When one walks into a preschool classroom, there is an expectation that children will be talking loudly, and in English.
But when Revital Shimoni, wife of Itamar Shimoni, mayor of Ashkelon, Israel, walked into a classroom at Chizuk Amuno’s Goldsmith Early Childhood Education Center on Oct. 20, she was greeted by 11 relatively quiet children learning and speaking in Hebrew.
The classroom itself was adorned with Israeli flags, colorful Hebrew words and expressions, maps of the world and posters.
Shimoni was in Baltimore with her husband as a part of his annual trip and visited children involved in the PJ ABC/Sifriyat Pijama Alef Bet program, which connects young children and their families to families in Baltimore’s sister city, Ashkelon.
The program is organized by the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education, the educational arm of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
“This is the first year we’ve had a partnership with a [school] in Ashkelon so we’re excited to be connecting parents and children,” said Michelle Gold, director of the Goldsmith Center. “It’s exciting that our first program, we have [Revital Shimoni] to help us make that connection and help us transport a project that the children are going to make back to Ashkelon.”
Gold added that the program was instated 16 years ago, which is also when she started in her position as director at Goldsmith.
Shimoni’s visit was to a Hebrew immersion class, where the teacher speaks only in Hebrew throughout the day. After introducing herself to each child and asking for their name, Shimoni, who has a background in education, helped the children trace their hands on a piece of cloth with a marker and write their names.
Shimoni will take the cloth back home and present it to a class in Ashkelon.
Orly Purrio, who is from a suburb in Tel Aviv and teaches the class that Shimoni visited, said that she does not speak English with the children at all. This means using improvised hand gestures and sign language when necessary.
“My entire body is moving,” said Purrio, laughing.
Purrio added that she aims to teach Hebrew, not translation. She does this by connecting it to their daily lives. During the visit, many of the children would bring up toys to her or Shimoni and say the color of the item in Hebrew.
Gold said the goal is to take a lesson and expand on it in. They’ve done this by growing different fruits and vegetables such as clementines and avocados while also learning about colors.
Purrio said the class just began learning about Israel at the same time of Shimoni’s visit.
Reut Friedman, Israel education associate at CJE, is an Israeli native and observed the interactions between Shimoni and the class along with Gold and Chizuk Amuno’s Rabbi Ronald Shulman.
“We’re delighted to welcome Revital, and we’re excited that she is here to visit our Hebrew immersion program at the Goldsmith Center,” said Shulman. “We’re thrilled for her to see how we teach the children Hebrew language, a love for Israel and a connection to their Jewish identity. [We hope] she feels at home and welcome in this community.”
Friedman also gave Shimoni a tour of Chizuk Amuno after finishing the art project with the class.
Shimoni has three children with another on the way.