HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

From the Editor

by Barbara Davis Issue: Hebrew Education

In a global and interconnected world, speaking more than one language is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Approximately one-fifth of Americans speak a language other than English (LOTE), and around the world it is estimated that almost two-thirds of children are bilingual. Thanks to the ubiquity of technology, LOL, IMHO, OMG and BBM are common linguistic currency, and people text and tweet in many tongues. Recent research indicates that this multi-linguistic phenomenon may even be beneficial to the brain. Bilinguals perform better on a variety of cognitive tasks; one study even found that the onset of dementia was delayed by four or five years in people who spoke more than one language.

But what about a language that is spoken as a mother tongue by only 9 million people, that became extinct by the 4th century CE, that survived purely as a liturgical and literary language until it was miraculously revived in the late 19th century? What is the value and role of such a language?

This issue of HaYidion is devoted to the Hebrew language, the language of the Jewish people. But our considerations are of a living language, one that we want to have our children learn as a way of perpetuating our past, communicating with our brethren, and perhaps, assuring our future.

Who would have thought that this ancient language, the source code for centuries of Jewish thought, values and history, could be controversial in the Jewish community day school world of the 21st century? Yet today’s email brings news of a California “Hebrew Charter Middle School,” created by a rabbi, in which the students do not have to study Hebrew, much less be Jewish, and of another Hebrew charter school suggested for Harlem, which drew local opposition because “they want modern Hebrew and that’s not going to help our children in any way.” And there are controversies over the best way to teach this language, the purpose of teaching it, the purported lack of success in teaching it. It all makes for fascinating reading—as do the beautiful poems created by students in RAVSAK schools, written for our first ever Hebrew poetry contest.

This issue of HaYidion is one with a multiplicity of approaches to a single subject. I believe you will find it unusual as well as useful, enjoyable as well as educational, intriguing as well as inspiring. I hope you will be able to read it as you relax in a hammock under a tree or on a beach near the ocean, on a well deserved summer vacation. ♦

Dr. Barbara Davis is the Secretary of RAVSAK, Executive Editor of HaYidion and Head of School at the Syracuse Hebrew Day School in Dewitt, NY. Barbara can be reached at shds@twcny.rr.com.

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Hebrew Education

What are the goals of Hebrew in day schools? Do we teach it primarily to access religious texts or to speak in Tel Aviv? What are we achieving today, and what can we realistically strive to achieve? Contributors believe in the capacity of day schools to teach Hebrew and present methods and tools for achieving high goals in Hebrew.

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