His Beef With Orthodoxy

Joe emails:

I saw your story on shalhevet hiring vered hopenstand to teach hebrew and it reminded me of a funny story and an issue to raise. I was in a Hopenstand class in high school and she would talk to alot of the "dibs" (dumb israeli bastards), i.e. the native hebrew speakers, about what went on in the school. I was carpooling with one of such natives and heard Hopenstand tell the following tale about a woodshedding she got.

Apparently, she was teaching a class of honors students at YULA and gave them a truly wicked assignment, namely, to read one of S.Y. Agnon’s (Israeli Nobel Laureate) stories, I believe it was "tehilla" a truly remarkable work about Jerusalem. Well, the story was apparently so difficult that a few of the kids complained to mommy and daddy and some of the daddies (I recall a levine, rothman, wasserman, kupietzky or some of such being involved, it was over 20 years ago) went into Hopenstand to complain that the work was too hard and they also gave a tongue lashing to bruce powell for torturing the kids by making them read such high level stuff. Unreal.

I never saw any parent complain about Physics or Trig or Gemara at Yula being too difficult.

The reason is that those subjects are valued by Orthodox parents. Speaking in Hebrew, which essentially proves the existence of god (there is no other people in the world, save maybe some basques, whose children can speak the same language to discuss rap music as the holy texts that existed before the advent of the wheel), is less important for orthodox jews than it should be.

Even today, orthodox day schools do not make it mission critical for their students to be fluent in hebrew, yet the kids can recite shemone esreh by heart by age 9. Much more imporant for them to be able to read Haaretz by the sixth grade than to be able to bentsch by heart.

I think it is sad and has to do with the latent ambivalence toward zionism in orthodoxy – even in a shul like Bnai David or YICC where the rabbi will advise congregants to recycle…to help Israel, the hebrew element is missing. It also has to do with the fact that hebrew speakers in america are overwhelmingly not observant. Even now, the native hebrew speakers are not the bread and butter of orthodox day schools. The wealthier parents at such schools are native americans, richer israelis seems to congregate toward conservative and reform schools and then public school as keeping the sabbath interferes with racing speedboats at Pyramid Lake on Saturday (a favorite pasttime of white trash and wealthy israelis).

I think it is a major embarrassment to orthodox day schools that hebrew fluency is down there with teaching the US civil rights movement in American history class. It is far more important to the Jewish people.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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