The importance of learning Hebrew

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What better way to bring American Jews and Israelis closer together than to teach our younger generation modern Hebrew? Fortunately, many Jewish day schools have come to that realization.

For too long, some day schools concentrated on biblical Hebrew. Their graduates read the siddur with ease and many even read Torah — but put them in Israel and they couldn't hold a conversation.

It would be like walking the streets of America and saying, "Lo and behold." Observers might know what you were saying but they would think you were somewhat demented.

That's not how things should be for graduates of a Jewish day school when they visit Israel.

Many of us encourage our children to go to the Jewish state on confirmation trips or for vacations. We want them to grow up with an appreciation of what that country means to the Jewish people and to our difficult history.

Speaking the language of Israel is critical to that understanding. It's a persuasive demonstration of our unity with our Israeli friends and relatives.

While it is easy to vacation in Israel and speak only English, a visit is made that much richer by the ability to speak Hebrew. It's no different from going to Paris and being able to converse in French. Shamefully, more of us know French than the language of the Jewish people.

Now the children in many of our Jewish day schools are being immersed in Hebrew. In some of their classes, it is the only language spoken. What better way to learn?

Unfortunately, few of our children go to Jewish day schools. The challenge then is for our afterschool synagogue schools to find a way to integrate Hebrew conversation into their limited instructional hours.

But it is happening, and often the students are having fun learning. Yes, fun in religious school. We'll tell you more about that in an upcoming issue of the Bulletin.