Family & Education

'Hebrew is the only thing that unites all Jews' says great-grandson of Eliezer Ben Yehuda

Writer Gil Hovav highlights the importance of Hebrew language education at the PaJeS conference


The PaJeS 2023 Ivrit conference returned on Tuesday after a three-year break with an attendance of over 40 Hebrew teachers from primary and secondary schools across the country.

“Everybody is very, very excited to see each other face to face. It’s a different feeling to be all together, as we ran most of our sessions and training and workshops on Zoom so far” said PaJeS Ivrit primary adviser, Dalia Wittenberg.

The keynote speaker of the conference was Israeli author Gil Hovav, whose family legacy through his great-grandfather, grandfather and parents includes the revival and preservation of the Hebrew language, modern Hebrew journalism, and the founding of Israel’s public radio.

Hovav's great-grandfather Eliezer Ben Yehuda is seen by historians as one of the main figures in creating modern Hebrew prior to the founding of Israel.

Hovav emphasised the importance of Ivrit education to the JC, saying: “Two years ago I was involved with Gesher. It’s an organisation that builds bridges between Israel and Jews in the diaspora. And what we were discussing and what we found out when we travelled to the US was that Hebrew may be the only link.

"Israelis and Jews in the diaspora are very different. The way we look at religion is different, our political views are different, our political status is different. I mean Jews in Britain are British people, I’m an Israeli. I’m a different species.

"The thing that connects us is language. And I know that Hebrew studies or Hebrew language studies maybe decaying or maybe not as strong as they used to be, and I think that this is something we should really try and take care of because it’s the basis of our culture, and it’s a wonderful way to communicate.

"And it’s true that Israelis speak English quite well and speak tech quite well, but once a Jew from the diaspora gets to Israel, if she or he speaks Hebrew, everything is so friendlier.

"So, Hebrew is essential, and Hebrew is a way to connect, and a way to belong. And It’s a part of our culture and we shouldn’t lose it. So, in Israel there is no danger of losing Hebrew anymore but in the diaspora, there is, and I’m so glad to see that there are so many schools that are teaching Hebrew be it in England or in the US or in France etc. It’s heart-warming.”

During his talk, Hovav revealed to an attentive audience his great-grandfather’s tumultuous life story through an intimate retelling of his difficult childhood, emigration to Ottoman Palestine and his and his wife Hemda’s life mission of publishing the Hebrew dictionary and eventual success in reviving the language.

Alma Primary Hebrew teacher, Chen Potashnick, said, “It’s nice to know and to hear another language. It’s the connection to a culture, to the people you are working with or having a connection with, the networking with other children - it’s so important.

"And I think that’s why I want to be a Hebrew teacher in England, in London, because I want to bring all I can for these children to be confident, and to send them outside and to know, to learn another language.”

The fascinating day included presentations and workshops by Dr Esty Gross, chief of staff and director of education for Hebrew at The Centre in California and Noa Har-Paz, actress and vocal teacher.

Teachers exchanged and practised methods and theories throughout the day on inspiring students to learn Ivrit. Noa Har-Paz, founder of a way to learn Hebrew through acting, called "Hebrew in the Spotlight", demonstrated her methods with theatre and drama activities.

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