Cheryl Stone Blog Post: Ivriyon 2014, by Cheryl Stone

Sept 18_Shofet of the YearCheryl Stone, Judaic Teacher at Gross Schechter in Cleveland, attended Ivriyon this past summer. The Ivriyon program strengthens the Hebrew language proficiency skills necessary for teaching in Hebrew by way of peer teaching, participant presentations, and textual study. She is committed to ongoing professional development and reflects on her experience and next steps in her blog post. Schechter Day School Network is proud to support our teachers’ commitment to professional development and proficiency in Hebrew language.

Not really knowing what to expect, I found Ivriyon to be more than I could have hoped for.  I arrived in the afternoon to a quiet dorm.  The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) is a labyrinth of hallways that in the coming days we would dub “Hogwarts” for is strange and confusing configuration.  At night in the early summer, without students and faculty running around, the dorms were eerily quiet.

We gathered together the first morning for breakfast, a meet and greet, to get the full lowdown of what we had signed on for.  We were a diverse group from all over the country, coming from different religious backgrounds and with different educational objectives. I was happy to be finally meeting the voice and power behind the program, Miriam Meir, our friendly taskmaster, who beguilingly smiled as she listed what would be expected of us.

We would be teaching a mini-lesson every other day that we would script and execute in Hebrew, starting the very next day.  We would create worksheets, in Hebrew.  We would be reading a book in Hebrew. as well as  a mini-essay to write every evening, also in Hebrew.  We had courses in grammar with nightly homework that would be, of course, in Hebrew.  Wow, we were feeling very overwhelmed.  Could we really accomplish this?  Personally, I knew that this was what I had signed up for, but I was feeling daunted by the process.

Our days were full, beginning with chimmum, a chance to ‘warm up’ by discussing what we had written the night before in our mini-essays.  Topics ranged from “Who would we like most to meet?” to “Our hopes and dreams.”  Some would be easier than others to articulate in Hebrew.  Following that there was a quick paced and intensive grammar lesson.  Then came the teaching.  We were divided roughly by the ages that we would be teaching. We soon came to realize that the lower grades were utilizing play dough and crayons while the upper -grades were limited to worksheets.  This would need to be amended.

On with our day….The afternoons were filled by speakers from various departments in JTS, my favorite being our session with Dr. David Kraemer as he reviewed selected item from the special collections of the JTS Library.   These included fragments from the Cairo Ganiza found by Solomon Schechter, some of which were written by Maimonides.  Another particular highlight was a Ketubah written during Rambam’s time that showed how women had the power to amend ketubot to meet their particular needs and debunking two myths, the first that the language on a ketubah must always be the same and the second  that women have always been seen as second class with regards to religious matters.

I’m not that much different from my students in that I can appreciate the need to be in class and that there is a lot to learn, but feel the best part of the day is when we get to head outdoors.  We had several different tiullim (field trips) during our program; the Lower East Side and The Jewish Heritage Museum were among them.  For me, the most memorable was our visit to the Metropolitan Museum.  Rather than a whirlwind tour trying to encompass all that the museum has to offer, we learned about, contemplated, and discussed just a few diverse pieces, of course, all in Hebrew.  We even got a chance to try our hand at being artists and emulate a particular painting.

After four weeks, we completed the program by presenting a complete unit that we had built, with the help of Miriam.  This unit included our lesson plans, handouts and other resources.  There was a ‘good bye’ lunch and we were done.  Somehow, what had seemed like an insurmountable task was behind us.  We had made it.  In the process, we learned a ton, gained confidence and created some wonderful friendships.  We were reluctant to say goodbye, lingering as long as we could.

The true test is still yet to come.  Will we be able to effectively implement what we’ve learned in our classrooms?  To this end, we have a mentor to help us, as well as colleagues to help correct our mistakes.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to have spent my summer working to improve my classroom and my curriculum.

Cheryl has joined a Facebook page for Ivriyon educators and is looking to connect with colleagues. Interested in embarking on a learning journey? Want to learn more from Cheryl about the impact of Ivriyon on her practice? Email her at cstone@grossschechter.org for more information.