Many parents in the Boston area are raising their young children to be bilingual in English and Hebrew. But how can the local Jewish community band together to reach these families’ common goal? Entrepreneur and CJP PresenTense fellow Michael Goldstein saw a need for his own daughter to explore the Hebrew language by playing with other local kids, so he launched the unique program Hebrew Play. He brings his 11 years of experience as an executive director of non-profit organizations and current experience as the director of development at MetroWest Jewish Day School to this local program. Here Michael talks about what the program is and how it helps local kids and families.
What is Hebrew Play, and what inspired you to start the program?
Launched in 2009 through the CJP/PresenTense Social Entrepreneur Fellowship, Hebrew Play aims to restore Hebrew as an integral part of American Jewish identity by inspiring families and their young children to play in Hebrew. Specifically, Hebrew Play builds a learning community through neighborhood playgroups and web tools. I started Hebrew Play because my wife and I are raising our 1-year-old daughter to be bilingual in Hebrew, and we recognized the need to build a community of parents interested in the same goal.
What do you hope children in the Boston area will gain from the program?
Like parents everywhere, we want what’s best for our daughter. We know that her awareness of her Jewish identity is critical to her social development. Also, research shows children who learn a second language read sooner, score better on standardized tests and are better problem-solvers than their monolingual counterparts. For us, however, our biggest hope is that our bilingual daughter will become a boundary-crosser, rooted in her Jewish tradition but able and willing to explore other worlds. Through Hebrew Play, we hope more families will have the chance to follow this path for their children. Over time, our goal is for Hebrew learning to become an extracurricular activity of choice among American Jews.
What do you see as being the greatest need in the community that you are trying to meet?
In January, The Jewish Daily Forward editorialized: “Sadly, in America, too few Jews appreciate how essential Hebrew is to communal survival. Hebrew literacy rates are abysmally low. The 2007 National Survey of American Jews found that only 28 percent claim to understand a simple Hebrew sentence…What’s needed is a communal recognition of the costs of Hebrew illiteracy.” It’s fun to eat Jewish food and celebrate Jewish holidays, but without our language, we lose much of the meaning behind what we do.
What is one of the most common questions you receive from parents?
People ask, “Who is Hebrew Play for?” Hebrew Play is for American and Israeli parents looking for an immersive Hebrew experience for children between 6 months and 4 years of age. The playgroups and online resources include wonderful Israeli books, songs and games, and the activities are designed so that even parents not fluent in the language can lead the activities in Hebrew with their children. We hope families will join us for our weekly playgroups in Brookline, Arlington, Back Bay, Cambridge and Rhode Island. See hebrewplay.org for details.
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