September 30, 2007 – Targum Shlishi is helping to support Hebrew in America, a pilot program aimed at more effectively teaching and propagating the use of Hebrew in the U.S. in order to address the major problem of the decline of Hebrew in Diaspora communities. The program begins by teaching very young children, starting at age three, using an educational approach based on second language acquisition skills. This is the first organized and widespread effort in the U.S. to teach Hebrew beginning at the pre-school level.
The idea was initiated by the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, which partnered with the UJA-Federation of Northern New Jersey to develop the curriculum and implement the program. The program was launched in 2005 and so far has reached over 1,700 children in 18 schools in Bergen County, NJ, including 8 day schools, 2 congregational schools, and 5 Sunday schools, representing the entire ideological and religious range of Jewish schools in the community.
“Hebrew is the lifeblood of Jewish culture. Without it, one is a mere tourist in his own heritage,” said Wally Greene, Ph.D., director of Jewish Educational Services of the UJA-Federation of Northern New Jersey. “The idea here is to revolutionize the way Hebrew is taught. It’s a wonderful program and it’s addressing a terrible need to teach Hebrew effectively – in the past, this has not been addressed in a consistent and organized way.”
The goal of the program, Dr. Greene explained, is to begin teaching children at an early age so that by first grade, Hebrew is the natural language of instruction. That goal, he said, has been accomplished. “They’re like sponges, these kids,” he said. Each year, the program, while still teaching incoming three-year-olds, advances a year to continue teaching the students who began the program at age three. In the 2007-08 academic year, the program is being taught to students ages three through six, and is being taught in first grade for the first time.
The advantage of having the pilot program implemented in one community rather than spread out in schools across the country, is that “it creates a synergy in the community. It also becomes a communal enterprise, rather than the work of individual institutions or solo charismatic educators,” said Jerry Hochbaum, Ph.D., executive vice president of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. “Only through ‘community’ can we change the culture regarding Hebrew and add Hebrew to the cultural agenda of the Jewish people in the U.S.”
The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey was chosen as the site for the pilot program for several reasons including its strong Jewish educational system, the quality of its rabbinical leadership, and the communal support for study in and travel to Israel, Dr. Hochbaum said.
Supporting educational initiatives is a core focus of Targum Shlishi. The foundation is especially interested in programs that are replicable in other communities, as is Hebrew in America. “It is our hope that this worthy program, which is already proving so effective, is adopted by other communities in the U.S.,” said Aryeh Rubin, director of Targum Shlishi. “This is a program with the potential to change the way Hebrew is taught to an entire new generation of students, and it is our hope that other communities take note of the success of Hebrew in America and come up with the funding and resources to implement it.”
About Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and UJA-Federation of Northern New Jersey, Jewish Educational Services
The Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture is an international body dedicated to advancing Jewish cultural activities. It was established by Dr. Nahum Goldmann in 1965 with reparation funds from the government of West Germany and to date has allocated more than $64 million in grants to support the creation, intensification, and dissemination of Jewish culture. For more information, see www.mfjc.org.
The UJA-Federation of Northern New Jersey enhances and supports the work of Jewish educators through the activities of its Jewish Educational Services, which includes school outreach, curriculum development, teacher training, resources, conferences, and many more services. For more information, see www.ujannj.org.
About Targum Shlishi
Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation, is dedicated to providing a range of creative solutions to problems facing Jewry today. Premised on the conviction that dynamic change and adaptation have historically been crucial to a vibrant and relevant Judaism and to the survival of its people, Targum Shlishi’s initiatives are designed to stimulate the development of new ideas and innovative strategies that will enable Jewish life, its culture, and its traditions to continue to flourish. For more information on the foundation, visit its website at www.targumshlishi.org.