I looked forward to responses to my articles in The Jewish Link (“On Hebrew,” December 5, 2019 and “The Ashke-Sefard Dilemma,” November 27, 2019). Thoughtful reflection from those involved in day school education are welcomed. Honest differences of opinion exist on a wide range of topics. However, ad hominem critiques from college students ought to have been edited out. Mr. Ayil correctly cites some sources to bolster his position about the authenticity of various Hebrew pronunciations. Linguists, historians and scholars of Jewish migration patterns hold varying opinions on both sides of the issue. We differ.
We agree, however, that the dilemma of what he calls “cross-switching” is very real. We also agree that a clear vision for Hebrew language instruction is needed. My recommendation, which has appeared here and elsewhere in popular and professional publications for decades, is very simple and straightforward: Hebrew needs to be taught by teachers who are trained to teach Hebrew as a second language, much like ESL. Not every native speaker can teach Hebrew properly, and even fewer are trained to do so. The Hebrew in America program accomplished this. We trained early childhood teachers in our day schools in this method, and after a few years, kindergarteners were helping their older siblings with their Hebrew homework! We created a community of learners, sent teachers to Israel to Ulpan Akiva and ran a Hebrew language day camp. Despite the success of the program and the desire of both novice and veteran teachers to continue it, when the five-year, million dollar grant expired, not one day school was willing to kick in any funding.
If, in fact, Hebrew is important, then the schools need to invest in it the same way they do for STEM programs. The solution, as always, is a matter of prioritization.Dr. Wallace Greene