The Possibilities and Potential of Hebrew in America

By David Gedzelman

Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, Spring 2011

American culture does not seem to lend itself to encouraging the acquisition of multiple languages through its educational institutions and otherwise. It should therefore come as no surprise that the Jewish educational establishment has had great difficulty in helping American Jews to master the Hebrew language. Mastery of Hebrew among the vast majority of Jews in America has been limited to some facility with decoding prayer-book Hebrew without much understanding. And yet, the Hebrew language has been an essential element of the authentic Jewish experience since the Jewish People's Biblical beginnings until today. For Americans, a Jewish Peoplehood that connects them to the culture of Israel cannot be achieved if they remain ignorant of the basic element of that culture, the Hebrew language, which also serves as the basic element of historic Jewish civilization. But in the end, it is questionable whether the vast majority of American Jews, who are fully entrenched in the American open society, will embrace the Hebrew language if they continue to perceive Hebrew as parochial and inaccessible to their non-Jewish friends, co-workers and family members. Just as the Alliance Francaise movement championed the learning of the French language for all who were interested and not just those of French origin, it is time to promote Hebrew in America as the living modern language of one of America's closest allies, with both contemporary and ancient import, not just for American Jews but for everyone. Otherwise, a large segment of American Jews may not see its value.

Topic: History, Peoplehood, Language, Culture, Jewish Identity, Hebrew, Community Relations, Identity

Name of Publication: Contact: The Journal of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life

Editor: Valley, Eli

Volume/Issue: Vol.13/no.2

Page Number(s): 3-4

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Genre: Popular Periodical

Coverage: United States

Language: English

Copyright Holder: Publisher

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Gedzelman, David. The Possibilities and Potential of Hebrew in America. Contact: The Journal of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. Spring 2011: 3-4.


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