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Stevenson Hebrew: The Underdog?

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By Abigail Lapins

I spent the summer of 2016 in a Hebrew immersion program called Chalutzim at OSRUI, the URJ’s Reform overnight camp in Oconomowoc, WI. The anticipation of my upcoming summer and intensive study of the Hebrew language fueled a passion I didn’t know I had -- leading me to register for Hebrew at Stevenson High School. Having spent the first 14 years of my life living in Southeastern Wisconsin, I never dreamed that studying Hebrew in high school would be an option! 

I’m proud that when I tell people I attend Stevenson High School they usually recognize it as one of the best public high schools in the nation. As students, we don’t think about Stevenson that way, we just think about it as the school we go to everyday. 

Stevenson is just one of many public high schools in the Chicago metropolitan area that offer students the opportunity to study the Hebrew language. As part of a new JUF focus on Hebrew programs, the Hebrew Enhancement Committee (made up of seven students schools that offer Hebrew), I -- representing Stevenson -- met with the full group and quickly learned that Stevenson has the smallest Hebrew program of all. I was shocked! Who would have thought that Stevenson could ever be considered an underdog in anything?  Before this meeting, I assumed all Hebrew programs were similar to Stevenson’s. However, I was mistaken, as a lot of Hebrew programs in the area are very successful and quite large.


Stevenson’s program offers four full years of Hebrew language study. As high school students, we think about what will look good on our college applications. I believe that speaking a unique language like Hebrew will definitely help us stand out from other prospective students. Our program also provides students with the opportunity to form lasting friendships while building a strong team committed to working together to achieve a common goal. We are our own little community within the “city” that is Stevenson. It is very easy for our teacher, Anna Gorbikoff, to get to know each of us individually and help us excel in her classes. I believe that our small class size provides a calmer, more interactive and effective learning environment. For example, earlier in the school year we spent an entire class period cooking authentic Israeli dishes, something that could not be accomplished with 25+ people in a classroom. 

One of the things that most people do not understand about Hebrew programs is that you do not need to be Jewish in order to learn the language. Yes, it is the language of the Jewish people, however, in class we learn not only about how to speak the language, but also about the Israel’s culture and its history. Hebrew is one of the official languages of Israel, which is why we take the time to learn about Israeli holidays and traditions. We also learn the history of the language, where it is spoken, and how to communicate with others who share the ability to speak it.

As my first year in the Hebrew program draws to a close, I am excited about the opportunities ahead and excited to see how the program will continue to grow and evolve. Being a part of the program has continued to fuel my passion for learning and speaking Hebrew. I look forward to sharing this experience with all students who join the program in the years ahead.