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As far as languages go, Hebrew is actually one that is scarce throughout the world. With an estimated 9 million speakers, it is not even among the top 100 languages in the world. Even Quechua, which is a native Peruvian language (where the official language is Spanish), has more estimated speakers than Hebrew. This may signify some of the importance of Israel to the Jewish people as well as to the Hebrew-speaking community, as Israel represents the only place in the world where Hebrew is the native language. Meanwhile, the second major home to Hebrew has become the United States, which is why you are going to find great options by searching for Hebrew tutors near me.
The history of the language gives some context as to why it has not reached out further. The language died in its spoken form before Christ, sitting for two millennia as the written language of the Torah and other Jewish texts, but not much more. It was revived in Europe by Jews dreaming of a cultural renaissance, as they had been spread away from their cultural homeland, what was then Palestine, by religious persecution. During the Holocaust, the Nazis massacred over six million more Jews, obliterating almost a third of the population of Jews on the planet and severely crippling the prospects of a renaissance. Afterwards, the need for a Jewish homeland intensified. A large portion of European Jews had moved either to the safety of the Zionist movement in what would become Israel or to America, where the American Dream called to all.
Since then, America has become the second home to Judaism, with the largest proportion of non-Israeli Jews in the world. In consequence, it has also become the second home to Hebrew. For many Jewish Americans, Hebrew School becomes a large part of your childhood. You are not required to learn Hebrew in most cases, but most, if not all, conservative and orthodox synagogues perform services in Hebrew, so you at least learn some of the language through song and prayer. In reform congregations, Hebrew has been limited, but is still important.
For most Jews, the toughest time when it comes to learning and speaking Hebrew is when you are 11 or 12 years old and studying for your Bar or Bat Mitzvah. This is the Jewish call to the Torah, which is where boys and girls come of age in front of the congregation by reading from the Torah for the first time in public. Leading up to this, you must work hard, remembering at least one of the seven sections usually read on Saturdays during Shabbat. If you were a brave, overachiever like me, you might throw in another verse or two to add to the achievement. In addition you learn a specific Haftarah portion, which is an additional reading from the book of Prophets.
As a young Jew, this process is really taxing. Most American Jews tack Hebrew studies onto their massive list of extracurriculars to the point that they have barely any time for themselves. I, myself, became well-known in my mother’s office because they knew that sometime between 3:30 and 4:00 pm every Tuesday afternoon, I would call with a different fake illness to try to get me out of Hebrew School because I could not stand it. My parents could barely speak Hebrew themselves, so why was I learning all this stuff?
Ultimately, we had to find a way. We searched for Hebrew tutoring near me and found a great teacher that recorded her own voice on a tape for me to practice off of. I spent nights listening to her over and over again as practice and we would meet once a week for her to critique and help me refine it. By the time my Bar Mitzvah came around, my high-pitched, prepubescent tones were met with rave reviews (and I only needed help remembering the lines once).
Getting through to the Jewish youth of America is getting more and more difficult. We are becoming a more secular society in general, but the requirements of extracurricular activities to get into college has driven an after-school culture that is slowly diminishing religion. That means that less kids are going to Hebrew School than ever before. The reform movement has faced such push back that they have had to consider eliminating Hebrew School altogether. This is a real blow to the movement, as Hebrew is becoming less and less relevant.
To combat this, some have strengthened their ties to the community by working on their language skills with private Hebrew tutors. The tutors we seek out come from all different backgrounds, but the strongest come from those that tie the language in strongly with religion. Most people do not speak Hebrew exclusively in the home, so the religious setting becomes one of the ones where you can practice and see the largest variety of words.
Beyond just an understanding of the language and its history, a culturally invested tutor will also be able to teach some of the tenets of Judaism through the language. You might choose to focus less on conversational Hebrew, which is hard to use in America and really only does you good in Israel, and more on practical Hebrew for your Torah portion or to use in synagogue.
There have been negative stereotypes about Jews being an exclusive club in the past and an exclusive language does not help those, but the common language between Jews is one that binds us as a people. Many times, Jews are not seen as traditional minorities because there are many who have found incredible financial success in America, but the truth is that Jews are outnumbered by most American minority classes. That is why it is so shocking to many that some of the most powerful people in the country are Jewish. All seven major Hollywood studios were created by Jews, a large number of sports owners are Jewish, and five of the ten richest Americans, including Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, and former mayor Michael Bloomberg. It is because of the prominence of all of these great names in American culture that Judaism has built on its strong American roots and is easier to access here than ever.
The opportunities for a higher level of education in Hebrew are endless as a result and we are able to find great private Hebrew tutoring for students. We hope to one day become the number one resource when it comes to pre-B’nai Mitzvah help.
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