One of the main questions being asked by Jewish leaders and educators today is, how do we create long- term, meaningful connections between Jewish People and communities around the world in a time of physical distance and a lack of cohesion of Jewish expressions?
In an address to this question, over the course of 2019 Melitz has been working on developing the “Sfat Am” program. The aim is to create awareness as to the importance of the Hebrew language as a key element in and of itself in connecting Jews to one another and strengthening Jewish identity and sense of belonging. As one leading Jewish American educator put it, “Today in North America, we celebrate 100 years of failure in teaching Hebrew as a second language”.
This statement is inaccurate, but is inspired by a sense of deep concern. The questions which automatically come to mind upon hearing it are, why teach children to read a language they do not understand? Should Hebrew be a “second language” for Jews? What is the purpose of teaching Hebrew to children who do not see its relevance or any future use for it?
Hebrew is not a second language, it’s a way in which Jews should talk. It is key to our culture and we should teach to love it. Eliezer Ben Yehuda took the Hebrew language and structurally innovated it. Like the Jewish pioneer that he was, he drew the cultural anchor of Hebrew from out of a narrow space, and leveraged it in the name of a broader goal- that of turning a people from centuries of oppression into a People rebirthed. He understood that the Hebrew language is crucial in enabling Jews to fulfill the promise offered by Zionism. He hoped that Hebrew could be a source of Jewish creativity and a newborn culture thousands of years old.
Can the Hebrew language be a source for the building and strengthening of connections between more and more Jews and Jewish communities? Can it empower Jews to strengthen their own sense of identities and help create a sense of commitment and belonging to the Jewish People? We at Melitz believe that this is possible if Hebrew stands alongside many other principles which we deem crucial in the achieving of these goals.
For the past few year’s, Melitz’s Educators have been working on developing programs such as “Melitzi Ivrit” and “Sfat Am”. The aim is in creating awareness of the importance of the Hebrew language as a key element in connecting Jews and strengthening three Jewish Identity and since of belonging. Here is a quote from a leading American Jewish educator that I met last year – “Today in North America, we celebrate 100 years of failure in teaching Hebrew as a second language.” This statement is not accurate, but it comes from a place of concern. For me a quote like that immediately brings me to ask questions like – Why teach children to read a language they do not understand? Should Hebrew be a “second language” for Jews? What is the purpose of teaching Hebrew to kids who do not see the relevance and future use of it? Hebrew is not a second language! It’s the way Jews should talk. It is a key to our culture and we should teach to love it. Eliezer Ben Yehuda took the Hebrew language and made a structural innovation out of it. He was a wonderful startup person and a true Jewish pioneer. He drew Hebrew an elementary cultural anchor from a narrow and precise place and leveraged it to a large and broad goal – of turning a people living for centuries in oppression and depression to a rebirth of a Nation. He understood that the Hebrew language is what is needed in order to enable the Jews to take part in the promise Zionism then offered. He hoped that Hebrew could be a creativity source for a renewed cultural like it was through thousands of years. Can the Hebrew language be a source for future connections between Jews and Jewish communities? Can the Hebrew language enable Jews to strengthen their identity and create a sense of commitment and belonging to the Jewish people? We at Melitz believe that this is possible if Hebrew is not alone. Hebrew is one component of many other actions that need to be taken.