NY Times video on the Hebrew charter school in Brooklyn


 The New York Times has an interesting video on the multi-cultural student body and faculty at the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School in Brooklyn.

Check it out here.

The video accompanies a story in the Times that questions whether the school – which is publicly financed, and that has been pushed by philanthropist Michael Steinhardt — has been able to avoid infringing upon church-state separation.

Some civil libertarians have criticized the school, saying that it is too difficult to navigate the church-state divide, particularly around Israel, a country with explicit ties to a religion.

“Israelis themselves have a hard time around the question of whether Israel is a Jewish state or a democracy,” said Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington. “Why would we want to involve a public school here in that question?”

Mr. Steinhardt’s daughter, Sara Berman, the chairwoman of the school’s board, said that learning about Hebrew and Israeli culture was no different from learning about Bastille Day and baguettes in French class.

“This is a dual-language school, contextualized by a rich culture,” Ms. Berman said. “To say that you can’t learn about what it is like to go to a shuk in Jerusalem because it’s too complicated or tied to religion or politics, that’s just not the case.”
Students are just as likely to learn about Christmas or Ramadan as about Purim, and teachers say they check with the school’s lawyers before veering into any lesson with ties to Judaism.

In one bow to the rules of religion, students are served kosher food from a local caterer.
Each class has both an English and a Hebrew teacher. (There are three classes each in kindergarten and first grade, but the school plans to expand through the 12th grade.)

Students receive at least an hour of Hebrew instruction daily — the hallway is filled with ear-piercing shouts as the students learn that chicken is called auf and a cow is a parah.

“At first my life felt a lot like being the teacher in Charlie Brown — all I would get is blank stares,” said Elana Weinberg, the twins’ Hebrew instructor. “Now they answer back without even thinking too much.”

Check out the whole story here.

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