In recent years, there has been an explosion of “charter” schools in America. One such school is the Hebrew Language Academy, a “Hebrew language charter school” that provides its students with a bilingual education in Hebrew and English. This interview in Tablet with the school’s Executive Director, Aaron Listhaus, explains the school’s mission and educational philosophy.
According to Listhaus, the goal of the school is “to uncouple Hebrew from Judaism.” While the Hebrew Language Academy’s history program includes an emphasis on global Jewish history in addition to the bilingual Hebrew-English curriculum, it does not include any religious subjects such as Bible or Talmud. The school is open to students of any religious affiliation, and the emphasis is on “having an excellent school” for students of all backgrounds, including students who speak neither Hebrew nor English as a first language.
The Hebrew Language Academy’s curriculum may provide an attractive education option for interfaith or secular Jewish families. There is already evidence that the school is accommodating students from exactly these backgrounds. In the interview, Listhaus mentions that many of the school’s students are from the former Soviet Union and Israel; two Jewish groups that have traditionally been more secular. While this school does not track religious statistics, it would be interesting to see if interfaith families feel drawn to the Hebrew Language Academy as well.
There are a number of reasons why interfaith and secular Jewish families might be interested in schools such as the Hebrew Language Academy. While such families might be invested in providing their children with a strong sense of Jewish identity, options such as Jewish day schools or Hebrew schools may have barriers to attendance. If a family is secular, they may dislike the emphasis on religious texts that is common in day schools and almost de rigueur in supplementary Hebrew schools. In addition, some day schools and Hebrew schools may have policies in place that would not allow children from interfaith families to attend.
There are many different sorts of Jewish families, and each one may have a different idea of what Jewish education is best for their children. While traditionally the Jewish community provides an education that emphasizes Jewish religion, that option may not be best for certain families. In these situations, Hebrew language charter schools may provide an alternative for parents seeking to give their children a strong sense of Jewish history and culture.