Teachers Bring Love of Hebrew to AJA
Maya Fela, AJA Hebrew and Jewish studies teacher, with 4th Grade Hebrew students. Credit: Robin Littrell.
By Robin Littrell
Hebrew education remains at the core of the Austin Jewish Academy’s commitment to cultivating a love and fluency with Jewish culture. The Jewish people have engaged with the Hebrew language, and AJA’s Jewish studies and Hebrew language programs continue that legacy.
AJA’s Jewish studies program affords students with opportunities to grow in familiarity with ageless Jewish liturgy and melodies. In regular tefillah, or prayer, students navigate the siddur, or prayer book, the name of which in Hebrew comes from the inherent order that it provides. In class, students also immerse themselves in texts and the approach to seeing the world that Jewish texts seek to convey to generations of Jews. AJA tradition makes space for meaningful wrestling and reframing.
In addition to Hebrew for religious use, our program engages students in the use of Hebrew language for everyday communication and artistic pursuit. The emergence of modern Hebrew means that people use Hebrew to share their feelings, their ideas and their needs. Whether in Israel or in the diaspora, Jewish culture is lived out daily in the ancient language, and the AJA Hebrew language program empowers students to partake in it as they work toward both practical and creative self-expression. AJA faculty members in the Hebrew language program, Zilla J. Goodman, Maya Fela, and Nathalie Miller, work to create opportunities for students to take risks in speaking Hebrew each day at the AJA.
Goodman teaches kindergarten, middle school and first and second grade classes in Hebrew. She spent her childhood in Israel, emigrating from South Africa. She moved to Cape Town to pursue a Ph.D. in Hebrew language and literature. Last year, Goodman retired from teaching at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she was a founding member of the program in Jewish studies. Goodman has joined the AJA as Hebrew coordinator this year to share her love of the beauty of Hebrew language with children.
A graduate of Bar-Ilan University, just outside of Tel Aviv, Fela joins AJA’s faculty this year to teach middle school, fifth, fourth, third and second grade students. While in Israel, she worked for a psychiatric hospital and taught children from low socio-economic backgrounds. This summer Fela attended the Bishvil Haivrit at the Center for Education Technology Conference in Boston at Hebrew College. Her positive energy and gregarious disposition are contagious, and they have encouraged AJA students in their love of Hebrew.
Miller works alongside AJA faculty as a Hebrew teaching assistant. A native of Morocco, Miller immigrated to Israel at the age of 18. An active member and galvanizing force in the Austin Israeli and Jewish community, she has worked as Congregation Beth Israel’s Hebrew through Movement teacher. Miller and her family are members of Congregation Tiferet Israel, whose historic B’nai Abraham Synagogue shares space with AJA on the Dell Jewish Community Campus. Miller’s children are alumni of the Austin Jewish Academy, and her devotion to the school has made her the perfect fit to advance the love children feel for Hebrew language and the state of Israel.
A talented and experienced faculty bring expertise and excellence to AJA programs, but it is the teachers’ devotion and openness of heart that enable AJA students to thrive in rigorous and caring academic environments. ■