If you thought learning Hebrew couldn't possibly be fun, try doing it while running, jumping, climbing and sliding. You'll be surprised. Better yet, your kids will be, too.
Beth Hatefutsoth, the Museum of the Jewish People, is not exactly the sort of place you think of when you're looking for a good time, or the first choice that pops into your head when you're planning a day out with the kids. But spend a couple of hours at its new interactive and experiential exhibit on the Hebrew language, and you're bound to be become a believer.
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"A B See Do: Adventures in Hebrewland" or "Abagada," as it's known in Hebrew, does indeed target rather small kids – specifically ages 3 through 10 – but is certainly appropriate for older ones as well.
For children who aren't native Hebrew speakers and whose main association with the language of the Jews is being forced to wake up early Sunday mornings to attend bar or bat mitzvah classes, the exhibit, dare we say it, makes language learning fun. Kids have a chance to reacquaint themselves with the letters and sounds of the ancient tongue in a friendly atmosphere. At the very least, it will show them that expanding their knowledge of Hebrew doesn't necessarily have to be painful.
"A B See Do," which opened in July 2011, is one of Beth Hatefutsoth's temporary exhibits, but considering its popularity, museum staff assured us, it doesn't look like it's coming down anytime soon. For the very young, or those with little background in Hebrew, there are lots of fun activities designed to get them better acquainted with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Take, for example, a game called "Catch a Letter" that involves running around a circle projected onto the floor and trying to identify specific Hebrew letters floating around in it. Once the right letter has been caught with the stamp of a foot, an image appears of that particular letter used at the start of a simple Hebrew word. Not only do children begin to recognize some letters, they now will also recognize a few words. In another game, visitors sit in a carousel-like contraption circling a table with a touch screen that allows them to form basic words by mixing around letters.
There's another cool game that challenges visitors to identify what part of the mouth is responsible for different sounds in Hebrew. Just watching other visitors stand in front of a mirror doing this one (especially trying to figure out where the "zzzzz" in the letter zayin comes from) is also pretty amusing.
One of our favorites was a competitive game that requires participants to race around a conveyor belt searching for moving letters and then fit these letters into their appropriate spots in words that are also flashing by. The first player or group to complete all the words wins, and they're usually red in the face by the time they do.
Just so you know, there's little sitting around in this place. Almost all activities require some sort of physical movement. There are quite a few rock-climbing walls, a bunch of slides, swinging chairs and other installations that force kids to burn lots of energy while they simultaneously challenge their minds. The floors in the 570-square-meter space that houses the exhibit are all padded so that even the wildest kids can go crazy without causing much damage. Just as a precaution, though, all visitors entering the space are required to remove their shoes.
For more advanced Hebrew speakers and older kids, there are more challenging mental activities, such as games that require them to figure out the source, the three-letter root or the definition of words in Hebrew. Another game even lets them make up their own words in Hebrew. A special section of the exhibit, also appropriate for relatively older kids, is devoted to communicating through other methods besides speech. In this section, children are taught some of the basics of sign language, as well as reading and writing in Braille. They can also try their hand at pantomiming and experimenting with voice intonation while they're at it.
At the "Well of Names," children can plug in their Hebrew names into a computer and learn about their origins. For visitors from abroad who may not use their Hebrew names as much or may not be as familiar with the ancient roots of these names, this could be an especially meaningful activity.
Although children cannot enter the exhibit unaccompanied, parents do not need to be at their sides at all times, and there's even space designated at the entrance where adults can relax. The exhibit is built in such a way that the kids themselves decide in what order to move around and how much time to spend at each stop. The walls of the exhibit contain lots of fun facts about the Hebrew language and languages in general, so parents not interested in joining their kids for some of the more sweat-producing activities can roam around and expand their knowledge. Did you know, for example, that the number of Hebrew words in use has multiplied six times since the beginning of the 20th century? Or did you know that the first Hebrew word ever to appear in slang form was "l'hit" (an abbreviated form of the word "l'hitraot" that means "see you")? Well, now you do!
The museum recommends allocating an hour to the exhibit. Suffice it to say that after two hours, we had to drag the kids out virtually kicking and screaming. They did sleep well, though.
Address: Tel Aviv University campus, Klausner St., Gate 2
Hours: Sundays-Thursday, 4 P.M.-7 P.M., Fridays: 9 A.M.-1 P.M. Hour are expanded during school breaks and holidays.
Cost: NIS 40 for children and adults.
Transportation: Several bus lines stop right by the museum. There is also a paid parking lot nearby.