Hebrew — in Harlem, it’s not just for Jews anymore, thanks to a new language academy.
Harlem Hebrew Language Academy is all about teaching the ancient tongue. But its founder also sees the charter school as a chance to create pro-Israel kids.
By Simone Weichselbaum / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS www.nydailynews.com
Black and Latino parents in upper Manhattan are banking on Hebrew to give their little ones extra chutzpah in the classroom — and, perhaps, create a new generation of Israel supporters.
Hundreds of moms and dads, who aren’t Members of the Tribe, have enrolled their kindergarten and first-graders into the Harlem Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, which will open on St. Nicholas Ave. on Aug. 26.
About one-third of the pint-sized student body is white, officials said. Blacks make up 44% of the school’s 137 children, while Latinos count for around 10%.
“Hebrew is an old language spoken by a limited amount of people, but it’s a gateway to other languages like Arabic,” said mother Natasha Pallan, whose 6-year-old son Vikrim will be in first grade. Vikrim’s father, who is Indian, is a native Punjabi speaker. His mother is black.
The academy made headlines initially, with Community Board 10 rejecting it when it was first proposed in 2011. One board member even called the project “an abomination” and “an insult.”
“Hebrew is not going to help our children in any way,” said the board member, Isis Ausar. But the board’s opposition “melted away” after school officials explained that the academy would not take space away from other public schools and residents learned more, said a spokesman Dan Gerstein.
The founder of the school, Sara Berman, who is the daughter of Jewish philanthropist and hedge fund honcho Michael Steinhardt, said that a benefit of the school’s program would be support for Israel and Jewish culture among non-Jews.
“I often dream of what the graduates of our Hebrew-language charter schools will look like 20 years from now,” she wrote in 2011 in Contact, the journal of her father’s Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. “I see them as a vanguard of understanding for Israel and for cultural respect in general.”
A drama over another single-language school erupted in 2007, when parents in Brooklyn objected to the Arabic-language Khalil Gibran International Academy, fearing it would become a breeding ground for pro-Muslim sentiments. The Gibran Academy was moved to Boerum Hill, but eventually closed not because of politics but for a more mundane reason: lack of enrollment by students.
Harlem Hebrew officials expect their school to thrive, modeling the curriculum after the Brooklyn’s Hebrew Language Academy Charter School in Midwood. Kids of all backgrounds will learn the conversational version of the language, which is widely spoken in Israel and nowhere else. Officials vowed the lessons have no pro-Jewish slant citing city charter schools can’t teach religion.
“Many of the founding fathers of our country knew Hebrew,” she boasts.
The academy will eventually become a full K-5 program — and maybe add a middle school.
Amanda Hargrove, 40, said she didn’t know why her neighbors were making a fuss over Harlem getting a Hebrew language charter school. Hargrove, whose 5-year-old daughter Josiahanne will start kindergarten, was such a fan of the place that she took a job as a teacher’s aide.
“African-American and Jews, it seems like we are a world apart, but we are pretty much the same,” said Hargrove, who is black. “(Josiahanne) is learning Hebrew although she is being brought up Christian. And there is nothing wrong it.”