Students keep language alive following Hebrew class cancellation


Zinnia Schwartz

Hebrew teacher Anna Raiber addresses the class.

Zachary Bahar, News Writer

End of an Era.

When a class community is no longer available to students, they respond. This is what is happening following the decision made earlier this month to cancel the Hebrew Program.

“It [the Hebrew Program] really helped me to find my place at ETHS,” senior, Remi Welbel said. “It’s such a big school and I came from such a small school and it felt nice to have people who I could relate to on this deep level.”

According to the administration, the most pressing issue in keeping the program is the difficulty in staffing.

“We need certified and qualified teachers, which have been hard to find,” World Languages/Bilingual Education Department Chair Rachel Gressel said. “In the past five years, we’ve had three teachers.”

In 2015, long-time teacher Semadar Siegel retired after teaching for 17 years. After searching for new teachers proved difficult, the school made a deal with Niles North to share instructor, Anna Raiber. After two years, however, Raiber was unable to keep teaching at ETHS, forcing the program to be removed entirely.

“One person can’t sustain a program,” Gressel said.

Incoming students were warned about entering Hebrew following Siegel’s retirment. Senior Remi Welbel believes caused the program to collapse.

“The school was threatening to end the Hebrew program, which caused in turn caused low enrolment, further justifying the cancellation of the program; it’s a Catch 22,” Welbel said.

The program hit its lowest enrollment this year with 35 students. Next year, students will have to continue their learning online.

“I think that [online studies] can be a temporary solution and that it is good for seniors who want to finish out their learning, but that the only long term solution is to find a teacher who will come here and rebuild the program,” Raiber said.

According to both Raiber and Gressel, learning a language online takes out much of the interactions among students.

A group, Boker Tov Breakfast, was created to continue that space. With monthly meetings, the club will try to keep the haven that many students, including Welbel, felt that Hebrew classes provided them.

“Should we find qualified instructors, I would be thrilled to bring the program back,” Gressel said. “But again, it is unlikely that this will happen.”

In the meantime, the Israeli Club aims to provide a space for students to continue to connect to their culture and to learn about the language of their people.

“We want to show the diversity and how we embrace all cultures, and represent them, something we will keep doing regardless of the school’s decision,” Israeli Club Sponsor Jodi Alperstein said.