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Publisher Description

The atmosphere at New York City's Textile High School was positively electric on Sunday, October 17, 1937, as students from six public high schools gathered for a mass rally celebrating the Hebrew language and Jewish culture. Sponsored by the Jewish Culture Council, a federation of Hebrew and Jewish culture clubs in the city's public high schools, the rally was punctuated with song, dance, and dramatic performances by various school Hebrew clubs participating in an interscholastic competition. First prize, a copy of the Jewish Encyclopedia, was presented to the troupe representing Brooklyn's Thomas Jefferson High School. But for many of those assembled, the climax of the day was the awarding of gold ayin pins to the top achievers in each of the schools' Hebrew classes (Ayin is the first letter in the word Ivrit, meaning Hebrew). A total of sixty-four pins were presented by a beaming Israel Chipkin, educational director of the Jewish Education Association, who was instrumental in pleading the cause of Hebrew before the city's Board of Education and worked indefatigably to increase the number of public schools offering Hebrew as a foreign language elective. (1) For cultural Zionist educators committed to facilitating a Jewish renascence in the United States during the first decades of the twentieth century, the effort to introduce Hebrew into public schools was only one part of a longstanding agenda to promote the burgeoning of an American Hebraic culture. Arenas such as public education had become more central to their campaign, however, after a series of frustrating experiences working within the more conventional setting of Jewish educational institutions. Bucking opposition from Jewish communal leaders and parents, these educators had worked assiduously to promote the teaching of Hebrew as a spoken language in afternoon supplementary schools using the "natural method," a foreign-language teaching technique designed to imitate primary language acquisition through immersion. But despite their zealous efforts, very few students emerged from the supplementary schools as fluent Hebrew speakers. As a result, by the late-1920s and 1930s, American Hebraists were in search of other venues through which to spread Hebrew among American Jewish youth, including Hebrew-speaking camps, Hebrew culture clubs and all-day schools. Among the most intriguing of their initiatives was the endeavor to introduce Hebrew as a foreign language into the public schools.

December 1
American Jewish Historical Society
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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