Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A school which teaches Hebrew - but no Judaism

An interesting experiment in Florida is proving a success.

Ben Gamla school is funded by the state, and therefore does not teach religion. But it does teach Hebrew, intensively, as a second language; in addition to Hebrew language classes, art, music and sport are all taught in Hebrew.

Sharon Miller, the principal,

refused to say how many Jewish students attend Ben Gamla, calling the question "inappropriate and illegal" to address to a public school. She said many of the students are Israeli immigrants, while others want to be exposed to the Hebrew language.

Tzipora Nurieli, of Hallandale Beach, enrolled her three children in the school when it opened. Sara is entering the eighth grade, Ariel is going into the sixth grade, and Sharon will be a fourth grader in the fall.

Nurieli is observant, but she said the school doesn't teach religion. "They get their Judaism from home," she said. Ben Gamla teaches Hebrew "at a very, very good level."

It was a financial burden to send all three to Tauber Academy in Aventura, the private Jewish school they attended before Ben Gamla, she said.

"I struggled for years to pay for it," she said.

The school, which opened two years ago, is at full capacity (600 kids), has a waiting list and is now planning to expand. As the cost of American day schools becomes increasingly out of reach for Jewish parents, such schools will presumably become even more popular; another one is scheduled to open in Brooklyn at the end of the month.

Still, presumably, as Ms Miller intimates, many of its pupils will come from Israeli and Russian immigrant families - they are not used to paying for private education (as American-born Jewish families are) and are often scared off by the religious content in 'regular' Jewish schools.

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