This is sponsored content from the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund and the Helen Diller Family Foundation.
Hebrew language learning can be an inspiring and engaging part of a robust Jewish education. Efrat Simhi-Aloni, the Hebrew Language Coordinator for 5th through 8th grade at Oakland Hebrew Day School (OHDS) for 20 years, has used her deep knowledge of the language, Jewish culture, and Israel to deliver an educational experience that brings Hebrew and all it encompasses to life.
Efrat Simhi-Aloni is one of four recipients of the 2020 Helen Diller Family Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education. The Awards, an initiative of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund and the Helen Diller Family Foundation, honor outstanding Jewish educators in the Bay Area annually. Educators are nominated by their organizations or community members and reviewed by a Federation volunteer selection committee. Recipients are awarded $10,000, and their institutions $2,500.
“I consider Hebrew instruction not merely the instruction of a foreign language, but of a second language, the language of the students’ heritage,” states Simhi-Aloni. “It transcends the walls of the classroom, reaching into their community, traditions, and history, and deeply informing the students’ identity. I often tell them that it is their responsibility to ensure the continuity of the language for future generations; that I am not only teaching them but also their grandchildren.”
Talented Hebrew teachers use the language to build diverse and powerful educational experiences. Students can study historical text in chevrutah (pairs), helping them to develop a sense of belonging with their peers in the Jewish community and the drive to be active members of the Jewish people. This direct and unadulterated access to Jewish texts opens different paths into their heritage, empowers them to communicate with Jews in Israel and all over the world, and adds to their understanding of the rituals and practices that helped sustain Am Yisrael throughout history.
But more than just a language of history, Hebrew education is a part of learning about Jewish and Israeli literature, songs, food, and artistic traditions—all of which enable students to experience the vibrancy of the Jewish Diaspora, Jewish holidays, and modern Israel. In Efrat’s classes, for example, students literally become actors in the story of the Jewish People and of Israel through special selections of Hebrew plays, stories, and songs.
In the words of a former student, “In Geveret (Ms.) Aloni’s class, Hebrew was never an intimidating foreign language, but rather the beautiful, relevant (and fun) language of the Jewish people. Whether we were learning about Eliezer ben Yehuda or watching cheesy Israeli sitcoms, Geveret Aloni made the content meaningful and memorable by giving us exciting projects and allowing us to be dramatic and silly.”
In addition to OHDS, Efrat, a native of Israel, has spent her career bringing the Hebrew language to learners in Israel and organizations throughout the East Bay, where she lives. She loves seeing students build confidence as their command of Hebrew grows, remarking that, “I am most proud when they converse in Hebrew with one another, and teach each other new material! When I see our graduates forging their own paths within the Jewish tradition and choosing to continue their study of Hebrew language and text while at university, this gives me great delight.”
When students learn Hebrew from Efrat Simhi-Aloni, they gain a key that unlocks the rich history, culture, and modern-day accomplishments of the Jewish people. Efrat demonstrates how Hebrew education, led by creative, committed teachers, can help to strengthen young learners‘ Jewish identity and connection to their cherished heritage.
Join us virtually on September 16 at 4:00 pm to honor the outstanding award recipients, including Efrat, and learn with noted keynote speaker, Rabbi Ed Feinstein. For event details, and to learn more about the award, visit Jewishfed.org/DillerAwards2020.