Ladue High offers Hebrew courses

Melanie Rush/ Sophomore, Ladue Horton Watkins High School

Often, when a student is asked, “What language do you take?” the usual suspects include Spanish, French, German, or Latin. However, at Ladue Horton Watkins High School a different answer could be expected: Hebrew.

For 31 years, Rami Pinsburg, a member of Congregation B’nai Amoona, has led his students in and out of this Hebrew course. As it so happens, Ladue is the only public high school in St. Louis currently offering Hebrew as a language course.

The Hebrew classes are constantly changing with varying levels offered from year to year, and Hebrew 1 was recently reinstated into the program.

“In Ladue, for two years Hebrew 1 has not been offered, so that interferes with the growth of the program,” Pinsberg said, “but now, they’ve decided to offer Hebrew again, and so hopefully we are on the path of growth again.”

Given that the class levels are constantly changing – and that Hebrew is not a commonly taught in public high schools — the class size for Hebrew at Ladue tends to be extremely small. Nonetheless, the quality of education is not compromised as a result.

“It doesn’t make much of a difference if you have eight students in class, or nine students in class, or if you have 12 students in class. That’s insignificant for the style of teaching,” Pinsberg said.

He explains that the focus of the class is learning Hebrew conversational language, and not about the Jewish religion. That said, everyone currently taking the class is Jewish.

“I teach in a school district where there is a separation of church and state, so by nature I don’t incorporate religion in the classroom,” Pinsburg explained, adding that it’s sometimes necessary “to make references, because the language is Bible-based.”

Among his students are graduates of the former Solomon Schechter and Saul Mirowitz day schools, Ariel Miller and Adina Barg, respectively. These students gained a Hebrew education through their previous schooling, and chose to expand their knowledge of the language by taking this course.

“It seemed easier to continue [Hebrew] in high school because I’ve been learning it for so long,” said Ariel, a junior at Ladue.

She was used to minuscule classes at Schechter, so having a small Hebrew class at Ladue is nothing new. In the two levels that are offered this year, eight students take Hebrew 1 and seven students take Hebrew 4.

The majority of classes in Ladue are much larger than both Hebrew levels combined.

“[Small class sizes are] better because there is more one-on-one attention,” Ariel said.

Adina, a freshman at Ladue who also belong to B’nai Amoona, likes the chance to continue Hebrew, and build on what she learned at Solomon Schechter.

“Through Schechter I learned a lot, but I wanted to really cement my basics,” Adina said. “I wanted to get everything perfect so I would feel more comfortable when I speak Hebrew, or when I go Israel.”

Traveling to Israel was another factor for Adina in continuing her Hebrew education.

 “It’s been my plan since seventh grade to go do a semester [in Israel], so this will just help me with my Hebrew knowledge. It will make me feel more comfortable,” Adina said.

Not only does Hebrew give Adina an advantage in Israel, but a feeling of confidence at her shul here in St. Louis.

“Throughout the four years I will become more comfortable, and it will totally be worth it to have taken [Hebrew],” Adina said.