Rachel is Prizmah's Director of Educational Innovation

Thought Leadership on Hebrew Education

Chanukkah is about brave audacity, or holy chutzpah. We could have simply lit the Menorah in the Temple with whatever oil we found; according to Jewish law, in times of crisis we are allowed to use contaminated oil. But no, not us. We searched for the best: we wanted to start again with the highest level, with the best possible option. So we dared to dream that we could possibly find oil that was not contaminated. 

And then, when we lit the first night and there was not enough pure oil for more, we dared to dream more and, lo and behold, it lasted. One more night, and another and another… until we had time to make more pure oil after 8 days. This is, apparently, how we roll, and this holiday is a reminder to us that even when times are tough, we dare to dream of ways to do things not only better, but at the best possible level.

Recently, I was asked what schools are struggling with most, aside from Covid-related things (as if there is anything aside from that), and without hesitation, I said, “Teaching Hebrew.” It seems strange, I know, when our Torah is in Hebrew, we are so connected to our Jewish homeland in Israel where Hebrew is spoken, and when our prayers are written and uttered in Hebrew. Why would Hebrew be a weak link for us now? And yet, it is. We need to make Hebrew language accessible and fun and relevant even more now, especially for those with language-based learning challenges, and we need to do this at a time when there is such a need for great Hebrew teachers, and such a shortage in the pipeline.

So what can we do? The articles in this issue discuss the challenges we face and begin to help us crystalize the next steps. But most of all, I remind us to recall one of the core messages of this holiday season. We have the chutzpah to ask not only, What can we do so it is manageable, good or okay? We have the courage to demand, What can we do to make sure Hebrew is being taught in the best possible ways? 

As the Maccabees before us restored our appreciation of our heritage and tongue, let us take this opportunity to elevate the study and teaching of Hebrew in the most impactful, inspirational and useful ways so our next generations share identity and connection with our people, nation and language forever.