As We Enter 5772: A Look at The Hebrew Project

In January, 2010, this wikispace was "born," stimulating a national dialog on the question of Hebrew education in supplementary school settings. Since its launch, almost 150 Jewish educators from across North America (and even across the Atlantic Ocean) have become members of this wiki; others are assumed to be lurkers, i.e., reading postings and updates, but have not formally joined.
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Below are some key ideas from The Hebrew Project’s wiki that have grabbed the attention of a number of us:
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>>Powerful learning occurs for students when there is congruence between the core values of the congregation and the Hebrew focus chosen for the school.
See Rabbi Nicole Greninger’s article in The Journal of Jewish Education //http://bit.ly/qUyW4u// and Cyd Weissman’s posting: //http://thehebrewproject.wikispaces.com/file/view/Hebrew+is+not+a+subject+to+be+taught.doc//
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>>It is helpful to differentiate between reading (which implies gaining meaning from the written word), recitation (rote singing or saying), and decoding (the blending of letter/vowel sign combinations, but without understanding). For the most part, the Hebrew programs in our supplementary schools teach recitation (through participation in t’fillah/prayer services) and decoding. We set children up for disappointment when we tell them that they will learn to read Hebrew in their four years of “Hebrew School.”
See Dr. Lifsa Schachter’s article, “Why Bonnie and Ronnie Can’t Read the Siddur,” //http://bit.ly/nIEzNh//
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>>The prayers of our people are conceptually challenging for children and the linguistic level in which they are written is hard even for native Hebrew speakers in fourth or fifth grade. In most circumstances, children learn to read (really read) a language they have been speaking all their life. We do a disservice to Hebrew and our children when we assume that teaching some shorashim (Hebrew roots), prefixes and suffixes will help our students really connect to and understand the prayers of our siddur, or help them create a prayerful or spiritual life.
See the article written by Jewish Education Center of Cleveland and Siegal College staff: //http://thehebrewproject.wikispaces.com/file/view/TEACHING+PRINCIPLES+9_11.docx//as well as the wikis: //http://WithAllOurHearts.wikispaces.com// and //http://jecchebrewprayer-avotimahot.wikispaces.com///
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>>Teachers of decoding and/or reading do a better job when they understand the basics of Hebrew orthography (i.e., how the Hebrew letters and vowels are structured and interrelate), which is different from that of English. Complementary to this, a child who understands how to divide Hebrew words into syllables (a different process from the way we do it in English) has a better chance of accurately decoding that word.
See Dr. Lifsa Schachter’s article: //http://thehebrewproject.wikispaces.com/file/view/Alphabet_and_Teaching_Hebrew_Decoding+1+14+%283%29.pdf//
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>>Educators need to create better accountability for student learning. One of the educational directors who posted on The Hebrew Projected noted that when assessing his sixth graders one-on-one, on average they could not recognize 5 Hebrew letters and/or vowel signs. This is, he said, like walking around with a pebble in one’s shoe – one can but limp when trying to decode a prayer (or anything, for that matter).
See Avram Mandel’s article: //http://thehebrewproject.wikispaces.com/file/view/Derech+HaLimud+-+WikiArticle+-+Final.docx//
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>>It is helpful to provide children with a foundation in Hebrew language, building interest, background and a personal connection to the language of the Jewish people.
See Dr. Lifsa Schachter’s article, “Why Bonnie and Ronnie Can’t Read the Siddur,” //http://bit.ly/nIEzNh//. Dr. Schachter has developed an experimental curriculum that uses the Total Physical Response (TPR) as developed by James Asher (see this video for a Spanish example: //http://youtu.be/ikZY6XpB214//). Schools that are interested in learning more and possibly experimenting with Hebrew TPR should send an email to //nmoskowitz@jecc.org//.

While number of new postings on The Hebrew Project wikispace has slowed down, some core questions emerged that are currently are being explored by some Jewish educators nationwide:
  • What message are we giving our students about Judaism as a compelling focus for their lives when it takes a full year (or more) to learn to decode Hebrew, and then most struggle with it for three to four more years before they are “freed from its grasp?”
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  • How can learning about the siddur’s prayers be taught in a developmentally appropriate and compelling way to 8-12 year olds?
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  • How might one teach Hebrew language to young children, achieving consistent understanding in only one or two days a week? And, how might one teach Hebrew language in a way that opens understanding of core Jewish vocabulary and, as appropriate, the prayers of the siddur?
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  • How can one nurture spirituality in pre-Bar/Bat Mitzvah age students using the prayers of the siddur, as well as spontaneous ones of a child’s heart?
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  • Is it possible to “uncouple” the curriculum of 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade in part time Jewish educational settings from Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation? If so, with a blank slate, what kinds of Jewish education and experiences would be compelling to this age group? [This question, not for the faint-of-heart, also begs an exploration of requirements for Bar/Bat Mitzvah, as well as the on-the-bimah-event, itself.]
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  • How might we leverage the strengths of different part time Jewish educational settings (e.g., school-year programs, camps, online) on behalf of our young Jews and their families? How can we better link the silos between these settings?
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Like the proverbial story of the blind men and the elephant, each with their perceptions of the animal within their grasp, everyone who has been touched by The Hebrew Project has brought into their work different ideas from the many who contributed. The dialog and learning continue, and more voices are welcome!