By Shoshi Bar-Meir

Ida Crown welcomes not one, not two, but three new Hebrew teachers on its staff. While we said goodbye to some exceptional teachers at the end of last year, we are excited to have Mr. Ari Eckmann, Mr. Dmitry Isakovsky, and Ms. Nurit Rajstein contribute to the Academy Ivrit program.

Mr. Isakovsky describes his decision to work at ICJA as a natural one since he is also finishing his Master’s degree in Hebrew Acquisition at Middlebury College, Vermont.

He spends his little free time with his family, reading, and exploring the new, and colder, environment of Chicago.

Born in Ukraine, he was raised in a generally secular environment as a result of the political climate and society’s treatment of many Jews. But his family, brave enough to keep certain connections to their faith alive, decided not to change their Jewish-sounding name “Isakovsky,” even though this led to some bullying from others while growing up.

After some time of soul-searching, he returned to Judaism to deepen his understanding of Torah, Talmud, and, ultimately, the Hebrew language. One of his future goals is to receive a rabbinic smichah so that he can “transmit his knowledge of Hebrew and Israeli culture to the growing generation” along with several other Judaic subjects.

Over the past twenty years, Mr. Isakovsky has been involved with linguistics generally in the pairs of Russian/English, Hebrew/English, and Ukrainian/English, and has taught is many locations, including Moscow, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Boston, and Sarasota, Florida. At Middlebury, he taught Hebrew to students as a part of his degree, and he notes that the “experience has contributed significantly not only to my overall knowledge of the language and culture but has also given me many tools as the teacher of the language.”

As a teacher, Mr. Isakovsky describes his main goal as “to increase their [students] knowledge of the language and its culture. If their goal is the same, we will succeed indeed.”

One of his students, junior Liat Mott, commented that she enjoys “how he has different ways to teach and takes into consideration our needs.”

Ms. Rajstein, another Hebrew teacher added to the ICJA staff this year, was born in Buenos Aires Argentina and moved to Israel when she was in elementary school. She was drafted into the Israeli Army, served as an officer and later continued her education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ms. Rajstein earned a combined Bachelor’s degree in Art of Jewish History and Biblical Studies along with an education degree and teaching certificate.

After teaching in Israel for two years, she returned to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and received a Master’s degree in Library Science and became a research librarian at the Hebrew University Law School at Mount Scopus.

After moving to Chicago Ms. Rajstein directed a program in the Spertus College Library.

Previously, she taught Hebrew, Tanach, and other Jewish Studies at Bernard Zell Day School.

Arriving at Ida Crown, Ms. Rajstein notes that “When I started to teach at Ida Crown I found something very unique about the school and that is the quest of its students for learning.”

Her objective in class is to connect with her students and their studies. “My hope is to create a difference and a meaningful study for the Hebrew language its culture and history,” she adds.

Bayli Alter, a junior in her class, notices how Ms. Rajstein’s teaching skills have helped her learn in class. “It is very clear to me that Ms. Rajstein has an ample amount of teaching experience, and I am really excited to go through the process of learning how to analyze Hebrew and Israeli poetry and texts with a new teacher and environment.”

Mr. Eckmann, known as Mr. Eck by his students, also has his objective for students “to appreciate Hebrew as much as I do and to understand its use in our everyday lives as Jewish people living in the diaspora.”

He was born in Potomac, Maryland and attended a Jewish high school similar to the academy. This was where he began his study in the language of Hebrew and even became a volunteer EMT in his junior year in a similar manner as the students in the new EMT course at the Academy.

Mr. Eckmann then went on to study Economics at Boston University and earned a Masters in Education from Tel Aviv University. Along with studying in Israel, he has also staffed three birthright trips, taught, and visited Israel more than 15 times, two of which were in 2018 alone.

In his free time, Mr. Eckmann enjoys biking, swimming, hiking, and writing. He also spends time with the performing arts, such as acting and singing, and plays the drums and some bass guitar. Comedy and accents are also something that has struck a chord with Mr. Eckmann, and he has even written his own comedy bits and practiced these different ways of speech.

As someone who learned Hebrew through recreational use and constant exposure, he styles his class in a way that has his students practice the language. “[Hebrew] is not something that can be lectured”. Mr. Eckmann explains, “There are also different skill sets that must be developed—namely reading, writing, listening, and speaking—all of which are different.”

He also adds that his favorite aspect of teaching is “when students think critically about what we are learning and ask questions that reflect that. Likewise, it is very rewarding to see students use the strategies I’ve offered to further their academic growth and mastery of skills.”

Simone Miller, a sophomore in his class has reflected that “ it is very helpful that he doesn’t let us speak English in class so that we practice our Hebrew skills and grow in the language.”

Hebrew is so much more than language to the students of Ida Crown. Those who speak it are also voicing the history and traditions of the Jewish people. Mr. Eckmann affirms that “it really is a gift. Hebrew is a door-opener. It paves the way for many opportunities—new friendships, careers, studies, and cultural enjoyment.”

Many students plan to study or move to Israel in the future. Shira Goldmeier, a senior in Mr. Isakovsky class, says “I think is vital to learn Hebrew because I will be living in Israel for seminary next year, and I want to be able to connect to the Jewish language.”

Mr. Eckmann’s student, Rebecca Price, has also remarked that “to be a global citizen, you can’t only be involved in your own culture and language, but also be involved in the language and cultures of others.”

This article originally appeared in The Crown Prints and was reposted here with permission