6. The Teaching of Ivrit

Manchester was one of the early British centres for the renaissance of Hebrew as a spoken, living language. The teachers of Ivrit (modern Hebrew) were inspired by the Zionist dream of preparing their pupils with the language that was to animate the future Jewish State. As Mr L Lieberman, head of Jew’s School, put it in a talk to the Dorshei Zion Association in August 1896, "the national idea [can] only be fostered by the revival of Hebrew as a living language."

Fervent Zionists taught their own children; Massel’s son Symon was speaking Ivrit by the time he was 10. Other children learnt Hebrew at a local cheder (Hebrew "room"), where the teacher, or rebbe, whose job it was to give his pupils religious instruction, might also have Zionist leanings. Such after-school classes were run by Dr Isaiah Wassilevsky, Mordecai Sortman, and later by Nahum I Adler and JS Goller. The children would sit at "forms" (combination chairs-desks) in small chaotic classes of anywhere from 15-40 children, often in the Rebbe’s home. The atmosphere could be unruly and the use of the cane was common. In contrast to the traditional cheder, where Yiddish was the language of instruction, these pro-Zionist cheders were usually conducted in English and Hebrew. In some cases, at Wassilevsky’s cheder for example, religious preparation took a very much secondary position to Zionist propaganda and the teaching of Ivrit.

In encouraging the dissemination of Hebrew, the MZA allowed classes to be taught in its premises on Cheetham Hill Road by Mr Halevy, later headmaster of Manchester Jew’s School on Derby Street. By 1919, one Mr Rivlin from Palestine was also using Zion House to teach Hebrew to girls. A contemporary observer of the class recalled his impressions.

"I listened with suspicious curiosity. What? Fancy! Girls learning Hebrew! But all my suspicions were soon allayed when I was told to ask the girls any question I liked pertaining to their lesson, which they answered quite satisfactorily. The climax came when Mr Rivlin told the class to sing something in Hebrew, which they also did. But to me who has never heard before girls learning Hebrew, they appeared like little angels singing."

(Isadore Wolfson).


Previous | Index | Next



IMAGE AND DOCUMENT CREDITS: Rebbe and private cheder (© Manchester Jewish Museum), Zion House (B Williams, Manchester Jewry: A Pictorial History), I Wassilevsky (© Manchester Jewish Museum), Wassilevsky's cheder (© Manchester Jewish Museum) Full reference: Sources.