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.