Are you "just curious"about #OnwardHebrew or are you ready to initiate a change process in your educational program? No matter your answer, the relatively concise list of curated resources, below, will help you more easily gather background information and begin plotting your change process:
This is a blog post that offers a pretty comprehensive (but quick!) overview of #OnwardHebrew. Of special interest is a chart towards the end that shows in one synagogue the impact on decoding of less years and less hours for Hebrew learning in a synagogue setting (spoiler alert – the learners did just as well with fewer total years and hours!).
This is the video that got #OnwardHebrew started - it explains why we have been having issues with Hebrew learning in part-time/synagogue settings. This video is a good conversation starter for faculty, committee members and parents. Much has happened in the world of Hebrew learning since it was created (2013), but its foundation is still solid.
This is a webpage with targeted resources for learning about each of the elements of #OnwardHebrew. All are videos, some are webinar-length and others are shorter. For links to many more resources, click on any of the icons on this webpage.
This is an article that explores the question of why an educational program might change the grade level in which it teaches decoding. In a traditional Hebrew program, children are introduced to Hebrew decoding in third or fourth grade. However, one of #OnwardHebrew’s innovations is moving the teaching Hebrew decoding to fifth grade or later, after children have built a repertoire of Hebrew sounds and vocabulary. [Feel free to check out this decoding resource developed for #OnwardHebrew's older learners called Let's Learn Hebrew Side-by-Side. In a one-on-one setting, children quickly and easily build decoding skills working sound-to-print.] That said, teaching decoding later is not a requirement for #OnwardHebrew participation; currently, about half of the #OnwardHebrew programs have not shifted their grade level for teaching decoding. NOTE: The decoding article linked here is one of many blogposts on the #OnwardHebrew website, most of which would make for interesting reading and conversation with faculty, clergy and volunteer leadership. Scroll through to see what else interests you!]
This is the recording of an American Conference of Cantors webinar with Cantor Leigh Korn (previously the head of the ACC) and Rabbi Nicki Greninger - they are both at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, CA and have worked for years with #OnwardHebrew's philosophy and elements. Your cantor or clergy team may find this a helpful resource.
These are the results of a survey done in summer 2019 with the congregations involved in #OnwardHebrew at the time. Results are in infographic form and may be of use to you, your committee, and possibly teachers.
This is a list of assumptions for teaching Hebrew in the 21st century - it would make for good discussion with your committee and/or teachers.
This is an edited video of Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” TedTalk. A good place to begin a change process is to consider “why Hebrew” … like, why is Hebrew important to your host institution or educational program? As Simon Sinek says, “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” So what are your bigger purposes to Hebrew learning and use? Your “why statement” will provide a touchstone for continued conversation and course correction over the years. Click here and here for some thoughts on why Hebrew.
Finally, while this may seem like a bit of a non sequitur, it’s a helpful resource for those involved in a change process. If you are the kind of educator who likes to start meetings with text study, the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) assembled some great Jewish text study resources for change processes. You’ll find them here. A caveat: In many, the Hebrew font used appears in an unintelligible symbol-font – if you wish to use the Hebrew (of course you do!) you may need to grab a printable version of each text from a resource like Sefaria.
So, are you ready to explore or are you ready to start? #OnwardHebrew is here to help. Please post your comments, questions and additional resources below and/or on the #OnwardHebrew Facebook group. Also, let me - Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz (OnwardHebrew@gmail.com) - know that you are dipping your toes in the #OnwardHebrew waters. I would be happy to offer supports along the way!
Recently, I’ve been thinking about Gutenberg’s printing press and its harsh impact on Hebrew School. And indeed, initial drafts of this blog post began as a tirade against Gutenberg, blaming him for the struggles of many a child in Hebrew School. For if he hadn’t invented the ability to print prayerbooks in mass quantities, then worshipers wouldn’t have books in their hands, and Jewish children would not have to struggle with learning to decode Hebrew over four to six years in the learning environment known as “Hebrew School.”
Yikes! It got a little complicated as I realized I couldn’t blame Gutenberg alone – the Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution and a host of other factors could also be implicated in the path to creating the current model of Hebrew learning in part-time/congregational settings.
But here’s the point – two thousand years ago, Jewish prayers were shared orally, not slogged through by those learning to decode Hebrew. In the days of scribes and scrolls, an inspirational person who understood the structure of traditional worship led the community in a strong, clear voice. The people could and would do any number of things: listen, recite along with the worship leader, repeat lines or simply say amen. Prayer was an outpouring of the heart that transcended the printed page … oh, wait, there was no printed page at that time! The first written prayerbook was a letter sent by one rabbi to the community of Barcelona in the 9th century CE, and it was not until the mid-15th century that Gutenberg’s printing press made it possible to more easily duplicate copies of books.
BUT, over the last few decades, we as Jewish educators have twisted ourselves into tight knots teaching our students what we assume is the one and only way to pray – book in hand, eyes following the print on the page, and using skills of decoding to stay up with the service. And how do we know (hmm, test) that students can participate comfortable in Hebrew worship? Often prior to b’nai mitzvah tutoring, someone checks their reading fluency by handing them a piece of Hebrew text that they have never seen before and asking them to read aloud. Many children struggle, some cry.
Most of us learned to read as a young child because over five to six years of listening and eventually talking, we built an incredibly large vocabulary and kishke-understanding of English’s structure. A child who sounds out c-a-t often has a light bulb moment – “Oh wait, I know that word! Cat!!” But children who are asked to sound out Hebrew prayer words they don’t know and may never understand because of adult-complexity and prosaic structure (like בְּמִשְׁמְרוֹתֵיהֶם) are caught like deer in the headlights. The “I-know-that-word!”-light-bulb-moment never comes.
#OnwardHebrew suggests that we go back to our roots, introducing new learners to Jewish prayer orally, without concern that they have memorized the text (oh my!) before being able to relate to the printed page. Competent and confident pray-ers are not defined by “decoding to synagogue speed with two or fewer mistakes.” In fact, it’s rather impossible to decode to synagogue speed; one HAS to have the prayers and blessings in one’s head and heart (a softer way to describe “memorize”) to stay up with the service.
Besides emphasizing the singing or reciting of Hebrew prayers and blessings in t’fillah (worship), #OnwardHebrew also suggests spending years of building the sounds of Hebrew language in the hearts of our learners in other ways – Hebrew Through Movement (a fun, kinesthetic way to learn key vocabulary of holidays, prayers and blessings) and Jewish Life Vocabulary (Hebrew words that are integrated into English sentences – “What a sneeze! Labri-ut!” or “Grab your siddur, we are going to t’fillah”). Children closer to the age of bar/bat mitzvah who have richly built the sounds of Hebrew can quickly and easily learn the Alef-Bet (12-15 hours) and then match this new skill with the words and phrases now gloriously floating in their heads (oh, yes, and hearts).
While I’ve moved on from blaming Gutenberg, I yearn for a return to the days of scribes, scrolls and the aural/oral learning and transmission of prayers and blessings. I challenge us as Jewish educators to release ourselves from the decades old (not millennia old) tradition of teaching in which our students often painfully decode prayers and blessings, syllable-by-syllable, word-by-word. No, I am not suggesting that we skip teaching Hebrew decoding/reading altogether. But for the sake of our young learners, I am pushing us to become more savvy about the process and more efficient with our time.
If we can affect this change in our curriculum, releasing our students from years of frustrating work with pre-primers, primers, prayers and blessings, then amazingly we will have more time for engaging, meaningful and compelling Jewish learning ... which is what the Jewish educational enterprise should be about!
#OnwardHebrew!! Join the conversation here (comments are welcome, below) and on Facebook!
Kol tuv ("all the best") <<just a little Jewish Life Vocabulary thrown in!
Nachama Skolnik Moskowitz,
Director of Curriculum Resources
Jewish Education Center of Cleveland
This website (and postings on Facebook) offers multiple invitations to "join the conversation." We don't want you to "jump on the bandwagon," play "follow the leader," or "go where no one has gone before." Rather, #OnwardHebrew invites you to enter into dialog about the current approach to Hebrew learning that has dominated part-time/congregational learning for decades.
In some ways, each of the education directors who adopted new approaches to Hebrew education, began as anthropologists. They carefully observed their current programs - noting behaviors of students and teachers, interpreting conversations ("what did I hear and what do I think it means?"), and considering the larger social sphere in which their congregation was situated. To their credit, they did not do all this in a vacuum. Rather, they connected with each other to share observations, debate conclusions and consider potential next steps. As a result, each program is different, but because of their thoughtful interactions, new assumptions about Hebrew education began to emerge, resulting in a spark to Hebrew learning not seen in the recent past.
This is the power of conversation! It's not about me alone and it's not about you alone. But my sharing and your sharing will help us all develop learners that are exited about Hebrew, and grow in their competence and confidence.
#OnwardHebrew. Join the conversation ... with your staff, with local and national colleagues, on this blog, and on Facebook.
Really. Let's talk!
All of us! If you have something to contribute, send your posting via the Contact webpage!