Not your Savta’s Hebrew school: Israelis in US create their own language program

October 23, 2019

Source: Times of Israel 


Many Israelis living in the United States long-term or for good struggle to find ways to help their children feel connected to their Israeli identity. One of the most important aspects of this identity is ensuring that their children can communicate in Hebrew — not just on a conversational level but on a deeper, emotional and cognitive level that often requires formal training. Previously, most options for Hebrew instruction were centered around religious observance and taught at religious Jewish day schools. But Israeli parents who feel alienated by the religious instruction typical of Jewish day schools are increasingly creating alternative, structured educational programs so their children can receive secular Hebrew instruction.

In Silicon Valley, a small group of Israeli parents founded Beged Kefet, a Hebrew-language, after-school program, 12 years ago at the JCC. The first class started with 10 first graders. In the past decade, the program has grown to include 650 students studying at 11 campuses around the Bay Area, with demand growing in other parts of the US from communities that want to replicate the program.

These Hebrew instruction programs often operate like de facto clearing houses for Israeli families to connect, fostering an even stronger expat Israeli community and friendships among the children.

There are at least 200,000 Israelis residing in the United States for long periods of time, though some estimates are as high as 1 million Israelis on long-term relocation. Between 2006 and 2016, 87,000 Israelis became US citizens or legalized permanent residents. That’s up from 66,000 between 1995 and 2005, according to the most recent data from the US Department of Homeland Security.

As the number of Israelis in America grows, a host of cultural programing and formalized educational structures grows along with them due to parents’ desire to ensure their children are connected to Israel.

Like many after school programs across the country, the Beged Kefet program offers an hour and a half of weekly Hebrew instruction, geared mostly towards children of Israelis who already speak the language fluently and are studying at public schools. Pre-K and kindergarten classes focus on being confident and comfortable in Hebrew. In elementary school and high school, the classes focus on reading and writing exercises.

At Beged Kefet, tuition is $1,530 annually for elementary and middle school students and $1,900 per year for high school students. Classes have up to 10 students. In middle and high school, students can receive academic credits for the classes, meaning they can waive other foreign language requirements, such as Spanish or French.Teachers at Beged Kefet are accredited through the Israeli Ministry of Education, and curriculum development closely follows the Israeli school system, so that if students return to Israel with their families they should be able to keep up with their peers.

This is part of a countrywide growth in Hebrew language instruction, even among non-native or non-Israeli speakers. According to a recent US study, an estimated 6,600 students are studying Hebrew in public schools and publicly funded charter schools, with steady increases in enrollment.

Other parts of the country have similar programs to Beged Kefet, such as EMEK, an Israeli language and cultural program at the JCC on the Palisades in New Jersey. In Boston’s suburbs, there is the Israeli School of Lexington, and a few miles away, also the Israeli School of Brookline. There are also options for Hebrew classes via an online tutor.

Beged Kefet’s curriculum includes preparation for the matriculation exams, or bagruts, which are required by Israel’s Education Ministry to receive a high school diploma.

Read the entire article at The Times of Israel.

Updated: Nov. 06, 2019