Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Voices from the field

The Demand for Hebrew Learning

By Binnie Swislow

In April, educators from the Goodman Camping Initiative for Modern Israel History had the opportunity to meet with Gil Hovav, a leading culinary journalist, TV personality and great grandson of Eliezer Ben Yehuda. He captivated the group with stories of his great grandfather's life and leagacy, tales we've all heard in the history books, and also those that only a family member could possibly know and share. Eliezer's love affair with the Hebrew language and journey to become a major player in Israel's history began at a young age. When he was just 16 years old, Eliezer was caught by his parents reading Robinson Crusoe in Hebrew and found himself out on his own, traveling through Europe, to Palestine, and eventually to the revival of the Hebrew language and the founding of the State of Israel.

I share this story because the teaching of Hebrew, as a core and integral part of Jewish identity, is one that we need to continue to fight for. Recently, I was approached by Danielle Wolff, an 8th grader from Chicago, who was inspired to gather hundreds of signatures to create a Hebrew program at her future high school. She was driven to do so after a trip to Israel with Ta'am Yisrael. "While I was in Israel, I was intrigued with the Hebrew language - how Israelis talked so fast and so fluently," Wolff said. "It was something I don't get to hear at home."

So Danielle began by speaking to the Language Director at the high school, which was followed by a community petition to gather the necessary signatures and support to make it a reality.

“What really is amazing is how Hebrew can bring a community together," said Wolff. "It isn’t just me who wants to learn Hebrew; it’s my neighbors, classmates and teachers."

There is a growing demand for Hebrew in public high schools, and it's our responsibility to certify knowledgable and passionate Hebrew teachers and to provide the framework and resources for Hebrew learning to stay ahead of this demand. Unlike Eliezer's journey to revive the Hebrew language, the growth of Hebrew in America shouldn't be a result of the inability to find it. Rather, it's a proactive approach that requires our forward efforts now more than ever.