A photo from Aleph in the Tri-Cities’ Facebook page about their Hebrew classes.
Three years ago, a group of parents, all members of the Facebook group Aleph in the Tri-Cities, decided to create their own Hebrew Sunday school. It took more than a year of preparations before everything fell in place, but last September, the Tri-Cities Hebrew School began serving 14 elementary schoolchildren from Burnaby, Richmond and Coquitlam. They recently completed their first year.
The educational program was designed by Limor Friedman, a former IBA (Israel Broadcasting Authority) foreign correspondent. “We wanted to provide language and culture to our children, not only prepare them for a bar mitzvah. Our program was designed for children to learn about Israel through songs, books, reading and writing. The children were introduced to Israeli poets and authors that expanded the experience beyond the regular aleph-bet. We celebrated the Jewish holidays with emphasis on Israeli tradition, not just the Jewish perspective. One of my favorite classes was for the children to learn the map of Israel and to recognize which city or town their parents came from – it was a great way to discover their own roots and learn about their own personal background.”
The three-hour weekly class was led by Noa Marnin Gilad, who was a teacher in Israel, with the help of 19-year-old Ram Alexaiev; story time was led by Dovrat Vitis. Yossi “Joe” Dagan was the administrator, whose vision helped establish this new venture.
“Our Facebook group went through major changes over the last year,” explained Dagan over the phone. “We are now officially a registered not-for-profit organization with a mission statement to provide Jewish experience to the growing Jewish population of the Vancouver suburbs. It’s a challenge to build a budget based on donations but we love what we do and our community members love what we do, so it keeps us motivated for the future.”
Friedman’s proudest moment of the school year came over the Passover dinner table. “Seeing my daughter singing all of the Passover songs brought tears to my eyes. Our guests were amazed, too. That is the greatest benefit of group learning. Some parents think it’s better to teach Hebrew in the privacy of their own home, but then the child feels alone and he is insecure about the whole experience. In a group, children feel that they are not alone, that this is not something that only their own parents care about. The power of the group turns it into a positive lesson and it becomes important for them to do well, not just for us, but for themselves as well, and that is priceless.”
Aleph in the Tri-Cities’ Hebrew school will resume in late August before the High Holidays. For more information, email [email protected].
Shahar Ben Halevi is a writer and filmmaker living in Vancouver.