The launch of the Hebrew Language Council (HLC) of North America will create a movement dedicated to advancing the Hebrew language and Israeli culture in North America.

New York, November 12, 2013: The World Zionist Organization (WZO) will launch the Hebrew Language Council (HLC) of North America at HLC’s inaugural conference in Newark, NJ, next week. The aim behind the new Council is to raise the profile of the Hebrew language and Israeli culture in North America and bring together organizations and institutions dealing with the Hebrew language and Jewish culture.

“Our aim is to lead a movement of Hebrew speakers and Hebrew lovers in the United States and Canada, a movement that will connect people to the Jewish culture, religion and language,” says Dr Simcha Leibovich, the WZO Executive’s representative in North America.

“Judaism is not just a religion. It’s a rich culture with a beautiful, ancient language that not only lives in the Torah and our prayer books, but is also the language that connects Jews all over the world, and we want to bring together everyone connected to the Hebrew language,” he says.

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Photo: Darryl Egnal

The WZO has partnered with the Israeli Ministry of Education, the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Jerusalem, Hebrew at the Center (HATC) in Massachusetts, the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and the Middlebury-HATC Institute for the Advancement of Hebrew in Vermont, to form the new Hebrew Language Council.

Two key members of this team include Arnee Winshall, founding president and CEO of Hebrew at the Center, and Dr. Vardit Ringvald, a research professor at Middlebury College and director of the new Institute for the Advancement of Hebrew, a joint initiative of Middlebury College and Hebrew at the Center.

Four main initiatives have been planned for the Council. These include an annual, three-day Hebrew language and Israeli culture conference, which will bring together Hebrew teachers, professors, poets, musicians, authors, Hebrew lovers and learners, among others; the formation of the first professional organization for teachers and educators of Hebrew in North America; a database and website for the Council to publish its decisions, ideas and activities and provide a forum for members and interested parties to connect; and the formation of a non-profit organization to raise money for the various initiatives.

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Photo: Darryl Egnal

When Dr Leibovich was sent to New York to run the WZO’s North American office in June 2012, he was tasked with finding creative ways to bring Hebrew to the two countries. “There was no way we could reach nearly 6,5 million Jews in the US and Canada with a program here and a small course there,” he says. “We had to find a way to catch everyone with a wide net and bring them together on a much larger scale. And the idea for the Council was born.”

The inaugural conference takes place at the DoubleTree Hotel at Newark Airport from Monday 18 November until Tuesday 19 November.

Lawrence Kobrin, an attorney and a graduate of Camp Massad in Canada, the first Hebrew immersion summer camp in North America, will act as first chairman of the Hebrew Language Council and chair of the inaugural conference.

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Left: Dr Simcha Leibovich, representative of WZO Executive in North America and founding member of the Hebrew Language Council

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Right: Lawrence Kobrin, first chairman of the Hebrew Language Council and chair of the inaugural conference

During the official opening ceremony, which will take place on Monday afternoon (November 18) from 2pm to 4pm, the council will pay tribute to Rabbi Dr. David Eliach (91), principal emeritus of the Yeshivah of Flatbush and a prominent Jewish educator, for his dedication to the Hebrew language. The Hebrew Charter School choir will entertain guests at the ceremony.

Special guests include Abraham Duvdevani, WZO chair, Ambassador Ido Aharoni, Consul General of Israel in New York, and guest speaker, Professor Moshe Bar-Asher, president of the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Jerusalem. Bar-Asher will give a presentation entitled: “Marking 60 years of the Hebrew Language Academy—Research, achievements and challenges throughout the years as directed by the Academy.”

“At the conference, we will discuss the Council’s goals and missions, plans, programs and interests, and will establish a committee that will spread, strengthen and expand the Hebrew language in North America,” says Leibovich.

Some of the people who were invited to participate in the conference include academics and educators from various institutions including the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Yeshiva University, New York; The Jewish Theological Seminary, New York; York University, Canada; Moadon Kol Chadash, Chicago; Hebrew at the Center, Boston; Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York; RAVSAK, the Jewish Community Day School Network, and the Hebrew Charter School.

The opening ceremony is open to anyone who is interested in attending, but the conference is limited to the founding members of the council—about 40 people from all over North America and Israel.

Council members include representatives from schools, universities, colleges, Yeshivot, centers for Hebrew, religious institutions and rabbinical colleges, among others. The Council will serve academics, leaders and public officials, rabbis and educators from the entire religious spectrum, and others who are working to spread the use of Hebrew in North America.

Full-day meetings will be held three to four times a year to plan the various Council initiatives, programs, studies, surveys, activities and ideas to strengthen the Hebrew language.

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Photo: Darryl Egnal

“Theodor Herzl was a great visionary, but he made one mistake,” says Leibovich. “He thought German should be the common language of communication in Israel. He didn’t think it was possible for Hebrew to develop as a spoken language. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the father of Modern Hebrew, didn’t agree and he found a way to revive the language. This is the miracle of Hebrew—it was brought alive against all odds in the 20th Century.

“We have a great responsibility to continue Ben-Yehuda’s legacy by protecting the Hebrew language and developing the level of Hebrew internationally. This Council is a great way for us to do that here in North America. We want people to come to us with new ideas and suggestions to help us and we encourage everyone and anyone to participate in our mission,” he concludes.

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Chanukkah Sameach! Happy Chanukkah!

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Photo: Darryl Egnal

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