Organization: Hebrew at the Center, Westborough, MA
Grant Year: 2023
Project Director: Rabbi Andrew Ergas
Type of Grant: Signature
Grant Amount: $85,000 (2 years)
Hebrew at the Center – To convene Hebrew language learning experts who will develop and pilot a systematic strategy to increase the effectiveness of day school Hebrew instruction for students with language-based learning disabilities.
What inspired you to develop this project?
Hebrew language education in Jewish day schools is much more than second language acquisition or learning to communicate with other speakers. It is about identity, connection to global Jewry, and an essential tool to ongoing Jewish learning. For too many students, Hebrew is more of a barrier than a bridge. We wanted to help make Hebrew learning more inclusive, so we jumped at the opportunity to gather the right experts to develop a scalable intervention to meet this very real need in the field.
How do you hope Hebrew language learning can inform Jewish identity development?
While identity formation is complex and multi-dimensional, Hebrew is a powerful but often underutilized tool that provides access to many elements that can inform identity. It is the historic language of our people and of our sacred texts. It is a point of connection to Israel, Israelis, and Israeli culture. It can serve as a shared language across global Jewry and the basis of all Jewish languages. It helps people who know some words or many words feel like insiders within a socio-linguistic community. Humans make meaning and culture through language; Jews make meaning and shared culture through Hebrew.
What is your favorite Hebrew word or phrase, and why?
Rather than pick a word or phrase, I will share a favorite Hebrew root, the root חבר – chet/vet/reish. At its essence is the concept of connectedness, with the root generating words like חבר/haver/friend, חברותא/hevrutah/study partner, and חברי/hevre/friendship group. A חיבור/hibur is an essay, a collection of words; תחבורה/tachburah is the Hebrew for transportation, the way we connect between different locations. During this challenging time for our people, along with our enduring goal as Jewish educators, this Hebrew root is the gift that can be used להתחבר/l’hithaber, the word for both to befriend and to be connected.