Findings From School Observations

Thus far we have sketched a portrait of Hebrew education in part-time Jewish schools using survey data—quantitative and qualitative—about various constituents’ rationales, goals, and practices. In this section, we add nuance and color to this portrait by presenting qualitative data collected during classroom observations in 12 part-time Jewish schools. First, we compare topics covered and describe how students were more engaged in classroom instruction around God, social justice, and Torah stories, as well as HTM, than in the sessions where they practiced decoding and recitation. Then, we explain how schools use ethnolinguistic infusion, exposing students to fragments of Hebrew not only to enable ritual participation but also to socialize them into a worldwide community of Jews who value Hebrew.

Topics covered and student engagement

During our observations, Hebrew language was taught frequently, alongside and intertwined with prayers, holidays, ethics/values, theology, and biblical and rabbinic literature. However, the interactions surrounding Hebrew were on a far more elementary level than other topics. In the realm of ethics, for example, teachers led in-depth conversations on contemporary social justice topics, such as refugees, hunger, and veterans’ PTSD, incorporating sources from Torah, midrash (rabbinic textual interpretations), aggadah (rabbinic lore), and Maimonides’ writings on tzedakah. In conversations about theology, students demonstrated strong engagement and critical thinking. At a Reform school, one 6th grader described God as “a figment or idea that holds some meaning,” and another said that some people “believe in the values of their religion, but they don’t believe in the mythology of it.” At a Reconstructionist school, 6th graders learned about theology using printouts of various Jewish philosophers—Heschel, Kaplan, Buber, Borowitz, Plaskow—and then completed worksheets indicating their personal stance on each approach.

In contrast, when students studied Hebrew, most of the work was relatively rudimentary, even in 6th grade. In most of the observed schools, Hebrew education focused primarily on ritual competence: recognizing Hebrew letters, decoding Hebrew words, and reciting prayers. A few schools offered some instruction in Modern Hebrew conversation, including using HTM. But the most advanced language instruction we observed—at a Conservative school in Illinois—was only at the “novice high” level,66 even though the students had been studying at the school for six or more years. This discrepancy between basic Hebrew learning and more advanced learning in other Jewish content areas (such as theology) is not surprising, since deeper language learning would require more hours of instruction and more consistent attendance than is typical in part-time Jewish schools. Students likely discuss ideas and values in (age-appropriate) sophisticated ways in their homes and secular schools, enabling their Jewish schools to discuss those topics at high levels. But they have little exposure to Hebrew outside of their Jewish schools.

We also found a similar discrepancy between Hebrew and other subjects when we analyzed how attentive and engaged students appeared to be. Students seemed most engaged in conversations on theology or values and in interactive, gamified activities. In sessions that involved Hebrew decoding practice, they often seemed more detached. Students also seemed more engaged in smaller classes or classes that broke up into pairs or small groups. Time of day was also a factor: students seemed more attentive in classes that met on Sunday mornings than on weekday afternoons and evenings. The later it got on a weekday, the more students showed signs of fatigue and restlessness. In one school’s afternoon session, students were quite attentive in the first class, a bit rowdy but still engaged in the second, and a combination of attentive, fatigued, and complaining in the third.

At an evening session in a Reform school, the topic seemed to influence student engagement more than the time of day. Students were more engaged in the second class, which focused on midrash, than the first class, which focused on decoding and recitation. In the first class, the lowest of three levels in 6th grade, the seven students were taking turns decoding and reciting several prayers and blessings that they had been studying all year (this was the fourth year they were working on decoding). Students completed the decoding and recitation tasks, but they also complained, asked when they could eat, and were reprimanded for interrupting. Two students arrived late—coming straight from dance—and exacerbated the chaotic atmosphere. The researcher who observed this class used the metaphor of “whack-a-mole” to describe the teacher’s attempts to keep the students on task. The teacher, who had been in her position for many years, reported that this session was typical, even though the teaching assistant was absent that day. Previous scholarship suggests that the students’ disinterested behavior represents a broader trend in classes that practice decoding in a group setting.67

Following a break and snack, the students returned to the class, and the same teacher led a discussion of the midrash (she called it “story”) about Moses visiting Rabbi Akiva’s classroom and not understanding the lesson. After the students read and discussed the story in pairs, the teacher asked the students, “What messages are you getting from the story?” A student responded, “Every year, Torah takes on new meaning because we change and our world changes.” The teacher asked the students how an orchard is a metaphor for Torah, referring to the PARDES acronym they had previously discussed. One student suggested, “Torah tells stories that have morals or lessons in each story. There’s always more to learn if you study again and more.” Another added, “Everything has layers.” During this conversation, some students were walking around the classroom, and one was sent out for being disruptive, but in general students seemed more attentive and engaged than in the previous session.

Student apathy and disengagement was not limited to Hebrew decoding classes. At a different Reform school, in a 6th grade class session focused on holidays, each student was expected to complete a crossword puzzle involving Jewish life vocabulary surrounding Purim. Some students approached the task seriously, and a few completed the worksheet. But as the class progressed, the students became more rowdy and less on task. Students chatted with each other, leaned back in their chairs, and listened to music on their cell phones.

We observed slightly higher levels of student engagement in a Hebrew decoding class at this school. The six students were divided into groups according to ability, and the teacher and teen madrich were helping them recite the Aleinu prayer. Most students were on task and seemed engaged, but a few slumped in their chairs or sat on the floor, indicating little desire to participate.

These two classes contrasted significantly with this school’s sessions of HTM. Although our quantitative analysis did not find correlations between HTM use and reported success in affective goals, the HTM we observed seemed to give students more positive, engaging experiences with Hebrew than their instruction in decoding and content classes that focused on Jewish life vocabulary. The teacher, a young Israeli-born woman, began with basic commands—lalachet (to walk) and laatsor (to stop)—and the 6th-graders eagerly followed them, moving around a paved outdoor courtyard. Then the commands became more complex: lasim et yad yamin al ha’af (put your right hand on your nose), lasim yad smol al tzeva kachol (put your left hand on the color blue). Many students immediately understood and demonstrated the appropriate action, but others simply imitated the more advanced students. When individual students were asked to follow commands, a few were unable to do so. Eventually it was the students’ turn to give commands, as this was an advanced class. Most students gave commands that were almost as elaborate as those of the teacher, such as, “yad smol al habeten” (left hand on the stomach), but some gave pidginized commands, like “rosh kachol” (head blue, meaning put your head on something blue). Most of the teacher’s evaluations and other incidental comments were in Hebrew, e.g., tov me’od, meaning “very good,” but some were in English, such as “good job” and “Oh so sorry,” when she called a student by the wrong name. Students made comments to each other in English, but most of the official activity took place in Hebrew. Although a few students used the movement commands as an opportunity to run around, and a few deliberately moved more slowly than the others, most students seemed quite engaged, much more than in the decoding and holiday classes.

This discrepancy in engagement is not surprising. Most children would feel more engaged in a kinesthetic activity or a conversation that aligns with the level of discourse in their secular school than in the tedious task of learning to decode a foreign alphabet. However, most schools do expect students to acquire skills in decoding Textual Hebrew. How can they accomplish this goal without using so much of their limited class time? Educational leaders have come up with a few creative solutions to this problem. Some schools that participate in the #OnwardHebrew movement introduce decoding in 4th grade or later—through small groups, through one-on-one learning, or through a “decoding boot camp” with volunteer tutors. One Reconstructionist school does some decoding and recitation work in small groups during the regular school sessions, but they also require weekly one-on-one Hebrew tutoring, either in person or via technology. Another approach is to assign homework, especially in the form of web- or app-based games, for students to practice decoding on their own, thereby cutting down on the hours decoding in class.

Hebrew infusion

Aside from HTM and a few other instances of Modern Hebrew conversation, most of the Hebrew instruction we observed at part-time Jewish schools could be classified as ethnolinguistic infusion. Students were being socialized not only to participate in the ritual life of Judaism through decoding and recitation but also to feel part of a local and international metalinguistic community that values Hebrew. Schools used several aspects of infusion: loanwords, signage, conversation about Hebrew, and, to a smaller extent, engaging activities. Even the decoding and recitation are aspects of ethnolinguistic infusion: students are engaging with the language in routinized ways without the ability to converse in it.

Hebrew loanwords / Jewish life vocabulary

A common component of ethnolinguistic infusion is loanwords—words from one language used within another language. The most common loanwords we heard in our observations were Hebrew-origin words referring to Jewish observance, texts, and values (see examples of all loanword types in Table E). We also heard some Jewish life vocabulary originating in Yiddish and some related to Israel education. All of these are loanwords common in Jewish communities beyond the school, words that the #OnwardHebrew approach calls “Jewish life vocabulary.” We also heard many Hebrew loanwords beyond Jewish life vocabulary. These included words referring to roles, periods, and items at school. In some cases, official documents or signs used Hebrew words, but most participants referred to the item with an English word, such as “Hebrew” instead of “ivrit” or “5th grade” instead of “kitah hey.” In addition to Jewish life vocabulary and school-specific words, we heard several other Hebrew phrases used in routinized contexts, such as prayer choreography, greetings and closings, quieting, and evaluation. Sometimes these were routinized as group utterances, such as at the end of a Reform service, when the rabbi requested, “Everyone please say “yasher koach,” and the students responded in unison.

Table E

 

Another common use of routinized Hebrew was counting, sometimes of children, sometimes of objects and, quite commonly, counting off before starting a song: “Echad, shtayim, shalosh, arba!” (one, two, three, four). Several teachers also incorporated routinized Hebrew when taking roll: a few classes of all levels began with the teacher saying students’ names and the students replying “Ani po” (I’m here) or, if a child is absent, classmates replying “[Name] lo po” (not here). Teachers also used other Hebrew words in less routinized ways, such as yala (come on), balagan (chaos), toda raba (thank you very much), and “who’s holding the delet [door]?”

When school leaders and teachers use these words, they expose students to some (mostly routinized) fragments of Hebrew within the context of a language they already understand, making it easier for them to figure out the meaning of the words and remember them. In some cases, teachers prompted students to use loanwords too—one more way of infusing Hebrew into the primarily English environment and fostering students’ personal connection to the language.

Linguistic schoolscapes: Hebrew writing on white boards, worksheets, and walls

Another building block of infusion is signage. Research on “linguistic landscapes”—the use of (multiple) language(s) on signs in public space, like storefronts and street signs—sheds light on ideologies and power dynamics regarding particular languages.68 The visual representations of language within schools, known as schoolscapes,69 are also interesting to analyze, especially when they use minority languages. Schools are intentionally designed spaces over which directors and teachers have some autonomy, and many use those spaces to infuse written fragments of their group’s language, serving pedagogical and symbolic purposes.

In the schools where we observed, the walls were decorated with signs in a combination of English, Hebrew in Hebrew letters, and transliterated Hebrew (and in one synagogue in South Florida, Spanish: Feliz Pesaj [Happy Passover]). Hebrew was used in synagogues’ room signs, memorial plaques, and event flyers, but most of the posted Hebrew we saw was in pedagogical materials, such as those teaching Hebrew letters, words, shorashim (grammatical roots), verb conjugations, body parts, months, maps of Israel, and blessings (Figure 18).

Figure 18

Some signs were professionally printed, and others were hand-drawn by adults or children. Some were artistically rendered, and others were plain. Most were in block letters, not cursive, although we did find a few cursive signs at Conservative schools, including charts of Hebrew block and cursive letters. Some signs had nikud (vowel markings), and others did not. When teachers wrote on blackboards and whiteboards, they generally used block letters, sometimes with nikud, sometimes not.

Another type of sign we noticed in schools was Hebrew labels, which generally included English and transliterated Hebrew. Some schools had a few of these, but a Reconstructionist

school in California had dozens, labeling items as diverse as sinks, clocks, light switches (Figure 19) and bookshelves (Figure 20).

People who visit the school wing do not need these signs to understand that they are looking at a light switch or a bookshelf, and there is generally no instruction surrounding these particular words. The more functional labels are only in English, such as the topics within the bookshelf. The Hebrew labels serve a symbolic purpose, emphasizing the importance of Hebrew in this institution and creating a Hebrew-rich space. One can see a similar phenomenon in other situations of ethnolinguistic infusion, such as the Chickasaw (a Native American language) enthusiast in Oklahoma who posts Chickasaw labels on locations and objects around the recreation center where he works (including a light switch), hoping the young citizens of the Chickasaw Nation who enter the center will recognize the importance of the language and learn some phrases.70

Figure 19
Figure 20

One Reform school uses signage to reinforce Jewish life vocabulary. This school has a bulletin board with a rotating display of letters and transliterated words. One day the Hebrew letter of the week was פּ/פ (pey/fey), and This Week’s Jewish Life Vocabulary was Purim (Holiday of “Lots”), pri (fruit), and Pesach (Passover). At the end of each day, all classes convened in a large circle in the social hall (as parents looked on) and, after some songs and words of inspiration, reviewed these letters and vocabulary words.

This aspect of ethnolinguistic infusion serves both symbolic and pedagogical purposes. By surrounding students with Hebrew visuals, educators intentionally create spaces that highlight the language and demonstrate its value to

the synagogue and/or school community. And, in the case of labels, some students might learn some Hebrew words after seeing them week after week. The diversity of the schoolscapes—involving various amounts of Hebrew vs. English and block vs. cursive letters—points to the different values each institution places on Hebrew and different types of Hebrew as part of the Jewish educational experience.71

Metalinguistic interactions: Talk about Hebrew in English

In situations of ethnolinguistic infusion, community leaders and educators often initiate metalinguistic conversation—talk about the language. Research on Yiddish-oriented metalinguistic communities, for example, found that participants were socialized to hold certain ideologies about the language, not only about its importance for their personal identity but also about particular dialects and source languages.72 At part-time Jewish schools, we observed several metalinguistic conversations—in English—about Hebrew.

The most common type of metalinguistic conversations we observed centered around decoding instruction. Teachers spent much time explaining how to pronounce certain Hebrew letters and vowel markings and correcting students’ mistakes. The dominance of interactions like these sends the message that the school values correct pronunciation of Hebrew for ritual participation. In addition, when students recited Hebrew from memory or using transliterations, teachers often instructed them to read the Hebrew instead. This conveys that reciting Textual Hebrew while following along with the writing is an important part of Jewish religious life.

We also observed some interactions that implicitly imparted positive ideologies about Hebrew. At a Reform school, one teacher infused her Hebrew class with jokes and lighthearted interactions. When a student asked, “What time does the Hebrew part end?” she replied, “It doesn’t—you’re gonna be learning Hebrew for the rest of your life.”

Several teachers indicated that certain words—in certain contexts—should be spoken in Hebrew, rather than English. At a Reconstructionist school, students were working on the Avot part of the Amidah prayer, which mentions the three forefathers and four foremothers. The teacher used primarily Hebrew names of biblical characters, and she sometimes offered explicit corrections or more implicit “corrective recasts”73 of students’ English responses. Here are some excerpts of this interaction:

Girl: Abraham?
Teacher: Avraham—excellent. Who is the second one?
Girl: Yitzchak . . .
Boy: Sara [pronounced in English—sera].
Teacher: Excellent. Do you know how to say that in Hebrew?
Boy: Sara [pronounced in Hebrew—sara].

 

Similarly, at a Conservative school, the director asked the students, “What’s your favorite song for Pesach?” When students began to volunteer answers in English, she said, “Aval, but, the name has to be in Ivrit [Hebrew].”

The most common setting for injunctions to use Hebrew was Modern Hebrew conversation classes that were intended to be immersive. At such a class in an independent school, the teacher repeatedly reminded the students to respond to her questions in Hebrew: “B’ivrit, b’ivrit, zeh shiur ivrit [in Hebrew, in Hebrew, this is a Hebrew lesson].” These reminders were only necessary because the students were more comfortable speaking English.

Even in English discourse surrounding Hebrew-intensive sessions, like Hebrew Through Movement, students were encouraged to use select Hebrew words. An Israeli teacher named Sigal74 led an HTM session with 1st graders at a Reform school. At the end, an American teacher asked the students, “Did you guys say thank you to Morah [Sigal]? Kids, say thank you.” Another American teacher inserted, “No! What do you say? Todah, Morah [Sigal].” Metalinguistic interactions like these may use up some of the valuable class time, but they foster more student Hebrew use and convey an ideology that Hebrew is valued in the school.75

Although we did not observe any teachers explicitly discussing why Hebrew is important for Jews, a few students demonstrated that they had absorbed that message. In a Reform school, students made posters listing reasons why they are “proud to be Jewish.” One of the groups listed “You get to learn Hebrew” as the first of their nine reasons (Figure 21). At the same school, in an activity about hachnasat orchim (hospitality), one group of students answered the question, “How do you invite God into your life?” with “by praying, by doing Hebrew, and by kissing the mezuza.” At least in one student’s mind, “doing Hebrew” is associated with theological connection.

Some metalinguistic conversation highlighted the ideology that Israeli Hebrew is the most authentic. Israeli teachers sometimes made comments like, “I’m going to have you talking like Israelis. That’s a good thing.” Some American teachers deferred to Israelis because of their more “authentic” Hebrew pronunciation. Students were also exposed to non-metalinguistic interactions that likely coded the most fluent Hebrew as connected to Israel and Israelis. Often when Israeli teachers spoke to each other, they spoke in Hebrew, and sometimes when teachers (especially Israeli teachers) spoke to children whose parents are Israeli, they spoke to them in Hebrew.

These examples add nuance to the notion of Hebrew as a flexible signifier. Hebrew can be associated with religiosity in some contexts and with Israel in others, but often those symbolic realms intersect. In many cases, students associate Hebrew with both Judaism and Israel, both of which are central aspects of American Jewishness.

Figure 21

 

Several teachers emphasized Hebrew grammatical roots and made connections among diverse words with the same roots. Students’ recognition of the roots became symbolic of their Hebrew knowledge.76 Since we observed classes around Passover, we saw interactions like this at three separate schools: “What is the word related to seder? Siddur is the prayer book because it’s arranged. And in Israel if everything is okay, we say “hakol beseder!” At one school we heard an American teacher elaborate on the root of Korech, the seder sandwich: “If you look at the root—the modern Hebrew word for sandwich is karich.” At another, the teacher taught the word barech from the Passover seder and asked, “What word do we know that has that exact same root?” The students were silent. He gave a hint: “How do we say a blessing?” and some students offered the correct answer: “Baruch” (blessed). The teacher responded, “That’s right. That’s why these roots are important.”

We also observed several teachers using prayers to teach about Hebrew grammar. At a Reform school, one teacher gave students a brief lesson on gender suffixes for Hebrew verbs: “When you answer echad mi yodea, a boy is speaking. So if [Rafi] or [Brad] answer, they say, ani yodea. But if it’s the girls, you have to say ani yo-da-AT (separating the syllables and stressing the last one). So you’re saying the verb in the feminine.” This connects with our recommendation that schools integrate Hebrew learning into other content-based learning in the educational context.

Lessons about Hebrew vocabulary and grammar also showed up in communal prayer services led by rabbis and cantors. While going over the Kedusha (holiness) part of the Amida prayer, the rabbi at a Reform congregational school began with a discussion about words related to holiness. He said, “If I say kedusha or kadosh, what other words do you think about?” He (tactfully) rejected some students’ answers, like keshet (rainbow) and “cod the fish,” and he praised appropriate answers, like kiddush. “How many times do you see the word kadosh or something that looks like kadosh? Let’s read it together. Count the number of kadosh words.” Whenever related words came up that day, he highlighted them: “Oh there’s that kadosh word again.” The rabbi also engaged in explicit conversation about the decorative Hebrew writing that adorned the ark. From metalinguistic interactions like these, we see that some schools are teaching students more than simply rote recitation of Hebrew. Even if students are not able to translate the prayers word for word, they are taught some key words that Jews have used for millennia.

At a different Reform service, the prayer leader, a rabbinical student, also engaged in metalinguistic conversation about particular words. “We’re going to continue with Sh’ma [a central prayer]. Sh’ma means to listen or hear. So we all need to hear, not only our voices but the sounds of God,” the rabbinical student taught. Later he said, “We’re going to sing a song some of you might know, and it has a very important Hebrew word in it: Hatikvah [The Hope (Israeli national anthem)]. Does anyone know what tikvah [hope] means?” Instances like these indicate that educators are incorporating Hebrew words into their instruction for pedagogical purposes. This is one of the central features identified among metalinguistic communities77 and a hallmark of ethnolinguistic infusion.

Engaging activities

One issue that surprised us was a dearth of interactive or gamified classroom activities involving Hebrew. In the survey, virtually all schools reported using at least some “games/fun activities involving Hebrew,” but we did not observe many of these at the schools we visited. We observed many such activities that were not specifically about Hebrew, such as art projects about Israel, a charades game where students acted out elements of the Passover seder, a simulation of the Haganah smuggling Jews into the land of Israel, and students creating “web pages” on poster board explaining Jewish texts, like Mishnah and Shulchan Aruch. Hebrew was infused into some of these activities, as when a teacher introduced a pre-Passover activity: “Hey, I got a message! Paró [Pharaoh] . . . wants us to build a pyramid! Everybody build a pyramid with the chairs! All the boys here, all the girls here. Ten chairs only. Asará kisot [ten chairs].”

We did observe some interactive Hebrew activities; of course, HTM is a prime example of this. Some schools assigned worksheets involving language-based games or puzzles, and at one school students raced to arrange slips of paper with Hebrew words from prayers and blessings (Figure 22).

Figure 22

One teacher at a Hebrew-rich school played BINGO with Hebrew words and, in a separate activity, tossed a ball of yarn to students as they counted off from 1 to 10 in Hebrew. These games integrated an understanding of child development into pedagogical practices and strove to associate the language with fun and engagement. Given the primacy of affective goals, we were surprised that such activities were rare compared with the many hours we observed of students decoding prayers and nonsense syllables and in contrast to the prevalence of fun, entertaining Hebrew activities at Jewish summer camps, such as chants, jingles, call-and-response sequences, and Hebrew word skits.78

Another aspect that was prevalent at summer camps but rare in part-time schools was leaders emphasizing homophony (similarity in sound) between Hebrew and English—for example, “There’s a fork in ma’s leg” (mazleg is Hebrew for fork). Homophonic Hebrew word presentations at camp offer mnemonics to help students remember these Hebrew words, and they cast Hebrew as an important, fun aspect of American Jewish life.79 Perhaps the reason presentations like these are rare in part-time schools is because they only teach select Hebrew words that sound similar to semantically unrelated English words but are mostly not among the limited set of Hebrew words part-time schools wish to teach.

Although the teachers we observed did not highlight homophony, a few students did so in their informal interactions, sometimes in lighthearted asides. When students were taught about Golda Meir, one boy said to another, “I have some gold in my ear,” and they both laughed. In some cases homophonic connections were not intended as jokes, like the student who answered “God” when asked for the root of haggadah or the student who asked earnestly, “Baloney?” when her teacher used the word beinoni (in between). Teachers sometimes reacted negatively to student comments like these. An example is this interaction:

Teacher: Seder. Can anyone tell me what it means?
Student: Cider, apple juice.
Teacher: You have to know the differences between the languages. Stay in Hebrew.

Teachers’ negative reactions are often warranted, especially when student comments derail classroom activities. However, part-time schools might consider incorporating more multilingual wordplay, not only to help students remember Hebrew words, but also to help them associate Hebrew with fun and with Jewish life—two affective goals that are important to many constituents.

Another way schools can make Hebrew education engaging is to offer rewards or incentives—also something found at summer camps. We observed a few instances of incentive (beyond teachers’ abundant compliments); one teacher handed out lollipops for impressive correct answers. Sometimes incentives are built into the school’s structure. In one school students received stickers, which they placed on a chart when they “mastered” a particular prayer, and in another, students earned color-coded dog tags for demonstrating competency in a series of prayers.

Goals

The Hebrew education we observed in part-time Jewish schools was geared primarily toward two types of goals: ritual participation and affective orientations. The extensive focus on decoding and recitation yields graduates who are able—to varying extents—to chant Torah and prayers for their bar/bat mitzvah and in other Jewish ritual contexts, in most cases while following along with (vocalized) Hebrew writing. The Hebrew writing system is clearly a value for Jewish educators, as students spend many hours learning to decode it and are expected to chant from the Torah scroll at their bar/bat mitzvah and from a printed Hebrew prayer book when they pray communally. Students rarely learn the meaning of the sentences they are reciting beyond select words and basic themes of each prayer. This is similar to Greek Orthodox, Hindu,80 and Islamic81 educational settings.

Schools’ affective goals are important not only to school directors but also to all constituencies: associating Hebrew with Jewishness, feeling a sense of accomplishment regarding their Hebrew knowledge, feeling personally connected to Hebrew, associating Hebrew with fun, and instilling a desire to pursue further Hebrew education. The findings of our observations explain the high self-ratings students gave regarding these affective orientations (higher than school directors expected). Schools seem to be accomplishing these affective goals through their use of ethnolinguistic infusion, especially the ample incorporation of loanwords, some signage, metalinguistic conversation, and, to a lesser extent, engaging activities. These practices send a clear message to students: Hebrew is an important element of Jewish life, even among a population with limited proficiency.

However, the findings presented above indicate that schools are not completely disinterested in Hebrew skills beyond recitation. Some schools also offer elementary instruction in Modern Hebrew conversation, especially the receptive skills of listening, emphasized in HTM. Even at schools with little or no Modern Hebrew instruction, some metalinguistic interactions focus on the meaning of select words and make connections among words with the same root. Some classroom interactions explicitly and implicitly valorize Israeli-born Jews as the most authentic speakers of Hebrew. Such practices emphasize that Hebrew is not only a sacred language of religious observance but also a modern vernacular in the State of Israel—and an important part of American Jewish culture.