JCHS's new Arabic class, taught by Linda Istanbulli, is featured in this week's Jewish News Weekly.
Hebrew is no longer the only Semitic language being taught at Jewish Community High School of the Bay. Now students can opt to learn the nation’s fastest-growing language: Arabic.
JCHS, which also offers Spanish as part of its world language curriculum, decided to add an Arabic elective after a student survey showed it was the most desired new language option, said Adam Eilath, the San Francisco school’s director of strategic initiatives.
There were other reasons, as well. Eilath noted that many JCHS alumni, especially those who achieved fluency in Hebrew, have gone on to study Arabic in college. Some hope to work in diplomacy or international relations, others want to read religious texts in their original language, while others plan to move to Israel. Current JCHS students who want to learn Arabic have similar motivations, he said.
In that way, offering Arabic helps make JCHS “more reflective of the type of school that Jews in the Bay Area would want,” Eilath said. Recently, classes have been added in biotechnology, computer science and AP comparative government.
Learning Arabic has another benefit, in that it helps to build positive connections, Eilath said. In the U.S. and in Israel, the language is often associated primarily with conflict and war.
“At JCHS we want to empower our students to understand both the complexity and nuance of life in the Middle East,” said Rabbi Howard Ruben, head of school. “Learning more about Arabic culture and language is an important part of that understanding.”
Eilath concurs. “It’s hard for students, even when I say Arabic is a Jewish language, to remove Arabic from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he said. “It actually takes time to digest that Jews wrote and spoke in Arabic. One goal of the class is to expose students to Arab culture, through television, movies, arts and poetry, because it helps them see Arab culture is just like Hebrew culture and Spanish culture. We cannot understand Arabic just through the prism of war.”
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