Words of the Week
by David P. Singer
In the 1970s the Federation
of Jewish Men’s Clubs developed
the first broadly based adult
education Hebrew reading program
in the Conservative movement.
FJMC’s Hebrew literacy program was
based on the concept of laypeople teaching
one another using two traditional texts,
Shalom Aleichem and Ayn Keloheynu. More
than 200,000 people throughout North
America have learned to read Hebrew and to
participate more meaningfully in our prayer
services thanks to this program.
Last year, the Temple Israel Men’s Club
of Natick, Massachusetts, a member of
FJMC’s New England region, and I added
a new element to the program. Not long ago
I passed my 20-year mark at Temple Israel
and I realized that if I had learned an average
of just one Hebrew word a week during
Shabbat services, I’d now know more than
1,000 Hebrew words. Using the approach
that if we learn a little bit at a time we can
acquire a substantial vocabulary, FJMC and
I have created the Divrei HaShavua – Words
of the Week initiative. If we look at learning
Hebrew as a lifelong process rather than
a one-time class, the challenge of learning
a new language becomes surmountable.
Each week, the program’s website offers
five Hebrew words from the Torah portion
with their English translations and transliterations.
Synagogues insert the words into
their Shabbat flyers and weekly emails. The
words are selected by volunteers from Temple
Israel of Natick and by men’s club members
from California to Toronto to Florida
whom I met at the 2011 FJMC international
convention. A sample of the table of words
for parashat Noach is shown below:
To participate simply copy the weekly
table from the website into a Shabbat flyer.
My feeling is that no one should leave the
Shabbat morning service after reading the
story of Noah without knowing the Hebrew
word for flood or the story of Joseph
without knowing the word for dream.
Divrei HaShavua has the potential to stimulate
interest in the parashah for everyone,
including those who often don’t feel
a connection with the Torah service. This is
one small step to help make services more
accessible to current and potential synagogue
members. It might even inspire some
people to participate in the FJMC’s Hebrew
literacy program or in another Hebrew class.
For more information about Divrei
HaShavua, go to www.fjmc.org and click
on Activities and then Hebrew Literacy or
David P. Singer, a founder of his men’s club, is a vice president of FJMC’s New England region.