Aside from English, Spanish and French are the two most studied languages in Columbia County classrooms. But a few students have started studying the language of their ancestors.
The Augusta Jewish Community Center, off Three J Road in Evans, offers weekly classes in Hebrew taught by Charlie Ronen, who is originally from South Africa.
"If you want to partake in the prayers and the services of the synagogue, learning how to read some Hebrew is a minimal requirement," said Ronen, a 61-year-old immigrant whose wife, Leah, is the executive director of the Jewish center. "Knowing how to speak it is a different story.
"Probably 99 percent of the people in this country that profess to be Jews have no idea how to speak the language. The youth in this class will probably never learn the language per se, but they'll pick up some sentences here and there. They'll learn the fundamentals of the language."
A former chemical engineer, Ronen also made a living as a farmer in Israel for 33 years before moving to the United States. He and his wife spent three years in El Paso, Texas, before moving to Augusta earlier this year. In addition to teaching, he works as a Hebrew translator for authors and publishers.
Currently, he is teaching Hebrew to teens. He taught a conversational Hebrew class for adults during the summer.
Teaching Hebrew grammar is difficult and not as important to Ronen. He said he is much more concerned with his students learning basic phrases and how to converse in the language.
"By the time the class is over, I hope that if someone dropped them off in the middle of Tel Aviv, they could find there way back to the hotel," Ronen said.
About seven or eight students attend the class on a regular basis. All of them are Jewish, but Ronen said the classes are open to anyone interested in learning Hebrew.
"Conversational Hebrew is something I've always wanted to learn how to do," said Ryan Estroff, an 18-year-old senior at Davidson Fine Arts School and one of Ronen's student. "It's the language of our people, so it's always interested me."
Ryan said he hopes to learn enough to one day travel to Israel and be able to speak the native language. Other students wanted to learn to understand their religion a little better.
"I came here because it sounded intriguing," said David Scharss, a junior at Evans High School. "When I was younger, I learned Hebrew letters and the prayers, but I was never taught everyday Hebrew."
More classes are being planned for later in the year Anyone interested can contact the Augusta Jewish Community Center at 228-3636 for more information.
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