Our Stories

Fostering a Love of Israel and Hebrew with Hands-On, Immersive Learning

April 23, 2015 by Hannah Seidel (Faculty and Staff) Shoshana Sfarzada (Faculty and Staff)

One of JPDS-NC’s core principals is Ayin L’Tzion, “Looking toward Zion.” At JPDS-NC we strive to foster a deep connection to Israel’s history, people, culture, and language in our students. Central to this mission is our goal to educate independent speakers of the Hebrew language. When we teach the Hebrew language at JPDS-NC, we are not teaching in a vacuum. Cultural literacy is a hugely important component of the process of becoming a proficient and independent speaker of a language. As we all know, every language is also a way of thinking, and these different modes of thought are closely tied to the geography, culture, and history of the regions that they come from. Situating the study of the Hebrew language within the context of studying Israeli history and culture not only aids the acquisition of the language, but helps our students foster a love of and relationship with the State of Israel as well.

There are many special events and occasions over the course of the school year that enhance our students’ learning of Hebrew and Israel. While the students learn about the religious aspects of Jewish holidays in their Judaic Studies classes, in their Hebrew classes, they learn and experience cultural aspects of those same holidays, such as the celebration of Shavuot as an agricultural holiday on kibbutzim. Another special event is the annual Yitzhak Rabin Memorial curriculum each fall, for which every grade studies a specially designed age-appropriate curriculum to mark Rabin’s legacy for peace and conflict resolution. This year, we also had a “Shuk for Shalom,” where the sixth grade planned and executed a shuk to raise money and demonstrate our support and connection to Israel following the military conflict in Gaza. And just this Wednesday, we commemorated Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, with a moving ceremony led by the fifth graders that featured music, dance, prayers, and readings in both Hebrew and English. Click here to see a short video from the ceremony.

We incorporate Israel study and Israeli cultural experiences with events throughout the year, as well as in every Hebrew lesson. In the higher grades we designate specific units through which students learn about places in Israel and about recent history related to its foundation. For example, the fifth graders explore the city of Haifa, learning about its geographic location, its significance as a city for three different religious communities, its industrial and academic importance, and its ties to the story of the prophet Elijah. The students then research another place in Israel and present their research to the class. In sixth grade we go farther back to learn about early Zionism, with historic figures like Theodore Herzl and the story of Rabbi Yoel Moshe Salomon, the founder of Petach Tikva, the first moshava.

We aim to infuse the students’ day with Hebrew, and to this end we use a wealth of authentic Israeli games, movies, websites, magazines, and books. Students borrow Israeli books from the class library on a weekly basis, and we also have subscriptions for Israeli children’s magazines; teachers introduce articles in class and students can read them in their free time. We also enrich our students’ experiences by connecting them to Israeli school children. Our school has paired with a sister school in the Beit Shemesh area of Israel, and JPDS-NC students have exchanged letters with their pen pals, and each even met online to celebrate holidays together and compare the ways we observe them.

One standout event of the year that is especially relevant to the topic of Hebrew and Israel learning is Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), which we celebrated in school today. Leading up to the big day, every Hebrew class learns about the holiday, focusing on an age-appropriate theme, from the flag and the Israeli anthem to Israeli personalities and the foundation of the State. When the day arrives, we have a school-wide celebration designed to imitate the celebrations in Israel, with Israeli food and games through which students learn about Israel from various angles. This year, we had Israeli dancing, an archeological dig, a chance to write wishes for Israel on a large banner, a video about Israeli artist Hanoch Piven, and more. It was a huge success, a day filled with fun and learning, and a true celebration of the State of Israel. JPDS-NC’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration exemplifies the hands-on, immersive Hebrew and Israel learning experience we strive to give our children every day