Natalie Elgrabli is using old ways and new to cultivate a knowledge of Hebrew. The Israeli, serving as shliha — or emissary — to the Central New Jersey community for the year, is teaching the language face-to-face and via Facebook.
First came her Hebrew reading class. The weekly lessons began in October, held first at Congregation Anshe Chesed, the Orthodox synagogue in Linden, and then at Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim, the Conservative synagogue in Cranford. About 15 people enrolled.
The course was supposed to last only five weeks, offering basic familiarity with the Hebrew alphabet, so people could try to follow the Hebrew text at services. With material from the National Jewish Outreach Program as a starting point, she has had her students learning through word games and lively activities. They enjoyed it so much, 10 people asked for a continuation.
Elgrabli, 27, said she had never taught Hebrew to adults before — though in Israel she had taught Arabic and English to children. Before being selected for the Jewish Agency’s emissary program last year, she worked as a guide at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem.
“The challenge was to keep it interesting and fun, so people wouldn’t get bored,” she said of teaching Hebrew.
Ruth Pogany of Scotch Plains called the Hebrew reading class a “great class.”
“I’ve tried learning to read Hebrew many times, but this time, I feel like I’m getting it,” she said. “It must be Natalie.”
The students, who are in their late 30s and older, are not all Jewish. Jacci Goforth of Roselle, a Baptist and Sunday school teacher who works as an administrative assistant at the Jewish Federation of Central NJ, got to know Elgrabli there.
“I thought it would be interesting to learn to read modern Hebrew and share the experience with my students,” she said.
The adult classes complement Elgrabli’s regular work with students of various ages at synagogue religious schools, Jewish day schools, community centers, and Rutgers Hillel. She also participates in adult events hosted by the federation, the JCC of Central NJ, and the YM-YWHA of Union County.
Amy Cooper, the federation’s associate executive vice president, suggested that Elgrabli begin posting one Hebrew word at a time on her “Natalie Elgrabli Shlicha” Facebook page.
“I want the words not to just be everyday Hebrew but to be fun and interesting and useful,” Elgrabli said.
When NJ Jewish News called to chat on Jan. 5, she was in the middle of the fast of the Tenth of Tevet, a memorial day for Holocaust victims that coincides with the first-century siege of Jerusalem.
The word she came up with that day — and for which she credited this reporter — was “creativity,” or yetziratiyut. That day she wrote, “Apparently, food is an important stimulant in the process of creating Facebook statuses….”
Among her favorites have been hizdamnut (opportunity), herut (freedom), ta’im (tasty), and sababa (cool, yes, good, OK). The last is “the most popular slang word in Israel,” she said.
Elgrabli has also been highlighting Israeli hit songs, new movies, and restaurants.
“I had a few people sign up at first, and now it’s over 100,” she said. “That’s nothing in Facebook terms, but I’m enjoying doing it. It’s a lot of fun. And the more people who sign on, the better.”