In July, the Jewish Federation demonstrated its
commitment to improving Hebrew education programs for adults and high school
students when the Federation Board approved $142,700 in grants to JCC Chicago’s
new Ulpan program and to Shorashim for expansion of Hebrew language efforts in
public high schools.
The restructuring and revitalization of Hebrew
language offerings for public high school students through Shorashim and for
adults through JCC, reflect the Jewish Federation’s commitment to enhance
educational services to the community while increasing efficiency in the Chicago
area’s Jewish educational system. As part of that restructuring, the Community
Foundation for Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago, which previously had
provided Hebrew language programming and support services, is assuming a new
role within the Federation system: to enhance innovation while continuing to
offer intensive Israel-experiences to eighth-grade students through the Ta’am
Yisrael (Taste of Israel) program.
Susan Abrams, JCC Chicago Associate General Director,
said, “Ulpan is a natural addition to JCC Chicago’s focus on the transmission
of Jewish culture and the formation of Jewish identity.”
The enhanced programs will offer language lessons for
a variety of learners using contemporary, interactive teaching methods.
JCC Chicago Ulpan will incorporate conversational,
cultural and communal experiences in 30 hours of instruction taught by a master
teacher over a 20-week period. “The program will ensure uninterrupted
availability of high-quality Hebrew language instruction in multiple locations
throughout Chicagoland,” Abrams said.
Course instruction levels vary from no prior Hebrew to
advanced speakers, and classes will be at Bernard Weinger JCC in Northbrook,
Mayer Kaplan JCC in Skokie, and Florence Heller JCC in Lakeview. A pilot
program consisting of six, one-hour sessions at JCC Chicago’s downtown office, has
been created to attract new learners and those who are unable to make a
“JCC Chicago is an excellent institution to provide
Jews from all backgrounds and beliefs, along with interested non-Jews, an
opportunity to learn together in a stimulating environment,” Abrams said.
JCC Chicago Ulpan intends to collaborate with many
organizations and synagogues in the community, including the Chicago Board of
Rabbis, JCC Sidney N. Shure Kehilla and Jewish United Fund’s YLD.
Shorashim engages Jewish youth ages 10 to 18, in
Israel culture and Hebrew language through public high school Hebrew
programs, youth groups and congregational schools. More than 600 students
are enrolled in high school Hebrew programs at Deerfield, Evanston, Glenbrook
North/South, Highland Park, New Trier, Niles North, and Stevenson high schools.
Chicagoland Jewish High School also has a Hebrew program.
Adam Stewart, executive director of Shorashim, said,
“This is by far the largest number of public high school Hebrew programs in a
single metropolitan area outside the State of Israel. The number of teens
signing up for Hebrew is impressive, but there is certainly more potential.”
Shorashim and Federation, along with national
partners, hope to leverage this investment with outside support for deeper
professional and curricular development opportunities. “This is an amazing
opportunity for Chicago to continue to lead the way in pioneering a field for
public school Hebrew programs,” Stewart said.
David T. Brown, Jewish United Fund/Federation Chairman
of the Board, said, “The Federation is proud to support these innovative Hebrew
education programs that connect our young people and adults to the local and
worldwide Jewish communities.” He noted that the board allocated potential
additional grants for innovative and collaborative Jewish education programs as
the year progresses. Expansion would come from within the $1.167 million
already designated for the Community Foundation for Jewish Education core
allocation, he said.