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April 25, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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April 25, 2014

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PAGE 8A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 25, 2014 American Jewry must reclaim Hebrew Amy Skopp Cooper/Camp Ramah in Nyack Participants in a new Hebrew immersion program at Camp Ramah in Nyack. By Ari Rudolph NEW YORK (JTA)--A key component that unifies a people or nation is a common language. The Jewish people are no exception; the Hebrew language is an essential ele- ment of what constitutes the Jewish nation. Hebrew often is the only common language in the room - the lingua franca - when Jews from different parts of the globe get together (native English-speaking Jews aside, for the most part). Conversely, the lack of a unify- ing language creates a great gulf between people. It leads to misunderstandings and frustrations on both sides, and ultimately lessens the fraternal bond. So for the sake of the Jewish future, the American Jewish community needs to reclaim Hebrew. Hebrew is more than sim- ply a medium of communica- tion. It is our heritage. It's a Semitic language that has its roots in the Middle East, thus linking the Jewish people to the region. It's the liturgi- cal language of Judaism, thus connecting the Jewish people to their faith. And it's the biblical language, thus binding the Jewish people to their history. Unfortunately, however, Hebrew is lost on the Ameri- can Jewish community as a whole. Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic writes, "The American Jewish community is the first great community in the history of our people that believes that it can re- ceive, develop, and perpetuate the Jewish tradition not in a Jewish language. By an over- whelming majority, American Jews cannot read or speak or write Hebrew, or Yiddish. This is genuinely shocking. American Jewry is quite liter- ally unlettered." Indeed, many Jews are averse to learning Hebrew. They are turned off when they hear it spoken or see it written in the public domain because they see it as elitist and exclusionary. This could simply be a result of not being accustomed to seeingasecond language in public. Yet many societies around the world are bilingual, even trilingual. The issue of Hebrew in the American Jewish orbit may cut to a far deeper question: If one's Americanness is paramount to an American, and speaking English is the "American thing to do," then is promoting another language, by definition, un-American? By promoting Hebrew, does the Jewish community run the risk of undermining all it has done to achieve its place in general society, or is the American Jewish community finally secure enough to freely embrace its own heritage? For those who are scared of Hebrew or its elevated status outside of Israel, they need not fear; Hebrew is not going to replace English as the ev- eryday language of the Jewish community in NorthAmerica anytime soon. It could, how- ever, be the bulwark against assimilation. A common misconception is that Hebrew is simply the Zionist language, i.e. the State of Israel's language. In protest of Israel's policies vis, a-vis the Palestinians, Alice Walker, an American writer, refuses to translate her Pulit- zer Prize-winning book"The Color Purple" into Hebrew. Walker's is not an isolated case, as the Scottish author Iain Banks and the Swedish author Henning Mankell have similarly refused to allow their books to be translated into Hebrew. Their hypocrisy and big- otry aside, one point does come through: The writers see Hebrew as the language of the State of Israel, not of the Jewish people. This view, unfortunately, is common around the world, including within the American Jewish community, where Hebrew is no longer defined as the Jew- ish language but is considered to be the Zionist language. But Hebrew is not a Zion- ist language. It is the Jewish language, the language of the Jewish Bible, also known as the Hebrew Bible, and the only language that has any formal standing in Judaism. It also predates modern Zionism by about 3,500 years. Zionists, and by extension the State of Israel, rightly chose to use Hebrew as their language pre- cisely because it is the Jewish language. The causality flows from Judaism to Zionism, not the other way. So how do we go about promoting Hebrew? Many will be relieved to learn that it doesn't simply translate into mandatory, universal ulpan. It means appropriately encour- aging Hebrew in a variety of formal and informal settings, supporting Hebrew literature, film and the like, and generally taking pride in the unique place Hebrew should hold within all of our communal institutions, synagogues and schools. And yes, speaking Hebrew would help. The time has come for a serious discussion of the place Hebrew should occupy in the Jewishworldand, if we believe in the future of the Jewish people, how we can best le- verage Hebrew as a common and unifying force. Bringing Hebrew to the Jews of North America will be no small task, but nothing compared to the miraculous revival of Hebrew itself. Ari Rudolph is a planning executive for UJA-Federa- tion's Commission on the Jewish People. Teen heroes: Jac ,n 6:00i!l'denswartz takes to the stage to beat bullying By Suzanne Kurfz Sloan WASHINGTON (JTA)--Sit- ting through an eighth-grade assembly as a police officer spoke of the dangers of bul- lying, Jacob Gardenswartz thought there had to be a better way to teach these important lessons. "I gotthe ideato really make it incredible so kids would stay engaged and wouldn't tune out," said Gardenswartz, now a senior at the Francis Parker School in San Diego. He set out to recruit other young actors, mostly from his friends, and formed Theater of Peace: The Beyond Bullying Experience, a performance of short, interactive skits that educates elementary, middle and high school students about bullying. A group of eight or nine actors meets weekly for re- hearsals and performs once or twice a month at schools around San Diego, said Gar- denswartz,who also serves as a director alongside an adult director. The ensemble tackles issues related to racial, religious and sexual orientation intolerance and discrimination, as well as domestic abuse, eating disorders and cyber-bullying. In the four years since its inception, Theater of Peace has performed at over 200 assemblies and reached more than 2,000 students across the city. "Bullying is not a black- and-white issue in my mind," Gardenswartz said. "It is something that every student has had some interaction with. Our program targets the bystanders. We say that we turn bystanders into up- standers, to stand up for their friends and classmates." Last month, he received the Peter Chortek Leadership Award, which recognizes San Diego Jewish high school students who demonstrate excellence in community ser0ice and leadership. Gardenswartz saidhehopes to start a club for Theater of Peace on whatever college campus he attends in the fill and perform the program at schools in that local com- munity. For now, he is proud of the impact that Theater of Peace has made in San Diego. "As long as we've helped even one student, we've suc- ceeded," he said. Gardenswartz recently shared with JTA his biggest social justice influence, most meaningful Jewish learning experience and how he likes to celebrate his favorite Jew- ish holiday. JTA: Who or what have been the biggest influences in your life? Gardenswartz: My family, they are incredible and have always been very supportive. They believed in me and helped create a strong back- ground in social justice. Can you share with us a meaningful Jewish experience that you have had? My sophomore year I at- tended the ADL's Manhigim Institute and learned about combating anti-Semitism and advocating for Israel. It was great to further my Jewish education and learn about intolerance, and also apply it to my program. What's your favorite Jewish holiday? I love Passover. I love tradition and the family component. We put on little Passover plays. It's very fun. We're theatrically inclined. If you could have lunch or coffee with anyone and tell him or her about Theater of Heroes on page 15A Jacob Gardenswartz Jacob Gardenswartz start. ed the Theater of Peace: The Beyond Bullying Experience. Hag Sameach all over town! Bat Mitzva Aiexandra Jade Gross- man, daughter of Karin and Gary Grossman of Winter Park, Fla., will be called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah on Saturday, May 3, 2014, at Congre- gation Ohev Shalom in Maitland, Fla. Alex is in the seventh grade at Trinity Prepara- tory School, where she plays middle school vol- leyball. Her interests and hobbies include, art, mu- sic, creative writing, reading and volleyball. Sharing in the family's simcha will be Alex's big brother, Jonah; grandmother, Althea Miller of Lakeland, Fla.; aunts and uncles from Orlando and Cape Cod; and friends and family from all over. Sara Klein and Naomi Schwartz. With matzah, charoset, Haggadot and parsley in tow, the students and teach- ers arrived with enthusiasm and Chag Pesach Sameach on their minds. It is no surprise tliy were bringing three inter-generational Passover seders to seniors living in assisted living facilities from Lake Mary to Longwood to Maitland. Judy Simons and Brea Polejas. Dozens of seniors joined with students in grades 5-7 from Congregation Ohev Shalom religious school to welcome Pesach and enjoy a Model Seder. The i Jewish Pavilion thanks all the many volunteers who helped the Jewish Pavilion bring the flavor and joy of Pesach to over 50 senior living facilities.