What Trilingual Jewish Day Schools Can Teach Us About Hebrew Fluency

Editors Note: When we created edJEWcon as a hub for the exploration of 21st century literacies, there was a heavy emphasis on “technology” – and probably rightly so. However, we always knew that second-language acquisition was a critical 21st century skill and with my change in context, I am happy to kick off a conversation I am keenly interested in with all my hats…

[Parts of this blog have been edited and/or copied from my latest post from my website.]

I recall a day I spent a couple of years back when serving as Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network at the Solomon Schechter Academy in Montreal and being dazzled by the students (and staff) who seamlessly moved from French to English to Hebrew.  We (most Jewish day schools) can barely manage Hebrew fluency and here was a school that managed both Hebrew and French?

I also recall many conversations with my colleagues and many of the creators of Hebrew-langauge curricula for Jewish day schools during my time at Schechter and at Prizmah where our challenges and frustrations were shared openly, but remain unresolved.  [This one had materials, but lacked second-language pedagogy.  This one was cost prohibitive. Etc.]  I had imagined at the time due to my visit to Montreal and many conversations with my colleague Claire Sumerlus at Robbins Hebrew Academy (Toronto) that perhaps Canadian Jewish day schools with their addition (in many cases) of French might have something of the secret sauce for language acquisition that could unlock the mystery and provide wisdom to the field.  I had not imagined that I would soon be the head of one such Canadian Jewish day school!

Well, here I am!

A month or so in as Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School where we have both Hebrew and French and I can report transparently that if there is a “secret sauce” for language acquisition…I have not found it yet.  What I have found is an opportunity…

For my school’s context, here is what I recently shared with our parents:

As OJCS families know (hopefully!), our French program goes deeper beginning in Grade Four with our “Core” students continuing to have a differentiated French language period and our “Extended” students adding on a second subject – Social Studies – with French as the language of instruction, thus providing an “extended” exposure to French.  [Please note that I am purposely not launching the significant conversation-to-come about French immersion in this blog post, but that I am not ignorant of its pressing nature.] When it comes to our Hebrew program, however, we use the same “Core” and “Extended” terms, but with different meanings (I presume not only to confuse me).  In Hebrew we have been using “core” and “extended” only to describe level, not contact time.  That’s where the pilot comes in.


With extraordinary gratitude to two of our master Hebrew Teachers, Ada Aizenberg and Rachel Kugler – both of whom gracefully and enthusiastically accepted a rather late-in-the-game adjustment to their teaching portfolios to take this pilot on – OJCS “Extended” Hebrew students in Grades 4-5 will, like “Extended” French, have one period of high-level Hebrew instruction and a second subject – Judaics – with Hebrew as the language of instruction, thus providing an “extended” exposure to Hebrew.


Does this solve Hebrew fluency at OJCS?  Nope!

Does this clarify the Jewish mission/vision of OJCS?  Nope!

Will there be unintended consequences – both good and bad?  Yup!


This is a pilot – an opportunity to try something new and to learn from it.  We absolutely think it is a step in the right direction to enhance Hebrew fluency at OJCS.  We absolutely think it will contribute to the larger conversations coming.  We are absolutely thrilled about it and hope you are too.  And if you are an OJCS parent of a child going into Grades 4-5 and have questions, concerns, feedback, etc., I look forward to those conversations most of all.

I am eagerly looking forward to the beginning of conversations with…

…our school’s French, English and Hebrew instructors around common practice.

…my colleagues at other trilingual schools – particularly here in Canada – to see what we can learn…and what we can share.

…my friends at Prizmah to see what support they can provide fellow-travelers on the road to greater Hebrew and third-language fluency.

…foundations, programs and curriculum partners with an eye towards raising the bar.

I know there are other trilingual schools and I cannot wait to connect, visit and learn from and with them. If, in my ignorance, I am leaving out obvious places to connect, well…that’s why I am blogging this out – please educate me!  I am excited and hopeful that what I learn is of use, not just to my school, but to the larger conversation of Hebrew fluency in North American Jewish day schools.  And anyone who is interested in joining me/us on this journey, please connect with me either through this blog, edJEWcon or my school.

Brukhim Ha’Ba-im.  Bienvenue.  Welcome.

Assignment #2: Sticking With It

  • Download the old version of Skitch.
  • Play….try taking and annotating screenshots from the web, as well as annotating a photo you have taken.
  • Upload some of your samples to a new post. Choose one of them to be the featured image for your post (lower left sidebar).
  • BONUS: Create a short “how-to” post. It can be how to do anything online, how to use Skitch, how to add a Clustrmap to your blog, etc. Use Skitch to illustrate, with words and arrows, your how-to post.



Part of assignment number one was to upload a picture. Sounds simple, right? It is, I just underestimated, yet again, how much time this would take me. I also thought you would have been able to see the picture in its entirety (more on this below) Why, you ask, did it take so long?

1. I have way too many photos on my computer. This is problematic for at least three reasons…(a) It means that photos take a long time to load (b) It takes a long time to go through them. (c)  It also reminds me about how far behind I am in putting my photos into albums so our family can actually look at some of the 20K plus photos we’ve taken. (Just a healthy dose of guilt to remind me that I have some good summer projects to work on).
2. I discovered that photos that you upload to a wordpress site need to be 6MB or smaller.

The good news? I learned a lot which has become the basis for my new “how-to” post. While I could be writing a “how-to” post on how not to lose it when something you think will take you five minutes takes 45 minutes, I decided to do something more practical related to how to reduce an image so you can upload it to a wordpress site. (Note, there are plug ins you can use to do this, but I don’t yet fully understand how they work. More on this to come in later posts). In the meantime. Here is how I did it: (I know there are probably far more simple ways to handle this, I just haven’t figured it out, yet.)

(1) Download photo to the computer (2) Open with “preview” (3) Click ‘tools’ (4) Click ‘adjust size’ (5) Adjust to size desired (6) Save/rename (7) Mission accomplished!
Also, I thought that you would be able to see the picture I had uploaded in its entirety as I chose it because I thought it captured a great metaphor to describe this learning journey, but alas, all you can see are some nice colors in the background. So, here is the full image:


We were in Florida two years ago when my son (who was about to turn 5) decided to try a ropes course along with his older cousins. As we stared up from the ground at this 32 ft high structure, it looked like the kids above were having fun and from our vantage point, it seemed relatively simple to navigate.

My son got harnessed and ascended the stairs to begin the challenge of crossing rickety bridges and climbing suspended ropes.  He headed up with a lot of confidence. And then he started on his journey. A few steps in as he worked to navigate obstacles and balance on beams, the ropes he was standing on shook violently from side to side.  As his grip tightened, he realized that it wasn’t as easy as it looked.  I stood below with my camera poised to capture his trek and saw his look of utter panic.

At first, he tried to hold it in, but my son is just like me and wears his heart on his sleeve. I could tell he wanted to burst into tears.  But, he didn’t. He steadied himself.  I heard myself saying…just one step at a time. One foot in front of the other. You can do it. Take it slowly. Wait until you’re ready.  I wanted him to see that he could do it if he tried.  I wanted him to feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from moving out of one’s comfort zone.  He kept going and he stuck with it, even when it was scary.

As I scrolled through the images in iPhoto trying to find a suitable image for the background of this blog, I was struck by how similar his steps onto the ropes course felt to this new learning journey.  I am overwhelmed by all that is “out there.” I often think that others make documenting and sharing their learning seem so simple. Blog posts and infographics seem effortless. I wonder what I possibly have to add to the conversation.  I am anxious about the whole ‘sharing’ part of documenting my learning.  I imagined myself walking the tightropes, feeling vulnerable.

What assignment #2 reminded me about more than anything is that this is the work. Sticking with these feelings and pushing through to reflect, document and share is part of my work. I went into this assignment thinking about the concrete tools and skills I would learn and realized that it is just as important to attend to the social/emotional impact of the learning process. I understand that struggling isn’t something to be embarrassed about, it is the messy work of teaching and learning. I want to accept that I can’t compare how I feel on the inside, to what I see produced by others on the outside.  I, too, want to stick with it, even when it feels scary.

Assignment #1: Diving In

Assignment #1: Diving In

  • Find a theme you like (Dashboard: Appearance)
  • Change the title if you want. Create a tagline. (Settings: General)
  • Add a widget to the sidebar (Appearance: Widgets) See if you can figure out how to add a Clustrmap widget.

“Write a new post
Reflect: What are your goals starting out on this learning journey? What do you hope to learn and/or create? What did you learn completing assignment number 1? Did you encounter any obstacles? If so, what did you do?”


Assignment #1 looked simple enough. I like homework assignments. I blocked out an hour to do the work. That seemed like a reasonable amount of time. I wasn’t expecting it to take me a few hours, but it did. As they say, kol hatchalot kashot…all beginnings are difficult. The good news is that it was fun to learn all sorts of new things and because it was broken down into chunks, it wasn’t too daunting.  It was also very humbling as I realized how much there is to learn.  Why did it take me so long, you ask? Well, for one reason I figured out that I apparently needed a basic 101 intro crash course. So, I asked Google questions like:




My first real satisfaction came when I accomplished this:


Full disclosure…it took me about 45 minutes to do this part. The bright side is that I learned some other things along the way.  More to come on the experience of uploading a photo in my next post for assignment #2.

All along I have been repeating my new mantra “This is the work.” Let me explain….when I was a Head of School at a Jewish day school I attended edJEWcon. Twice.  I say ‘attended’ because in retrospect I think I was a pretty passive participant. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in the vision, nor was it that I didn’t understand the revolution that was taking place and the incredible implications for teaching and learning in our schools….in fact, quite the opposite. I was inspired. I was excited. I was motivated. I brought some of my staff with me and they started using the new tools they learned about and I promised that I was going to write my blog. I had so many ideas that I wanted to share. I was excited about reflecting on my experience and incorporating the learning into my practice. I was going to be the head of school that blogged and practiced what I was preaching.

I was all gung-ho, and then… our plane landed back home in El Paso, TX and I quickly fell into the trap of business as usual. I got caught up in the day to day operations of running a school and kept moving the “reflect and share” to the next day’s spot on my ‘to-do’ list.  I started to hope that perhaps the edJEWcon founders wouldn’t realize that I never completed what seemed like a very simple assignment (to post a reflection). I kept thinking that I would document my learning, reflect and share when I had time. But, guess what? I never had the time. Something always took precedence because I understood it to be a luxury…something that either people with super human time management skills or people who aren’t so busy have time to do.  I didn’t yet understand it as the core of my work as an educator. Two years in working for the Schechter Day School Network and blessed with the opportunity to work and learn with my colleagues Jon Mitzmacher, Andrea Hernandez and Silvia Tolisano something clicked. I had this ‘aha’ moment where I realized that THIS IS THE WORK…and hence my new tagline.  Documenting, reflecting and sharing my learning is not what I will do when I have time, just as keeping up with journals, articles, podcasts and books in education will not wait until I have the time. Reading, learning, reflecting and sharing IS my work.

As Schechter Network continues to move forward in leading the charge for 21st century learning in Jewish day school education, I realized that if I am going to promote this vision to our schools, I need to start engaging in the practice myself. I must walk the walk. And so, this blog was born. I am fortunate to work for an organization that creates a safe space for me to learn and grow and feel fortunate for the opportunity to share this journey with you.  So, to keep me honest and remind me why I am here I decided (at the suggestion of Andrea Hernandez), to go live. Andrea, being the consummate educator that she is, offered to break it down for me and post some assignments for me to complete to help me get started playing with some new tools.

As a side note, I promise that I am going to work on a better title for the blog, but I am hoping something good will come to me as I get more into this…I am also very open to suggestions 🙂

My goals?

(1) Use this blog as a space to document my learning, reflect and share.

(2) Learn some new tools and experiment.

(3) Take some risks and move out of my comfort zone.

(4) Enjoy the process and share openly about my successes and failures along the way.

I am hoping that this will be useful to me as I will have created a space that I can refer back to and see how my thinking evolves, but I also hope that someone else finds it helpful to witness and learn from the process as it takes shape.

So what can you expect to see over the summer?

My plan is to serve as participant-observer in some of the programs Schechter is involved in this summer like our Jewish Educator’s Institute with Mechon Hadar and the Standards and Benchmarks Instructional Leadership Institute at JTS. I will be sharing out from each program as I document and reflect on the learning.

Looking forward to my next assignment!

A Lurker’s Lament: When Did “Sharing” Become “Self-Promotion”?

I recently (in my professional blog) reflected on my personal disconnect between the enthusiasm (over-enthusiasm some might say) I demonstrated in documenting my family’s summer road trip and the challenges I experience in documenting my professional growth. I suggested that it would be useful to try to unpack some of the inhibiting factors that get in the way of a teacher or an administrator (or a lay leader) going through the cycle of “learn, reflect, and share”.

30H-1024x683A few people who commented on the post, rightfully pointed out the clumsiness of the analogy. One’s enthusiasm can wax and wane to the degree that one is choosing to do something versus being required. One’s time could be allocated differently to photography versus a written reflection. And I agree with both points. One commentator pointed out something that I hadn’t considered at all and that is the degree to which having an intuitive and easy-to-use structure like pegging photos to a Facebook timeline matters. I think that is spot on. The relationship between process and product may matter and it begs further exploration.

There are other inhibiting factors as well.

I have written and spoken a lot about time as a zero-sum game and hereto it applies. Over the last year I have had the pleasure of visiting lots of schools and engaging with even more and scheduling as an expression of values almost always rises to the top. With no judgment implied, it seems reasonable to me to assume the following:

  • Schools struggle to schedule adequate time for professional growth.
  • It is difficult to require professional growth – let alone reflection and sharing – without providing adequate time for it to happen.
  • Thus, we wind up counting on tapping the finite well of educators’ natural altruism as the primary resource allocated to professional growth.

But none of the above is what I am interested in exploring here. Maybe they are the best remedies for what ails the ecosystem, and I do want to know more about better platforms, better schedules and all the sticks and carrots being used to successfully inculcate a culture of learn, reflect and share within and between schools. This is essentially the work of edJEWcon.

However, as I engage as actively as I can in blogs, groups, chats, etc., I want to identify another barrier that I think can inhibit even the best possible situation – an educator who wants to contribute to the conversation and even has the time, motivation, content and know-how to share…and, yet, still holds back.


I think one of the most inhibiting factors that contributes to lurking and a sense that the same voices dominate the conversation is that we have been conditioned to believe that “sharing” is akin to “self-promotion”.

Let me acknowledge the other side of the argument I want to make just to get it out of the way. People do take advantage of social media, chats, blogs, conversations, etc. as opportunities to self-promote. It happens. Frequently. And it does represent a breach of etiquette and a challenge to the moral imperative of sharing we are trying to create. I have been in those chats and comment sections where it feels more like jockeying for an opportunity to present one’s wares rather than a genuine desire to engage, share and learn from those present. And if I am being honest, knowing how the game is played and that there can be winners, I’ve probably been guilty of it myself. [If you ever find yourself on a chat with me and you feel like playing a drinking game, take a shot every time you hear me say “edJEWcon”. Just be sure you have a designated driver.]


The concern that whenever we genuinely share can be misconstrued as self-promotion can lead to conversations where only the self-promoters share! Everyone else is too humble to brag except the humblebraggers! [This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t genuine and thoughtful participants; I am exaggerating to make a point.]

I am deeply concerned about helping the thoughtful practitioner convert from lurker to contributor. The ecosystem will only work when feedback loops actively exist and inform. The power of networks is in their ability leverage excellence, facilitate conversation, engage peers in ongoing professional growth and to amplify the learning. That requires more voices more often. That requires the courage to contribute…

I’d rather run the risk of self-promotion if we can raise the volume of sharing. Discerning professionals will weed out the former for the latter. Let the problem of professional growth for Jewish Day Schools be too many dedicated professionals sharing their growth with peers and receiving too much feedback.

Hopefully this humble(brag) blog post will light the spark…

edJEWcon Inspired Me to Take My First Steps

EdJEWcon inspired me to take my first steps. I just spent the past 3 days learning with and from an incredible group of educators and the way I think about and use technology for teaching and learning will never be the same.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs points out that we have 21st century students learning 20th century curriculum in 19th century school versions. The task is overwhelming – with so many significant issues facing our schools, do we now really have to think about upgrading and doing it NOW? Leaving Jacksonville, the answer I took away is YES! Otherwise, the learners will not engage – it will not be in their language and in their context. It will not be relevant to the learner. As a Jewish educational leader working in a communal setting I left the conference with many questions both for myself – how do I begin to use and model these very tools? – and for the community I serve – how do I collaborate with a ‘coalition of the willing’, the early adopters, to impress upon our colleagues and communal leaders that we have no choice but to move into the 21st Century – into NOW? Too much is at stake for us not to take these steps, the world is changing faster than ever before.

Heidi also points out that the new pedagogy is “self-navigation” with the teacher as coach and co-learner with the student. If that’s the case, then we need educators who have the appropriate skills and attitudes to support students in navigating through their learning. This has significant implications for how we prepare, induct, and support teachers in their practice.

This is my first blog post and as I ask myself – why now? (besides the fact that Andrea, Silvia and Jon asked us to try it), I think about something a dear friend often points out to me, which is that I like to talk things out to process my ideas. I learned this week that blogging and tweeting are the “new” forms of communication that expand our world – that make it global…I am following Angela Maiers’ encouragement when she told us all “you are a genius and the world demands your contribution.” As I take these first steps into expanding my learning in this way, I wonder how many of our learners would flourish if they received the same message and had the tools with which to do so as part of their daily learning environment?

My Mind is a Twitter

My mind is a Twitter.  I’m all Blogged out.  And I can’t spend anymore time in the Apple App store.  I’m uncomfortable, in brain pain, and petrified of what I don’t know.  And I couldn’t be more excited or invigorated about it.

The last 2 ½ days at EdJewCon 5772.0 were some of the best and most inspiring days I have spent thinking about what Jewish education can be in the coming decades.  (I am intentionally NOT using” in the 21st century” as I have come to be uncomfortable with the term, thanks to all of you  🙂 ) I am thinking about my responsibility in making this a reality.  After all, I matter, Angela Maiers reminded me.  I keep thinking about what an incredible paradigm shift and reallocation of resources on a communal level would be needed to quickly upgrade and realign what we do, how we do it, and re-focusing on why we do things the way we do.  We talk about Jewish continuity and Jon Woocher suggested that maybe “continuity” isn’t our agenda anymore.  But even if it is, we can’t continue in the way we are approaching Jewish learning and community engagement.  We will leave the learner behind.  And therefore we leave the Jews behind. Our tradition and text can come alive even more if we use technology and current learning tools to enliven and inspire interest in the rich, complex, and meaningful tradition that we are responsible for.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs spoke of the 5 C’s necessary for curriculum and learning to be relevant and current to our learners.  Learning must involve communication, connection, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.  The content that Jewish education brings to the table is the perfect match.  Inherent in our tradition and our text is communication, connection, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.  The Talmud and the Commentaries are one long conversation and communication between thinkers, scholars, generations, and societies.  Critical thinking is innate, it is part of the Jewish DNA.

The past few days, learning with Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Angela Maiers, Silvia Tolisano, Jon Mitzmacher, and Andrea Hernandez have inspired me to think deeply about what it means to alter our Jewish educational system.  What do I, as a community Jewish educator, who sits every day in the 3rd largest Jewish community in the United States need to do to get community leaders, funders, parents, educators, and community professionals to understand that this is not a choice.  This is an imperative.  We can’t sit in our 20th century structures, with our 20th century institutional boundaries, and our 20th century learning tools and expect the residents of the 21st century to be inspired by what we offer them.

The opportunity to connect and communicate with the Jewish community on a global level has never been easier.  Israel and Jewish communities around the world don’t need to be distant relatives and others, they can be members of our Jewish communities, working together to do what we as a people are commanded to do, be a light unto the nations and spend our days L’taken Olam.

As uncomfortable and unsure of next my next steps as I am,  I am inspired and motivated to keep thinking, trying to make sense of the Twitter feed in my head, the Twitter feed on my phone, and the conversations both in person and online that I have entered into, in order to figure out our next steps.  Heidi Hayes Jacobs consistently challenged us to think about teaching and learning in a new way.  She modeled ways in which content and curriculum and engagement can come alive in ways it never could before.  We have the choice to make learning relevant, or not.  We can choose not to, but why? And at what expense?

So thank you Edjewcon5772.0.  I will be tossing and turning, my brain will not be sleeping, I will be feeling growing pains, and I will be continually uncomfortable.  Mission accomplished.  Because OR NOT is not an option.

Feasting at the tech table

Today we were treated to a tour de force tour by Heidi Hayes Jacobs of the incredible cornucopia of applications and websites that educators can turn to in order to enrich and update the learning  they offer their students.  True, absent a sound educational purpose and plan, they won’t necessarily produce worthwhile learning.  But I have to confess that I was dazzled by the sheer variety, sophistication, and imaginativeness of what is available today. It requires real work on the part of teachers to learn how to use these tools effectively, more, I suspect, than planning a “conventional” lesson.  But, I’m now a believer that it’s worth it, and fortunately, I suspect that teachers can help from their students!

Still, we need to think seriously about how we’re going to provide teachers with a real chance to become adept at weaving these tools into their teaching.  A conference like this is a great start, but it will take a lot more for Jewish education to seize the possibilities now awaiting it.

Tools and Tasks

The first sessions of edJEWcon have me thinking about the relationship of tools and tasks.  In her opening presentation, SIlvia Tolisano rightly noted that what is critical is the task we’re trying to do (getting a hole in the right place) not the tool we use to do that (the drill).  So, the key question we have to be asking as we consider all of the new digital tools and techniques available to us is: toward what end?

In a way, it’s a shame that we jumped right into the technology tools without having had a chance to really dig into what “21st century learning” is all about – not to mention what “21st century Jewish learning” should be.  Still, even at this early point in the conference a few ideas have emerged that seem worth thinking about.  One is that 21st century learning is about cultivating a set of learning skills and competences that are needed to thrive in the contemporary world, and, presumably, in the (near) future.  The list of the five “C’s” presented here – create, connect, communicate, collaborate, and critical thinking – and a sixth suggested on Twitter – curiosity – do constitute an implicit set of values not just for how we ought to learn, but how we need to live in our rapidly changing world.  Widening the scope of literacy to embrace an ability to make meaning of and with a wider range of media also implies a particular stance toward the world that is open and expansive, rather than parochial and narrow.

To the extent that today’s digital tools not only support, but in a sense demand this kind of learning, they are more than merely technical vehicles.  They are part of a process, as Silvia noted, of rethinking learning itself – its purposes, and not just its pedagogies.

Still, I think we need to go even farther, and hope that we will tomorrow.  By helping us to create, connect, communicate, and collaborate more extensively and effectively, by encouraging us to be curious and to think critically, 21st century learning is opening a pathway to re-envisioning the Jewish community of the 21st century.  If we can couple both the tools and the tasks being explored at this conference with the renewed sense of social and spiritual purpose now emerging as the central theme in today’s efforts to engage younger Jews and revitalize Jewish life, we will have a potent formula for reinventing Jewish education writ large.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s sessions to see where the discussions here go.