BY SUZI BROZMAN / AJT //
Hebrew is critical for prayer and study, but the language is certainly not strictly for religious practices. Indeed, the Epstein School is proving that it is a living, breathing entity in our city.
This year, as in every year for the past decade, Epstein’s eighth graders are putting on a play entirely in the tongue of the Jewish State.
“We would hope our eighth grade graduates are totally comfortable speaking Modern Hebrew, so it’s their responsibility to show this through putting on a musical,” Myrna Rubel, middle school principal, said. “There is no other Atlanta Jewish day school highlighting bilingual learning as we do. It has become the eighth grade’s parting production, and it’s an experience our students will always remember.”
The play this year is “Peter Pan,” based on the Broadway production. Epstein’s iteration should delight all audiences but is particularly well-suited to families with small children (who relate well to lovable Peter, mischievous Tinkerbell and the rest of the cast) and transplanted Israelis (who can experience English theater in their own language).
Like all Epstein performances in Hebrew, English narration between scenes will explain the action, making the show accessible for all. The school either rents translations of the works performed (if that show has been presented previously in Israel) or hires local translators while renting the script and paying for rights.
Mira Hirsch – a famous name in local theater productions – is the show’s director. While she is not fluent in Hebrew, she is using translations and transliterations to help her keep up with the players.
Hirsch started rehearsals in English, allowing the cast to get comfortable with staging and direction, before they moved into Hebrew.
“It’s fluid,” she explained. “They really know what they’re saying and doing since they’ve gone through it in English first. It helps connect them with the action.”
For its general Hebrew curriculum, Epstein follows the Boston-based program “Hebrew at the Center,” which has also been adopted at the Weber School, Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Yeshiva Atlanta.
“Our success is based on using the proficiency approach in Hebrew,” Rubel said.
The school employs native Hebrew speakers as Judaics instructors, ensuring students learn vocabulary, idiom and accent properly. Rubel explained that starting in elementary school, 50 percent of the instruction is conducted in Hebrew, and that rises to over 60 percent by middle school.
This approached has this year’s eight-grade class well prepared for their production of “Peter Pan” as well as the three-week trip to Israel which will follow in the spring, something the students are looking forward to with great anticipation.
Editor’s note: “Peter Pan” at Epstein School is set for Sun., March 17, at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. in the Shana Glass Cafeteria; general seating is $10/person. Purchase tickets at epsteinatlanta.org or call (404) 250-5600.