People of all ages often remember their Hebrew school experiences with something less than fondness. Whether the problem was the rote repetition, the timing, the deprivation from activities that were more fun or the lack of parental involvement, attending these classes was considered a chore.
Technology and new learning approaches have changed all that. Rabbi Hagay Batzri thinks he has answer to Hebrew education that instills Jewish pride in students while being fun and affordable. Available in the Los Angeles area since 1997, iHebrew School is coming to Irvine August 19.
In the Los Angeles area large families with many children are struggling to pay tuition to full-day Jewish schools, Rabbi Batzri said. Sometimes they would send some of their children to day school and others to public school. Still, they wanted to make all of their kids feel “proudly Jewish.” He created an after-school program based on technology, values and even a hot meal for the students not getting a day school education. Pretty soon, their public school friends wanted to come too. Currently, 260 children are enrolled in the program in five locations.
Classes are on weekdays, using professional teachers for instruction, engaging the students every minute, offering competition and socialization, feeding them a hot kosher meal and providing an iPad to each student. Additionally, the program and the instructors are available to the students even when the youngsters are elsewhere.
“We communicate 24/6 about the kids’ emotional problems, curriculum and everything else,” Rabbi Batzri said. “We accommodate programs according to the student’s individual capacity. We can connect with students who are having problems at home and network students with students from other centers.”
Rabbi Batzri explained that iHebrew School sets its target on developing an educational system to teach children to learn how to write, read and speak the Hebrew language, built upon a foundation of Jewish values. “The children will be able to enhance their skills and at the same time enjoy studying Hebrew and their Jewish heritage, while applying technological skills,” he said. “We seek to inspire a positive attitude towards and an affection for Judaism and for other Jewish people.”
There are many benefits to the program, he added. Children are proud to be Jewish, enjoying Shabbat and the holidays as well as the learning process with electronic media. In the course of learning to read and understand the Hebrew language, they also learn about their history and heritage. Of course, food is part of the discussion, and the class is in the neighbourhood at Beth Jacob of Irvine. Rabbi Batzri and his team will monitor all of the facilities from the iHebrew School headquarters in Beverly Hills.
Isabelle Harris, who will be teaching at the iHebrew School, explained that the overarching goal is to give the students “a life of Torah” and then reach out to offer it to the community. “It’s total language and total Judaism,” she said.
“We want your child to feel excited and happy when coming to our program after school,” Rabbi Batzri added. “We will be offering beginner classes, intermediate/advanced classes and intensive classes to meet students at their own level.
The program provides each child with the skills he or she will need to speak, read and write the Hebrew language, according to Rabbi Batzri. Children will move through the Hebrew program according to their level of skill and interest, he added. There will be emphasis on Jewish values and heritage, including Jewish holidays, the Jewish calendar, the Jewish home, Jewish mitzvot, Jewish heroes, Torah stories, Jewish life cycle events, Shabbat and prayers/tefilot. Other key elements of the program are Jewish music and social activity, including Jewish songs, Jewish food and families learning together.
Each subject area is presented through discussion, worksheets, and interactive games and activities. The program applies technology skills to each child, while implementing Jewish values through a fun educational system. Still, tradition is important: the students learn the alphabet with a melody in the age-old tradition that makes it memorable and easy to practice.
Parents are critical to the success of the program, Rabbi Batzri said. They have to listen to the students for 10 minutes at dinner on Friday night and provide feedback on Sunday. Students need to talk about the weekly theme of the program, which also reinforces learning.
In summary, Rabbi Batzri believes that the iHebrew School, which costs $87 per month, offers a warm community, a fun environment and professional caring teachers who communicate strong Jewish values. Catering to public school students who seek enrichment, the school also offers an iPad and kosher meals for every student. He believes that is a recipe for success.
For more information, call (310) 858-5531 or visit www.iHebrewSchool.org.
Rabbi Hagay Batzri
A leader in the Los Angeles Sephardic community for nearly two decades, Rabbi Hagay Batzri created a vibrant community with an active Jewish afternoon school on La Cienega, at HaShalom Congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Currently, he is the head rabbi at Kahal Joseph Congregation in the Century City/Westwood area while independently developing a network of Jewish afternoon schools to serve the entire Southern California area and to connect Jewish kids with their heritage and with each other, wherever they are.
In 1997 Rabbi Batzri received his rabbinical ordination, or smicha, from Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, chief rabbi for the State of Israel. Rabbi Batzri was born in Jerusalem into an esteemed family of rabbis and cantors. His father heads the supreme rabbinical court of Israel and has published numerous volumes of Jewish texts and commentaries.
Rabbi Batzri’s lectures and Torah classes draw large crowds for his ability to make Jewish wisdom relevant to everyday life. He shows people how to apply this wisdom to the ordinary problems people face. He also enjoys teaching what he calls practical kabbalah, the kabbalistic reasons and explanations behind Jewish laws, concepts and practices.
Rabbi Batzri balances his study of Jewish mysticism and his rabbinical duties with concert performances in the United States, Israel and other countries. In addition, he is a cantor who lauded for his tenor voice and engaging stage presence. His musical philosophy is simple and beautiful: “Music crosses all boundaries and unifies us.” For Rabbi Batzri, creating music is a way of expressing gratitude and appreciation for all we have. When we make music, we embrace life and all living creatures. In all his roles, Rabbi Batzri seeks to bring the joy, wisdom and tools of Judaism into everyone’s reach.