Renewing Our Appreciation for Hebrew

By: Efrat Malachi  |  November 16, 2017

Hebrew: a language so beautiful and ancient, yet so misunderstood and arduous for students to master. For some, Hebrew is not a real challenge, either because they grew up with it or they have picked up the many rules and tricks of the language from their occasional trips to Israel and dinners at Israeli restaurants. For others, it is the most taxing and stressful subject in school. At least that’s how it has been perceived by a majority of students in Jewish day schools throughout the years. Despite the numerous tanach/parsha classes that Jewish day school students are obligated to take, which should improve their Hebrew reading comprehension skills, each year the willingness and success of students to learn Hebrew decreases exponentially.

Unfortunately, teachers have been failing at instilling an interest and appreciation for the holiest language, the tongue of God that goes back to the beginning of time, within their students. Students are apathetic to this fact and have no desire to learn a language that seems irrelevant and outdated in relation to their lives. Who really is at fault here? Is it the teachers? The school? The curriculum? Or is it the students themselves? Whom does the responsibility fall upon and is there really something we can do to shift the attitude of an entire generation? At Yeshiva University, we pride ourselves in Torah U’Madah, which is the idea of recognizing and appreciating the value of the arts and sciences and their relationship to Torah studies. Our goal is to apply our Torah learning and its timeless wisdom to all worldly matters for the sake of improving and bettering the future of mankind.

One of the mandatory courses  at Stern College is Hebrew. This is intended as an opportunity to both build our skills and focus on our identity. We are Jews with a unifying moral and ethical code, history, homeland, and language. It is therefore fundamental that we continue teaching, learning and loving this complicated and undying language. Sadly, though, the Hebrew department here at Stern has been noted by students as unfriendly and unobliging to its diverse student body. Chana, SCW ‘20, relates that “the department doesn’t understand that students can’t intuitively grasp the language because they don’t hear it on a day to day basis. They have to start from the bottom up with patience and empathy towards the student body and their knowledge.” This issue stems from the faculty’s misapprehension of what the students walk in knowing and the unfitting expectations set for them.

One of the ways that we can resolve the issue is by adjusting the angle at which teachers view their students. Acknowledging that they come from different places and vary in their ways of thinking will help teachers mold their lessons based on how each individual student learns and thinks. Therefore, teachers should focus on their students strengths and the things that they do as as to give them the key to success in learning—confidence. Confidence will reinforce their willpower to start again when they don’t get an answer right on a test or immediately comprehend a sentence that is thrown at them during class. This will facilitate students’ understanding and absorption of the material.

On the other hand, some are quite satisfied and positive with their Hebrew language learning experience. Menucha, SCW ‘20 states, “our class utilizes our prior knowledge to learn about grammar rules and language use, and it is also expanding our vocabulary.” Alexandra ‘19  also has a positive view of the Hebrew department. “I’ve learned everything but Hebrew in my twelve years in the Yeshiva day school system. When I got to Stern, they placed me into the right level class. It’s a lot of work but I’m starting to grasp the language. I really feel that the tracking system is highly effective, even if it means I have to take more Hebrew classes than I would have liked.”

All in all, it is both the teachers’ and students’ responsibilities to create a mutual agreement in building a brighter future through the understanding of the darker parts of our past. Educating the next generation to respect and treasure their rich history and heritage starts with the today’s teachers and with us, the students of tomorrow. We need to go the extra mile in regards to sparking our love and commitment to our people, past, and partnership with God. By learning and teaching Hebrew, we are proudly declaring and expressing the authenticity of our identity. We are revealing the secret to our immortality–the Torah. And even though modern-day Hebrew is a watered-down version of lashon hakodesh, the original Hebrew that was spoken in the ancient world, we still try to keep it as alive and dynamic as possible since its revival thousands of years later. There are no guarantees for perfection, but at least we can be sure of our efforts and that we are trying to move in the right direction. Hopefully we will continue to do so and see the fruits of our labor in the near future.