Batia Horsky teaching a Hebrew class at Lowell High School in 2013. (Photo/Sam Lauter)
Batia Horsky teaching a Hebrew class at Lowell High School in 2013. (Photo/Sam Lauter)

For now, Hebrew program back on at Lowell High School

The Hebrew program at San Francisco’s Lowell High School is fully funded again, at least for now.

In 2015, J. and the student newspaper reported that the program had run out of funding, and that Hebrew 1 would not be offered starting the following school year. Hebrew 2 and 3 would be continued for students already in the program.

The plan was to start phasing out Hebrew entirely. But with support from the Lowell Alumni Association’s general fund and the initiative of one alum in particular, enough money was raised to reinstitute Hebrew 1 and keep the program going. It needs $35,000 annually to stay afloat.

Ever since the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund ended its support in 2012, the program has been in doubt.

In 2012, Lowell alum Sam Lauter stepped up, soliciting donations from alumni, outside donors and local synagogues. Alumni Association executive director Terry Abad described Lauter’s “masterful” ability to connect to various funders, some with no direct connection to the high school. The Koret Foundation, Robert Friend and the Friend Family Foundation, Jerry and Barbara Babin, Valerie Sopher, Jack Klein, Scott Horwitz and Missy Mastel and Dr. Ingrid Tauber have donated in recent years, in addition to Congregations Beth Sholom, Sha’ar Zahav, Sherith Israel and Emanu-El.

But Lauter hadn’t intended to continue his efforts indefinitely. “Sam worked like a dog on this, and after doing it for a couple years he said, ‘I’ve done my share on this and I’m going to hand it back,’ ” Abad said. “And he stepped away, which is totally understandable. No one expected him to do this forever.”

Since then, finding funding has not been easy.

“Ever since the Goldman fund ceased, it has been a difficult touch-and-go situation every year,” Abad said. “We never feel in great shape.”

The program, which has been around for more than 20 years, once received public funding, but when the number of students dropped below the minimum requirement of 20 per class, that funding ceased. In recent years, Hebrew classes have had fewer than 15 students.

Unfortunately, small classes generally mean less funding, and less funding means fewer students.

“If I’m entering as a freshman at Lowell,” Abad said, “selecting Hebrew could be considered a little bit risky, because no one is making the promise we will have the funding for two or three consecutive years.”

Samuel Rothmann, who graduated from Lowell in 2011, took Hebrew and French there as a student.

“I wanted to understand the language of the people I associate with,” he said. “Now when I go to synagogue and pray it actually makes sense.”

He has since made aliyah and now lives in Herzliya. He did not know the program had briefly run out of funding two years ago, but he was not surprised.

“There were always rumors it would lose funding the following year,” he said. “The fear always came to naught, but it would be great if it wasn’t there in the first place.”

Rothmann said this contributed to a “vicious cycle” in which students often did not enroll in the program because they thought funds would run out, and they would then only be able to take Hebrew for one or two years. Starting a new language in junior or senior year is not particularly appealing, so students who may have chosen Hebrew opted instead for Spanish, Mandarin or another language that attracts a sizeable number of students.

While Abad described the 2015 announcement that Hebrew would be phased out as a “false alarm,” nonetheless the program’s future remains in doubt.

Funding for the upcoming academic year “is hoped/expected to come from various individual and foundation donors as well as from general Lowell Alumni Association funds,” Abad wrote in an email. He said the alumni association continues to look for willing funders. He can be reached at [email protected].

Hannah Jannol
Hannah Jannol

Hannah Jannol is J.'s summer 2018 intern.