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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.) 

2024 State of the Field of Hebrew Language Education Report

We are excited to share the new 2024 State of the Field Report: Hebrew Education in North American Jewish Day Schools.

This report brings together significant work of partners and stakeholders to better understand, recognize and leverage advancements in Hebrew education throughout our field. The 80-page report features aggregated and curated knowledge acquired from our field over the past 12 months.

Join Hebrew teachers, Hebrew leaders, and other school leaders for an intensive, virtual conference on Sunday, April 3, 11:30 – 3:30 EDT. 

Click here for more information and to register