew draft of the meaning of the school and improve upon it, writing a brief description of the song in English, to share with non-Hebrew speaking audiences. 

Emergent Israeli music has been incorporated into daily prayer and into community-wide Kabbalot Shabbat at Bornblum, attended by parents and grandparents. Before a song is sung at Kabbalat Shabbat, one or more of the middle school children make a short presentation, in English, about the origins and meaning of the song. The songs taught this year include: 

  • Yeish Lochamim (יש לוחמים) 
  • Im Machar Ani Meit (אם מחר אני מת) 
  • Giborai Al – (גיבורי על) by HaTikva 6, full of Hebrew vocabulary about different professions that the students already knew. 
  • Hai – the original version by Ofra Hazzah, compared and contrasted with the remix by Noa Kirel. 
  • LaTzeit MeiDika’on (לצאת מדיקאון) 

After one Kabbalat Shabbat, the song LaTzeit MeiDika’on (לצאת מדיקאון) organically became something of a schoolwide anthem, together with the video clips of soldiers coming back to their families after long stints in Gaza. The students were then challenged: the first student to memorize the entire first verse would get to sing it the following week as a solo. By the following week, the entire school had learned the chorus and one student sang the first verse as a solo. Today, every student at Bornblum can sing the entire first verse. In March, when visitors came to Memphis from their twin city of Shoham, they were invited to hear the Bornblum students sing this song and were overcome with emotion to hear these American children singing this song. 

At another Kabbalat Shabbat assembly, there was a display of ceramic hearts, created by the students, engraved with the names of each of the hostages, with a red balloon attached to each heart. When over 100 hostages returned home, each ceramic heart was given to the freed captive, creating a powerful and meaningful bond. The distribution of the hearts to returning hostages were coordinated through Bornblum’s “sister school” in Shoham. 

The war has tightened ties between Soham’s and Bornblum’s middle school students, who have been paired up as WhatsApp buddies. To practice correct writing skills, the Bornblum students write in Hebrew and the Shoham students write back in English. They also make voice recordings to send back and forth, recording, blushing, erasing, and recording again, until their messages meet their own expectations of what is acceptable to send. When the Bornblum 8th graders travel to Israel in May, they will spend 2 full days with their friends in Shoham. 

Maya Sharabi is the only member of the Hebrew department who does not teach in the middle school. As an early learning specialist, she wants her 1st and 2nd grade students to experience the emotions of the war through music without scaring them. She returned to a classic Israeli childrens’ song, “Eretz Yisrael Sheli.” While teaching the vocabulary, grammatical structures, and music of this Hebrew song, she focused on the educational messages, including the need to rebuild, repave, and replant what was destroyed by Hamas in Israel, and that our brothers and sisters in Israel do these things with love and filled with hope for the future. 

Much of what Bornblum’s Hebrew teachers undertook would have happened whether they were Hebrew at the Center members or not. Their faculty is dedicated and strong, their relationship with the city of Shoham is well-established, and music is deep in the souls of every resident of Elvis’ hometown, Memphis, Tennessee. However, learning and incorporating the ACTFL scale and mindfully teaching Hebrew through authentic Israeli cultural materials has given the teachers a professional framework upon which to turn this terrible moment in Israeli history into specific growth opportunities in Hebrew language acquisition. 

Building an Oasis of Jewish Joy: The Story of the Adelson Campus

Close your eyes and imagine being a child in the middle of a desert, growing up and being educated in an oasis of Jewish joy. What picture comes to mind?

Your imagination may have taken you to one of many communities in Israel. Or, it may have taken you to the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Educational Campus, a community day school in Las Vegas, Nevada, where close to 700 children from age 18 months to 18 years, of diverse backgrounds, receive a world-class education in General and Judaic Studies, in English and in Hebrew.

Hebrew at the Center’s Member School Highlight sat down with the Head of School, Alli Abrahamson, and the lower school’s Hebrew leader, Dina Rudaizky, to learn about their focused efforts to strengthen the Hebrew language program at their oasis known as the Adelson Campus

Knowing that their community wished to take a comprehensive approach to growing Hebrew language learning at the Adelson Campus, their multi-year partnership with Hebrew at the Center began in the spring of 2023. In turning to Hebrew at the Center, their goal was to establish Adelson Campus’ own K-5 scope and sequence, based on the ACTFL standards for teaching of foreign languages, which would lead their students to balanced competency in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Luckily, they already had on board excellent teachers who were open to learning, and who are appreciative that the school was willing to invest in their professional growth as teachers of Hebrew language.

Now close your eyes again and imagine building a house in that desert. You’d first need to envision the house and how it fits into the unique landscape. Then you’d need to develop an architectural plan. Only then could you design the spaces within the house, such as kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms, created by utilizing commercially available components, such as cabinets, lighting, and furnishings.

The process of restructuring Adelson Campus’ Hebrew program began with coming together to develop a bold yet realistic vision for Hebrew language at this particular school, in this particular place. Then came the creation the “architectural plans,” what we call “scope and sequence,” before undertaking the design of rooms, what we call instructional units, utilizing commercially available components, otherwise known as published curriculum.

Throughout the summer of 2023, Dina Rudaitsky worked with her coach, a senior educator from Hebrew at the Center, to developed Adelson Campus’ scope and sequence for the lower school, the architectural plans of education. The next step, beginning in the fall of 2023, was designing each “room,” or instructional unit. For this phase, all lower school Hebrew teachers received coaching from a Hebrew at the Center coach to develop a complete unit plan for their own grade level, including all aspects of language instruction – reading, writing, listening, and speaking – as well as formative and summative assessment of student learning. Adelson Campus’ teacher-developed units incorporate commercially available curricular materials from Nifla’ot (Matach) and Haverim B’Ivrit, and are assembled to align with the blueprint, that is, Adelson Campus’ unique scope and sequence. The plan is that after being carefully coached through the first unit, Hebrew teachers will become more independent in developing subsequent units of instruction.

Thanks to having received Adelson Campus’ unique scope and sequence, teachers know the details of what students need to learn and achieve over time. They can utilize the published materials as components to reach their iterative goals, not just teach what comes next in the textbook series.

Adelson Campus’ reimagined Hebrew language program is a work in progress. They are, after all, a campus, not a house. As a nursery through 12th grade school, there are many more houses to build in this desert landscape. If all goes as planned, in a few years, when you close your eyes and imagine that oasis of Jewish joy in the middle of the desert, it will be much harder to discern if that oasis is in Israel or in Nevada.

Bilingual English-Hebrew PBL Bring Joy To Learning at Denver Jewish Day School

Denver Jewish Day School has a long and proud history as a member of Hebrew at the Center. Over the years, the status of both Hebrew language and the Hebrew teaching faculty have risen in stature in this K-12 community day school in the Mile-High City. Today, secular and Hebrew language studies flourish together, on equal footing, side-by-side but also intertwined, most notably through PBL units, meaning Project Based Learning or Project Based Learning. Either way, PBL is a student-centered pedagogy that involves a dynamic classroom approach in which it is believed that students acquire deeper knowledge through active exploration of areas of personal interest or real-world challenges and problems. PBL units involve the whole self and culminate in written and oral presentations and/or exhibitions, in which students can share their expertise and answer clarifying and probing questions, in real time, from members of their audience. Denver JDS is renowned among Jewish schools for their commitment to bilingual PBL units. 

Member School Highlights sat down with the lower school principal, Elana Shapiro, the lower school Hebrew Coordinator, Ravit Eldar, and the 2nd and 3rd grade Hebrew teacher, Elena Shtutman, to learn how Hebrew language instruction at Denver Jewish Day School continues to evolve and why PBL is such a source of true joy for students and faculty alike. 

Years back Denver Jewish Day School made the pioneering decision to invest serious thought, time, and funding for a customized, multi-year PD program for their Hebrew language staff through Hebrew at the Center. They went “all in” with the equivalent to what is now referred to as “Package 3: Best Recommended Value Package.” Around this time, Elana Shapiro became the elementary school principal and the lower division Hebrew Coordinator, Ravit Eldar, set out to earn a master’s degree in Hebrew language instruction at Middlebury College. Such intensive professional development led to significantly increased expertise in Hebrew language teaching and learning for the entire lower school Hebrew faculty. Maintaining basic membership, year after year, which includes some one-on-one coaching hours with their long-time and beloved HATC coach, Hamutal Keinan allows the Hebrew faculty to continue to refresh, renew, and sharpen their knowledge at a reasonable cost. 

Once the intensive work of professionalizing Hebrew teaching and learning at Denver JDS was well underway, interest and enthusiasm grew among secular studies teachers and subject specialists to collaborate with their Hebrew language partners in planning PBL units. As principal, Elana Shapiro was deeply committed to PBL, but she also gave the Hebrew and secular studies teachers agency in figuring out what concepts and topics would work well as bilingual units. Elana gave the teachers the gift of time, as she reorganized the daily schedule so that English and Hebrew teachers would have simultaneous prep periods. Teachers’ good intentions are worthless if there is no time to collaborate to create PBL units, and Elana made it happen. Currently, there are between two and three PBL units per grade, some that emanate from secular studies, and others from Judaic and Israel Studies. Examples of Judaic and Israel studies based PBL units are the Siddur Celebration in second grade, the Jerusalem Project in 3rd grade, Israeli Communities in 4th grade, and Israeli Inventions in 5th grade. 

As an example of a PBL that originated in the English language arts curriculum, Elena describes the second grade’s “Monsters Project,” a fruitful collaboration between the English and Hebrew teachers, and an imaginative and enjoyable leap forward in the writing and oral presentation skills of seven-year-olds. In their minds, and while workshopping ideas with their peers, each student created their imaginary monster and then developed their monster into a well-rounded, believable being: physically, emotionally, and cognitively. Each monster would have a personality, demeanor, look, likes, dislikes, moods, favorite foods, and hobbies. The vocabulary needed to develop their monsters was based on the daily conversations conducted in Hebrew class beginning in kindergarten, in which students described themselves in Hebrew and listened to their classmates’ self-descriptions. Through the Monster Project, students moved from first-person to third-person, and in dozens of creative ways from describing people to narrating the life of monsters. By unleashing their imaginations, learning more and more Hebrew vocabulary became an absolute necessity. How else could the students’ monsters become fantastical? 

Students conducted consultations with their peers and their teacher. Rough drafts were improved upon until the final version of their monsters’ descriptions were ready to be presented at exhibition, requiring artistic, written, and oral skills, as well as strong reading and aural skills to learn about their friends’ monsters. In other words, through imagining and expressing crazy, angry, and silly monsters, all four Hebrew language skill sets – listening, speaking, writing, and reading – grew stronger and stronger, side by side, in collaboration, but not in competition with English language skills. In fact, Elena Shtutman made very clear that students were NOT to translate their English writing, rather she encouraged her students to include different details in their Hebrew presentation. 

Topic-wise, next up for the second graders at the Denver Jewish Day School is a PBL unit on animals, which will rely more on reading-based research and less on imagination. It will require re-using the Hebrew and English vocabulary that children developed through the Monster Project, while also requiring the acquisition of new terminology. After all, just like monsters, animals have personalities, demeanors, likes, dislikes, and looks, but they also have habitats, ecosystems, and the need for healthy diets. Inevitably, fewer animals than monsters will be purple, pink, and green, but the students’ thinking, reasoning, vocabularies, writing, and speaking will continue to grow…bilingually. 

As part of Denver JDS’s ongoing PD through Hebrew at the Center, this year’s coaching hours with Hamutal Keinan are focused on building a scope and sequence for Hebrew grammar. Inevitably, future PBL units will include an increased focus on building written and spoken grammar skills. The students will not even notice. They will just think they are creating fantastical monsters! 

To learn more about effective interdisciplinary PBL’s, contact Elana Shapiro, Lower School Principal, or Ravit Eldar, Lower School Hebrew Coordinator at Denver Jewish Day School. To learn more about one-on-one coaching, professional development, and the benefits of membership at Hebrew at the Center, contact Dr. Cindy Dolgin. 

Hillel Day School’s Journey: Elevating Hebrew Language Education Standards

Like at all Jewish day schools, Hebrew is crucial to the heart and soul of Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit. “[Hebrew] drives a big part of who we are as a Jewish day school. Hebrew is connected to our identity and Hebrew connects us both back historically and forward to our future,” says Rabbi David Fain, Rav Beit HaSefer at Hillel. The idea, however, of a professionalized journey toward Hebrew language proficiency began five years ago, as a result of a “self-study of the curriculum,” in conversations between Rabbi Fain and Amira Soleimani, Director of Judaic Studies Curriculum and Instruction, and the decision to tackle strengthening Hebrew language education as Item #1. What would it take to not just teach Hebrew, but to teach Hebrew as a second language, based on standards at the highest level? Over the next two years, Fain and Soleimani spoke to experts, learned that indeed, international standards (called ACTFL) existed, tried various approaches, and concluded that their most promising path to bringing Hebrew language instruction to the same level of professionalism as general studies subjects required a long-term, deep, and committed relationship with Hebrew at the Center.  Changing the paradigm also required funding over several years to receive Embedded Educational Services from Hebrew at the Center.

Currently, Hillel Day School and Hebrew at the Center are in the midst of the third year of that fruitful relationship. It has not been without its ups than downs. It took time to learn what the possibilities were, to galvanize the Hebrew faculty, secure funding, and build trusting relationships with the Hebrew at the Center pedagogues. “When we started we did not know that there is a real field of second language acquisition and that Hebrew is a part of it. We had to educate ourselves at many levels – the administration, the teachers, the parents – about what’s out there,” says Rabbi Fain. This past week, Hebrew at the Center’s Dr. Esty Gross, Chief of Staff and Director of Education, and Meirav Levy, Hebrew pedagogy coach, spent three energized and impactful days at Hillel Day School, working with the Hebrew faculty as a whole, grade levels, and individual teachers. 

What is Rabbi Fain most proud of? That Hillel now has clear standards for Hebrew that they can measure and hold themselves up to. He is also proud that the Hebrew faculty has a pedagogical language around second language acquisition and Hebrew learning that they did not have before. Most of all, he is proud of students’ Hebrew language outcomes, and that joy and enthusiasm has mushroomed up around Hebrew throughout the school. 

Elyse was one of seven Hillel students honored at the 2024 Heseg ceremony

Hillel’s parents and recent alumni delighted in their harvest, and the Hillel Hebrew faculty and administration celebrated the fruits of their labor at the International HESEG Ceremony on January 14th. (Tu B’Shvat-inspired metaphors are hard-to-resist at this time of year!) For the first time in the school’s history, seven Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit’s 9th alumni scored high enough on the AVANT Stamp assessment while in 8th grade to be honored at the Annual HESEG Ceremony, having met the international standards to earn the Global Seal of Biliteracy. This credential has a unique serial number for each awardee and can be presented on college applications and for college credit. 

Mazal Tov to the students, their parents, the strong and heroic Hebrew faculty, and the visionary administration of Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit! 

(Is your school thinking about taking a deep dive into Hebrew language standards? Contact Rabbi David Fain at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit to get his perspective, or Dr. Cindy Dolgin, Director of Membership at Hebrew at the Center.) 

Professional Development for Hebrew Language Instruction: The Long Game at Bialik Hebrew Day School

Recent Member Highlights have focused on new (first year) members of Hebrew at the Center, but this week, we point the spotlight on Bialik Hebrew Day School of Toronto, a large early childhood through 8th grade school with whom Hebrew at the Center has enjoyed a three-year relationship through membership and additional educational services. By focusing in on just one specific curriculum development project of just one member of Bialik’s large Hebrew language faculty, Member Highlight readers will more fully grasp the intentional model of professional development (PD) over time, from large group PD to small group learning, to one-on-one coaching. 

Yasmine Merri, born and raised in the Haifa area, is a veteran teacher at the Bialik Hebrew Day School. In addition to engaging in professional development offered through universities and other professional develop (PD) providers, over several years, Yasmine participated in various webinars, as well as small group curriculum development projects with Hebrew at the Center. As Hebrew at the Center Members who have added some additional educational services, Yasmine had also participated in some small-group coaching with Hebrew at the Center’s coach, Meirav Levy in the past.  Yasmine thought she – and ultimately the Hebrew department and its students – would benefit from a more intensive coaching experience between Yasmine and Meirav to develop a 4th grade complete unit of study, from beginning to end.  

Before beginning this unit development, Yasmine had participated in curriculum development with her peers and Hebrew at the Center coaches, including Meirav. Yasmine was already familiar with Hebrew at the Center’s templates for Hebrew language curriculum development, available in HATC’s Members-Only Member Zone. Yasmine recognized Meirav as a systematic and organized thinker and approachable person who showed respect for the scope and sequence already in place at Bialik, and for the experience and humanity of its teaching faculty. Now, in the third year of working with Hebrew at the Center, Yasmine was ready and eager to get to work one-on-one with Meirav as her expert “guide-on-the-side,” who would not think of this as a one-unit project, but would truly help Yasmine grow, experiment, learn from mistakes, try again, extend, and internalize all of the disparate elements of becoming an embedded expert in Hebrew curriculum development for Bialik. 

What does “beginning to end unit development” entail? Systematic, customized curricular development begins with a deep understanding of students’ prior knowledge and the development of the school and department’s high level goals before defining more granular objectives for a grade and unit. It entails taking the time for overall design before beginning to develop lessons and activities.  

Although Meirav had already been coaching at Bialik for several years, she reviewed Bialik’s scope and sequence documents, this time through the lens of how the new 4th grade unit would fit in, build upon, and complement the overall objectives of the school. It took five coaching sessions over the course of time between Yasmine and Meirav to undergo high-level planning and design for the new fourth grade unit. During that time, many practical and creative ideas surfaced on the micro level on how to implement the high-level plan, so these ideas for activities were documented and put aside, so as to be accessible after the curriculum design phase, during the actual lesson plan writing stage.  

As of now the design phase has concluded. Yasmine is currently working on writing lessons, activities, and formative and summative assessments of students’ attainment of knowledge and skills in reading, oral understanding, writing, and speaking. Yasmine is consulting with her fellow teachers and her direct supervisor, and when ready, coaching with Meirav will resume, which will also involve final editing.  

Adi Barel, Associate Director of Jewish Studies, who oversees Hebrew language teaching and learning at Bialik, is clear that the right way to achieve proficiency is by creating in-house curriculum, based on Bialik’s goals, resources, and everything that comes before and after. The right people to develop that curriculum are Bialik’s own teachers, and to do so properly, they need scaffolding and professional support. During this, the third year of working with Hebrew at the Center, those who were most actively engaged in the previous two years of professional development were given the opportunity to work one-on-one with a Hebrew at the Center coach, to take the theory and experimentation of the past two years and to develop new units for Bialik. Yasmine is one of those ambitious members of the Hebrew faculty. Says Adi, “Yasmine paved her own way.” Yasmine previously completed a Master’s Degree at Middlebury College’s Hebrew language school, where on a theoretical level, she internalized what the proficiency approach to language learning should be. Back at Bialik, Yasmine expressed interest in taking on more responsibility and leadership. This year, Yasmine’s career took a mighty step forward when she became a full-time curriculum developer for Bialik. It took years for the school to get to a place of readiness to embrace the proficiency approach, and all along the way, Yasmine was preparing to be a leader of that change. Hebrew at the Center, and Meirav Levy in particular, are honored to participate in bridging the theoretical concepts to the practical underpinnings of the proficiency approach, for Yasime Merri and for other members of Bialik’s Hebrew language faculty. 

For more information about Bialik Hebrew Day School’s intentional approach to Hebrew language professional development, curriculum development, and proficiency approach, reach out to Adi Barel, Associate Director of Jewish Studies. For more information about educational services provided by Hebrew at the Center, reach out to Dr. Cindy Dolgin, Director of Membership and Data. 

Hebrew Immersion Brings Judaism to Life at Richmond Jewish Day School

“I’m not sure I’m the right person for you to speak to. You see, I don’t speak Hebrew.” Thus began a delightful conversation with Sabrina Bhojani, Head of School of the Richmond Jewish Day School, who was immediately assured that she is in excellent company, as more and more Heads of Jewish schools are brought onboard to the top leadership positions following strong and successful careers in public or independent schools. 

Three years ago, Bhojani made the move from leadership at a public school in British Columbia to a whole new world of Jewish day school education, bringing her wealth of experience with the BC curriculum, enthusiasm for child-centered teaching and learning, love of children, respect and appreciation for teachers, and commitment to fostering a warm and welcoming Jewish community.  

Richmond JDS offers a robust half-day immersion program in the primary grades, kindergarten through fourth grade, where in addition to learning Hebrew and Judaic studies in Hebrew, specials such as design skills and technology, physical education, music, and art are also taught in Hebrew by Israeli teachers. The Judaic and Hebrew faculty members have been with the school for quite a few years and while recruitment of new teachers in the greater Vancouver area can been difficult, RJDS benefits from strong teacher retention and professional satisfaction. 

How does a Head of School observe and assess classes being conducted in a language she does not understand? After many years of supervising teachers in English language classrooms, Bhojani is fascinated by the opportunity to focus on body language of both teachers and students, gauging the engagement, enthusiasm, and joy of learners. She described that since Hebrew isn’t just any language but also such a rich source of identity, a source of a sense of belonging, and a sense of safety, observing the students while blocking out the meaning of the words gives a visceral analysis of a teacher’s efficacy. 

Working with Hebrew at the Center through the Pacific Northwest “Cascadia Project” has been tremendous for the Richmond JDS’s Hebrew teachers, who now have a professional community of like-minded professional Hebrew educators from whom to gain new and fresh ideas. The exchange of tips and techniques from fellow Hebrew teachers from other schools in Greater Vancouver, Portland, and Seattle is as valuable as the learning from Hebrew language coaches and experts. This combination enables the teachers to upgrade and sharpen the Hebrew curriculum across all grades. Sabrina Bhojani is also happy to have met a cohort of colleagues in Jewish day school leadership, from whom she, too, can learn, while also sharing from her deep well of experience in general education. While RJDS is a small school, almost 100% of its graduates matriculate to the King David High School in Vancouver, which makes the relationships among the teachers and educational leaders across schools all the more valuable in their corner of the continent. 

War Brings Shift from ‘Love and Interest’ to ‘Pride and Intensive’ in Hebrew Learning at Portland Jewish Academy

Hebrew has always been a highlight of the day for students at PJA, the Portland Jewish Academy, in Portland, Oregon, but ever since Hamas’ inconceivable, evil, and vicious attack on Israeli civilians along the Gaza border, triggering a war between Israel and Hamas, creating connections to Israel through joyful Hebrew learning has become even more important and relevant.  

At PJA, the formal Hebrew language acquisition happens through immersive play, song, movement, and all forms of joy. For that, PJA is grateful to their dynamic, active, and joy-filled Hebrew Kindergarten teacher, Maya Katri, who communicates with the students through Hebrew language and broad, happy smiles. 

As was the case in many Jewish day schools, PJA’s original model had Hebrew and Judaic studies subjects taught by the same teacher in all lower school grades. Over time the administration has come to see the benefits of matching the right-fit teacher for each subject, and that in some cases, it is preferable to have native Hebrew speakers teaching Hebrew but not necessarily teaching Judaic studies, and visa versa.  Adopting this flexible mindset was a significant philosophical and programmatic switch, and one that has proven to benefit both Judaic knowledge and identify, as well as Hebrew language education of PJA students.  This year, the best fit is for 1st, 2nd, and 4th grade classes have separate Hebrew and Judaic studies teachers, while in kindergarten, 3rd, and 5th grades, the best fit is having the same educator teaching both Hebrew and Judaic Studies.  

On a recent visit to PJA, Hebrew at the Center Senior Education Consultant, Dr. Carmit Burstyn, was wowed by the energy and vibrancy of Maya Katri’s first grade classroom. “The students are active every single moment, they are fully engaged in their learning, and Hebrew is everywhere!” reported Dr. Burstyn. 

According to PJA’s principal, Merrill Hendin, that love of Hebrew is evident throughout the school, not just in Maya Katri’s classes. “The Hebrew teachers are quite skilled, and the student in all grade levels are genuinely happy when the Hebrew teacher comes into their classroom. During Hebrew learning, there is rigger, but it is not intense.” “This is why,” according to the Jewish Life and Judaic Studies Director, Amy Katz, “Hebrew is such a joyful time of the day for our students.” The result is that students remain interested in Hebrew language learning all through their years at PJA. The goal is for PJA students to have a deep connection to their Jewish identity and to Israel, and Hebrew language is the vital connector to both. PJA prides itself on a high percentage of alumni who spend a semester in Israel during high school or during college, and when they study abroad in Israel PJA alumni arrive at Ulpan with a strong foundation of Hebrew upon which they can build. 

PJA students’ “love and interest” in Hebrew language accelerated to “pride and intensity,” exactly one month ago to the day. As details of the surprise attacks on Simchat Torah emerged, the joy associated with Hebrew language fell under a veil of sadness and darkness, particularly for the older students who are more aware of the shocking triggers to Israel’s war against Hamas. Students’ usual positive vibes for Hebrew, combined with deep engagement with Israel and Judaic studies, melded into a different kind of high energy, more akin to determination than to joy. PJA Middle School students became highly driven to do their best work when writing letters of solidarity and encouragement, in Hebrew, to peers in Israel. They are proud that among all the Jewish children in Portland, Oregon, they – the students at PJA – are the lucky ones who can step up in comforting and encouraging the children of Israel, in Hebrew. 

Amy Katz and the Hebrew teachers in her department are excited and appreciative to be first-year members of Hebrew at the Center, and truly treasure the well-developed, well-thought-out, and research-based professional development and coaching that they are now receiving from their project leader, Hebrew at the Center’s, Dr. Carmit Burstyn. Amy has wanted PJA to work with Hebrew at the Center for several years, but the administration found that doing so was financially out of reach for a school of 170 students. Thanks to the Cascadia Project, which includes 12 schools from the Pacific Northwest located in the cities of Portland Oregon, Seattle Washington, and Vancouver British Columbia, PJA has been receiving professional development services from Hebrew at the Center for their Hebrew language faculty since June, 2023. 

Stay tuned as over time we track the Hebrew language trajectory of Portland Jewish Academy. 

Luria Academy of Brooklyn Students Share Messages in Hebrew, Straight From the Heart

On the first day back to school following the horrific attacks on October 7, 2023, teachers, staff, students, and parents were in shock. Perhaps none more than Hebrew language teachers, most of whom are Israeli and have loved ones back home in Israel, in danger’s way. The dilemma of how to keep one’s composure in front of students, continue to teach at an appropriately high level, and monitor the well-being of family members was a lot to juggle.

Bright rays of light have been emerging and continue to emerge through projects initiated by Hebrew language teachers that incorporate living Jewish history and developing more and more Hebrew language skills in real-time. 

Take, for example, Luria Academy of Brooklyn, a member-school of Hebrew at the Center, whose middle school approached its response to the crisis in Israel in a way fully aligned with the school’s ethos, under the leadership of Hamutal Keinan, Instructional Leader for Upper School Hebrew at longtime Hebrew at the Center Coach. Read on for words from Luria’s website, in italics, interwoven with the mission-aligned steps they took to create and send to this video of love to children in Israel. 

We champion questions over quiet, and initiative over inaction.  

On October 10, students had a lot of questions, mostly asked of their Hebrew teachers in English. At Luria, one Hebrew lesson per week is dedicated to Israel history, conducted in Hebrew, but October 10th was a different kind of day, so teachers welcomed questions in English. After school hours, Luria’s teachers recorded their students’ questions, translated them to Hebrew and planned the next few days’ lessons, incorporating vocabulary they never imagined the need to teach. 

We teach children not to be afraid to stumble because they are learning to pick themselves back up. 

After oral and written lessons, students worked independently on writing and speaking their questions, stumbled to understand the answers, and compose spontaneous prayers in their hearts. They stumbled more, tried again, and they each worked with at least some different words than their peers, because they each wrestled with their own thoughts, fears, and reactions. Teachers circulated, guiding each student to put their feelings into Hebrew words. 

Our job is to create a strong framework, then peel back the scaffolding as the children become more independent – this way we can turn potential into power and growth into strength. 

While coming to grips with their emotions and the ever-growing language skills to express their feelings about this catastrophe, the students at Luria recorded spoken messages to children in Israel, in Hebrew, messages to children they do not know, and made the point of saying their names and sending their love and support to the children of the Gaza Envelope, from a faraway place called Brooklyn.

We have created a community where diversity is a chance to learn, and empathy replaces judgement. We are a community of warmth, confidence, and understanding. 

While watching the video, you will see the empathy and emotion on the faces of the Luria Academy students which is clearly visible. These are not stiff children, parroting back what they had learned. These are empathetic emerging Hebrew speakers expressing their warmth and understanding, yes, with confidence, but first and foremost with fluency and empathy.

We want every child to feel empowered to learn and grow freely, and we are dedicated to building the curious and courageous leaders of tomorrow. 

Luria teachers taught an array of vocabulary and grammatical structures, based entirely on the students’ questions and giving students the tools needed to uncover answers to their own questions, in Hebrew, sharing their empathy with those in Israel who have been traumatized. Their hearts are broken for the children in captivity who are not currently empowered to learn and grow freely, and they create this video to give strength to children currently displaced from their homes, trying to learn while school is disrupted by war. Questions, so many questions. 

Luria Academy students were then video-recorded, saying their own words of comfort. Some stumble, and that’s okay. Accents differ from the girl who arrived from Israel this past summer, to the boy who has never been to Israel and has no Israeli relatives. No one reads or memorizes a script written by their teachers. Their Hebrew words have been embedded in their hearts and come back out from their mouths. They are living the Luria Academy ethos of becoming young leaders of the Jewish people, which includes developing fluency in the language of the Jewish people, one step at a time, in times of joy, and in times of sorrow.