By Daniela Greiber
While English might have taken over from Hebrew, Yiddish and Ladino as the international Jewish language, Jewish learners in Europe are generally not comfortable relying on English language sources, particularly, when they are studying complex Jewish concepts and texts.
After reading the eJP Future of Learning series that reviewed the new report The Future of Jewish Learning is Here: How Digital Media Are Reshaping Jewish Education, I was curious about how this report would be received by French, German and Italian Jewish educators so I asked several colleagues:
- In your opinion, are the English language digital platforms reviewed in the report accessible enough to non-English speakers involved in Jewish education? (The report covers some well- known Jewish learning content platforms like MyJewishLearning, Sefaria and BimBam)
- Are there equivalent platforms in French/German/Italian?
- Would it be worth thinking about translating/subtitling/adapting some of these to French/German/Italian?
These questions are directly relevant to the Jewish education programme supported by the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe which is designed to support projects focusing on enhancing Jewish literacy and fluency among Jewish educators and offering high-quality Jewish resources.
Since 2014, the Foundation has been working with the National Library of Israel to enable access to the Library’s vast treasures to enhance Jewish education in European Jewish communities. Alongside digitised versions of documents from the Afghan Genizah in the KTIV platform – usually used by researchers and enthusiasts of ancient manuscripts – now, teachers, parents and grandparents can easily access NLI educational primary sources packs on Jewish communities, Jewish history, Festivals and much more. However, dissemination is limited as the materials have generally been developed only in Hebrew and English.
In addition, Yesod (a shared initiative of the Foundation, JDC Europe and the Schusterman Family Foundation), has supported Jewish community professionals and educators to learn online in chavruta through Project Zug and piloted an online course on Jewish approaches to contemporary ethics. In all these projects, issues around access in multiple languages are constantly in the background.
So, what did some of my French, German and Italian colleagues say about the English-language digital platforms?
While many of them were familiar with the most popular websites, a French colleague notes:
“In my humble point of view, these platforms are great, but considering the overall level of English in the French community, they are not known and not often used.”
Regarding similar platforms in the vernacular, colleagues mentioned some examples like Akadem and E-Talmud (in French), Talmud.de in German and in Italian E-Brei.it. Chabad.org is available in all these languages and more, but as one colleague reports, “The most accessible one that exists is Chabad, of course, and many people get all their information straight from there. That alone is a reason to invest in online resources that acknowledge a diversity in Jewish practice and thinking (including SEO work to make them come up first in Google).”
From the responses, it seems that what is on offer does not answer the needs of the communities:
“Jewish learning digital platforms in Germany are indeed something that is missing. There is a fundamental lack in accessible primary sources as well as explanations of basic Jewish concepts. Most of the German translations of traditional Jewish literature (if they are translated at all) are written in a very old-fashioned style, that is hard to understand even for native speakers.”
Another colleague insists on neutral or at least diverse sources: “In general, I think that we have a lot of Jewish materials in Italian, text and video, but most of the time it is hard to find it online or digitalized or in one website, neutral from any political/ideological affiliation. I think it would be great to adapt one of those platforms in Italian.”
Their views on what could be translated and/or adapted reflect some of the tensions inherent to developing online learning platforms in particular and developing educational curriculum in general – for whom? How deep and broad should the content be?
“Personally, I am always looking for translations of classic texts, Sefaria-style, but that is a niche market, and it’s far more important to invest in translating articles like How to create your own at home kaddish minyan.”
“The next question would be: What percentage of the French Jewish population is ready for such platforms? Who is the public? I am an educator, so my tendency is always to say “train educators” but that could also be “train Rabbis” and “train parents” etc. The thing I am convinced that unless you create a need, a real expectation… no one turns to those platforms…”
“Unfortunately, the Jewish Italian reality focuses mostly on the publication of more sophisticated texts in print – which is irrelevant for the majority of the Jewish population. From this perspective, I think that Sefaria, PJ Library and Elmad would probably be the most relevant. Still, I think that they should come with a training for the community’s educators – formal and informal (teachers, rabbis, youth movements, educational departments staff, etc.) so that they would be able to integrate it in their professional routine.”
With the future of Jewish learning in mind, the Foundation has already been looking at some of the existing training programmes for European educators that help them use digital Jewish learning platforms to enhance Jewish content in their work. We are currently supporting pilot projects by E-Talmud and Jewish Interactive and similarly Centropa is training teachers in Jewish schools to produce multimedia films using historical primary sources.
The question of the relevance of translating curricula for Jewish education predates the digital revolution; translation by itself is not likely to be effective. We must give more thought to the training and dissemination strategies necessary to maximise the engagement with digital Jewish learning platforms by educators and wider audiences. Younger generations are turning more and more to digital learning; this is a language that Jewish community educators will have to master.
Since the main target audience of the Foundation’s Jewish education programme is Jewish educators, for now it makes sense for us to support training projects, mentoring and best practices networks that focus in firstly – Learning about available digital Jewish content and learning platforms in English and the vernacular and secondly – Learning to use and adapt materials from existing platforms for different beneficiaries and settings. The ubiquitous access to virtual convening presents a huge opportunity for distance learning and training, allowing for blending face to face and virtual meetings.
We would welcome a conversation with local communities, funders and European Jewish educators who are thinking in these directions: What are your experiences with digital Jewish learning? What platforms are available in your language? Are there Jewish learning digital resources that would be used if translated or expanded to your language? You can email me on d.greiber at rothschildfoundation.eu.
** Sefaria is an online open source free content digital library of Jewish texts.
Daniela Greiber manages the Jewish Education programme of the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe.