If French and Spanish, Why Not Hebrew? Stevenson High School Parents Say Offering Language Course Makes Sense

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Byline: Jon Marshall Daily Herald Staff Writer

Latin and Greek used to be the foreign languages considered necessary for a proper education.

Then Spanish, French and sometimes German and Italian became regular parts of high school curriculums.

Now a group of Stevenson High School parents wants to put Hebrew into the mix.

Parents at the Lincolnshire school are gathering petitions asking Stevenson's school board to add Hebrew to next year's schedule.

These parents say teaching Hebrew makes as much sense as teaching French or German for the growing Jewish population in the Buffalo Grove, Lincolnshire, Long Grove and Vernon Hills area that feeds into Stevenson.

"There seems to be a groundswell of interest," Rabbi Stephen Hart of Temple Chai in Long Grove said. "I think it comes out because in the Northwest suburbs and the areas that feed into Stevenson there is a very significant Jewish community."

The Jewish population in the Northwest suburbs grew from 18,600 in 1981 to 30,100 in 1990, according to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Eighteen years ago there were only two synagogues in the Buffalo Grove, Long Grove, Vernon Hills and Wheeling areas. Now there are 12, with three of those forming in the last year, said Bonnie Greenberg, executive director of the North Suburban Jewish Community Center in Buffalo Grove.

At first, young Jewish families moved to the Northwest suburbs to find affordable homes and good schools, Hart said. Once that base was established, more Jewish families were attracted to the thriving community, he said.

Many Jewish children study Hebrew in their synagogues to prepare to read from the Torah - the first five books of the Bible - for their Bar and Bas Mitzvah ceremonies when they turn 13.

But there are few Hebrew classes for students of high-school age, Hart said.

While religious school classes focus on the Hebrew of the Bible, the Stevenson classes would teach modern, conversational Hebrew, said Robyn Johnson, a Stevenson parent who is backing the petition drive.

"When one learns the language, one learns the culture and the history of the people involved," Johnson said. "It's not a religious course at all."

Evanston, Highland Park, New Trier, Niles North and Niles West high schools are now the only public schools in the region offering Hebrew, said Anne Lanski, who teaches Hebrew at New Trier. …