JNF UK brings Festival of Spoken Ivrit back to schools after lockdown

JNF UK has brought its Festival of Spoken Ivrit back to UK schools in 2021, helping to strengthen Hebrew learning after lockdown.

The festival, which is now in its third year, again featured actors performing a series of Hebrew-language plays in schools and nurseries. JNF UK’s aim is to help pupils connect with the language, as part of its wider mission of strengthening the relationship between young British Jews and Israel.

The festival, which was held between 17-25 June, comes at a time when much of the Hebrew teaching in schools has been set back due to the effects of the pandemic. The festival was officially opened by the Israeli Ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely, who introduced the first performance at Independent Jewish Day School. We were also delighted to welcome Marie van der Zyl, the President of the Board of Deputies, to open a performance at JFS.

For most of the schools, these plays were also the first large events they have hosted since early 2020. In order to keep audiences safe, each performance utilised cutting-edge technology that enabled an actor in England to interact live with pre-recorded actors performing in Israel, who were displayed via digital screens.

This year JNF UK’s Festival of Spoken Ivrit featured three different plays by the renowned Israeli Hour Theatre, each one tailored for a different age range. Two of them were Hebrew-language versions of well known children’s stories: The Ugly Duckling and Pinocchio.

The third – Me and the Lane – was an autobiographical play written and performed by Itai Chammah. The play told the real-life story of how, before becoming an actor, Chammah achieved his childhood dream of representing Israel in swimming at the Olympics. In total there were 49 performances held at 20 venues, including JW3 and a wide range of Jewish schools and nurseries across the country.

Her Excellency, Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely, commented:

“I would like to thank JNF UK for asking me to open their Festival of Spoken Ivrit, which aims to inspire young Jewish students to develop their understanding and appreciation of the Hebrew language. Initiatives such as these are a wonderful celebration of the beauty and vitality of Ivrit. It is so important that young British Jews love the Hebrew language as the language of our ancestors, as the language of our prayer. Hebrew connects us to our heritage and history and reminds us we are one people, with one shared homeland. I’ve enjoyed meeting the brilliant and engaged children – they were an amazing unusual audience.”

Samuel Hayek, JNF UK’s Chairman, commented:

“The Festival of Spoken Ivrit has in three short years become a mainstay of the Jewish educational calendar in the UK. This innovative programme helps connect young British Jews with the Hebrew language and their Jewish heritage in a fun and stimulating way. We are proud that the festival will support our wonderful teachers who are working hard after the difficult past year. British Jewry have always had a strong relationship with Israel and JNF UK is honoured to help strengthen that relationship.”

We were delighted to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback from both staff and pupils, making all the hard work worth it! We’ve included some of the comments below:

Department head – North West London Jewish Day School:

“I just wanted to thank you and the whole team at JNF UK for the absolutely brilliant theatre show. It had just the correct mix of Ivrit and English which allowed the children to both follow and enjoy the show while at the same time engage with the Hebrew language and learn new Ivrit vocabulary. Our children were exceptionally engaged and enjoyed every moment of the wonderful performance.”

Department head –  Rimon:

“We are privileged to be working in partnership with JNF UK who brought over a theatre company all the way from Israel to perform two spectacular shows for the children.”

Year 2 Pupils –  Etz Chaim school:

“I loved learning new Ivrit words! I really liked the acting – it was amazing that one person did all the characters. This is the best show I ever watched! It was so funny! I loved it so much! The characters were very funny! We loved all the Hebrew songs. The props and background and screen made it amazing.”