Wanted: Nonreligious Israelis for work in communities abroad.
It sounds like a weird job qualification, but according to the Jerusalem-based World Zionist Organization, Israeli-trained Hebrew language teachers who can be trusted to keep religion out of the classroom are in high demand these days.
“There is a growing realization that the best way to connect Jews abroad to the Jewish people and the State of Israel is through Hebrew, because it provides us with a common language,” says Silvio Joskowitz, director of the education department at the NGO (which operates in conjunction with the Jewish Agency).
“But more and more non-Orthodox schools are teaching Hebrew these days, and they’re not interested in hiring Orthodox teachers. They are much more interested in Israeli culture than in religion,” he explains.
However, out of the 220 Israelis currently teaching Hebrew in Jewish communities abroad as envoys of WZO, only 70 are nonobservant, Joskowitz notes. These envoys are based in about a dozen different countries around the world.
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Joskowitz says the proliferation of publicly funded Hebrew-language charter schools across the United States is a key factor behind the booming demand for nonreligious Hebrew teachers.
More than a dozen such schools – all part of the Hebrew Public network – have opened over the past decade, with several more in the pipeline. Such charter schools, where Hebrew is taught as a second language, are prohibited from teaching religion. About half the students attending these schools are not Jewish.
Nonobservant, Israeli-trained Hebrew teachers are also in high demand among private Jewish schools not affiliated with the Orthodox movement – including Jewish day schools run by the Conservative and Reform movements.
“Many Jewish schools already have their religious studies covered and are more concerned these days with finding Israelis professionally trained to teach Hebrew as a language,” says Joskowitz.
He notes that in the past it was common for Jewish day schools to hire Israeli expats with no specific training as Hebrew teachers, simply because they spoke the language fluently.
“Our goal,” he says, “is to turn Hebrew not into the mother tongue, but rather, into the national tongue.”
WZO has launched a social media campaign aimed at recruiting anywhere from 60 to 80 Hebrew teachers over the next few weeks.
All those accepted to the program will ultimately have their salaries and relocation expenses paid for by the schools that employ them.
All WZO teaching envoys are required to spend three years abroad and must have a minimum of two years’ experience teaching in an Israeli school.
Addressing the recent General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said he intended to demand funding from the government to subsidize Hebrew language courses for Jews abroad – out of a belief that if Jews in Israel and overseas spoke a common language, they would communicate better.
“From here on,” he told the GA last October, “it will be every young Jew’s birthright, wherever he or she may live, not only to visit this historic homeland but to learn the language of the Jewish people. Hebrew can be a common denominator of all Jews, from all streams of Judaism and of affiliated or nonaffiliated Jews.”