The Hebrew Language Council of North America, which held its inaugural conference last month in New Jersey, aims to make Hebrew a more central part of American Jewish culture. Established by a partnership among several organizations including the World Zionist Organization and the Israeli Ministry of Education, the council is launching as growing numbers of Jewish educational programs are rethinking their approach to teaching Hebrew and as signs emerge of low Hebrew literacy among American Jews.
Many Jewish educators consider Hebrew a core feature of Jewish identity building. But according to the Pew Research Center’s recent study of American Jewry, just 52 percent of American Jews know the Hebrew alphabet and only 10 percent can carry on a conversation in Hebrew. Even among those who attended yeshiva or Jewish day school, the numbers are scarcely better, with only one-third saying they can converse in Hebrew. The number rises to 64 percent for those with 10 years or more of day school education.
The new council joins a number of Hebrew teaching efforts that have been percolating for the past decade.
Hebrew at the Center (HATC), a 6-year-old organization that recently partnered with Middlebury College in Vermont to create the Middlebury-HATC Institute for the Advancement of Hebrew Language, has helped train teachers for many of the programs. The Middlebury-HATC Institute is launching masters and doctoral programs to train Hebrew teachers and support scholarly research. Until now, most Hebrew teachers in the United States have had little formal training and many Jewish day schools recruit local Israelis with little expertise in teaching language.
The Hebrew Language Council is planning to sponsor an annual three-day Hebrew language and Israeli culture conference; form a professional association for Hebrew teachers in North America; convene an online forum for sharing information about various Hebrew programs; and raise money for Hebrew education initiatives.
Read more at JTA.