The experimental approach to learning Hebrew strengthens the identity of Jewish students who can not afford private education while building pro-Israeli lawyers from other faiths.
Already in the ninth year, the Hebrew public network consisting of 13 charter schools uses a mix of startup philanthropic funds and state funds to offer high-quality bilingual education to Jewish and non-Jewish students. Currently, these schools operate in New York, New Jersey, California, Minnesota and Washington. New schools will soon be opened in Philadelphia and Texas.
The school teaches all students about Hebrew – about half of them are Jews. Classes in other subjects of a traditional public school are also conducted in Hebrew. The school does not teach any subjects regarding the Jewish faith, but offers information about Israeli culture, history and national holidays, which often coincide with Jewish holidays.
"We are not a Jewish school, we are the only public school network in North America that teaches Hebrew children of all backgrounds," says Valerie Khaytina, the external director of Hebrew society.
The network – of over 3,000 students – was launched by the Areivim Philanthropy Group and the Steinhardt Philanthropic Foundation in 2009 to provide a free alternative to parents looking for education that could provide Jewish identity, but without burdensome private costs. A Jewish day school that can be from $ 10,000 to over $ 20,000 a year.
"The Areivim group was trying to find another great idea to make Jewish education accessible to all children," Khaytina explains. "At the same time, they learned the concept of charter schools, and they said," OK, it sounds great. "Then they learned that to be a charter school, you must be open to everyone, so there is no religion in our schools."
"We're a public school in the United States, which means we're open to all students in the neighborhood," says Khaytina JNS. "In the United States, you can not ask students about their religion." Anecdotal, we think that about half of the students in the entire network are Jews, but we do not know for sure. "
For Zhary Adeyemi, the eighth grade in the Department of Mathematics Hebrew Language Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y., she and her parents just wanted a "good school".
"We won the lottery to get in," he says.
Zhara, who volunteered to be a Jewess, says he speaks quite good in Hebrew.
He appreciates her "great Hebrew teachers" as well as the international atmosphere of the school. "I meet new people, my friends' families come from all over the world, I have Argentinian friends, Russian friends, friends from the Caribbean.
Zhara, who spoke to JNS on the last day of his trip to Israel, says: "Israel is beautiful. We really liked it here," noting that picking olives and hiking around Mount Carmel were personal attractions.
Coming back home in Brooklyn, speaking Hebrew can sometimes give unexpected benefits.
"When you walk around, especially me, as an African American, nobody assumes that you understand Hebrew, and then you will see people speaking Hebrew, and you will understand them – if they say something good or say something bad about you.
She says that when she was in the park, a woman's child fell, but her mother did not see because she was on the phone, so Zhara said something to her in Hebrew and "was quite surprised."
As to whether he will be able to use her Hebrew in the future, Zhara says that "she is not very sure."
"On history and culture, about global citizenship"
Viktor Oleynik from the Sheepshead Bay district of Brooklyn founded the Hebrew Language Academy in the kindergarten.
"I do not know if I would say that I speak fluently [in Hebrew]but I'm pretty good at it – he says. "But believe me, there are children whose parents come from Israel and are much better than me."
He likes high-quality teachers and friends he gave. "I was able to meet many children with whom I can get involved, many Russians," says Wiktor. "There are a lot of Russian kids in Brooklyn."
"I was able to meet many children with whom I can get involved, many Russians, there are a lot of Russian kids in Brooklyn.
Viktor is a maternal Jew, but his father is a Christian. "We celebrate Hanukkah and the New Year, we do not celebrate Christmas."
He says that in addition to the Hebrew language, students also learn about Israeli culture.
As for his first trip to Israel, Wiktor was pleasantly surprised. "In reality, Israel is very nice," he says, calling him "very different" from what he expected. "I thought Israel was the main desert." He adds that he will "definitely" come back because "there are so many things to see".
Other children on the eighth grade trips, says Wiktor, "go to the Appalachian trail. We're going to Israel."
Part of the arrival to Israel for students is insightful Hebrew experience, the establishment of bilingual studies of Hebrew Publica. "We must practice our Hebrew group during this journey," says Viktor.
Khaytina tells JNS that for many Jewish families the appeal of the school is: "the idea of teaching children in Hebrew, as well as the history and culture of Israel – about global citizenship."
However, for many others, "sending children to school is simply a better choice," he says. "Unfortunately, many districts in the United States, school networks are not so great, and families just want a better school."
"For other families it is an emphasis on a foreign language and it can be any foreign language. It can be Hebrew, Chinese, Spanish" – adds Khaytina. "For some families, they like that Hebrew is the language of the Bible, so even if we teach modern Hebrew, people want their children to understand it and read the Bible."
"Respect and understanding of others"
Although it is a public school open to all students regardless of faith, Hebrew teaching has its own stereotypes, both good and bad.
"When we first opened our newest school in Brooklyn last year, someone drew a swastika sign in front of the school, so even though we're not a Jewish school, we're extremely vigilant about security," says Khaytina, one of the carers during a trip around Israel. "In the light of what has just happened in Pittsburgh, we have issued a special statement that we have strengthened all our security efforts."
"Although we are not Jews, just as people hear Hebrew, we can become the target," he admits. On the other hand, he adds, "and sometimes, when parents hear that the school is in Hebrew, they associate Jews with a good education and want to send their children."
For example, he says: "We hear a lot from our African-American families, they know that Israel is a leader in advanced technologies and innovations, so they see it as an opportunity for their children to come here, learn here."
As for the benefits of this experiment, which has so far taken over $ 20 million to fund philanthropy, it is too early to say so. All schools are open with a kindergarten and a first-class class. Last year was the first year in which the mill school – the first school open in the network – had a class for graduates.
According to Khaytina, time will tell whether to put children in Hebrew, and Israel's history and culture for nine years will provide a better relationship than other short-term efforts that the pro-Israel community is offering to return Jews and non-Jews to Israeli supporters. . "These children grow up learning about Israel and understanding Israel as a country."
Only when these students become adults will it be known whether engaging Hebrew education creates Jewish students with a stronger Jewish identity, as well as non-Jewish students who will defend Israel on anti-Israel forums.
"One of the founders, Tom Kaplan, said he was called" destructive philanthropy. " It's still a crazy experiment, "admits Khaytina.
Still, he says: "We hope that Zhara or one of her peers will be the next ambassador in the State of Israel."