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Read Hebrew Now Program Review by Melanie Reynolds

Diana Yacobi, Lily Yacobi
Read Hebrew Now
PO Box 5894
Englewood, NJ 07631-5894

Read Hebrew Now, created by Diana Yacobi and her daughter Lily Yacobi Safrani, is one of the most comprehensive and delightful language-learning programs I’ve ever had the pleasure of utilizing. While I’ve always had an interest in studying Hebrew, the perceived difficulty of even learning the Hebrew alphabet (which is so vastly different from the English one) has kept me from ever signing up for Hebrew lessons. However, Read Hebrew Now has made it possible for us to study and learn the Hebrew language right here in our own home, with no prior experience on my part! Read Hebrew Now is used successfully in a variety of educational settings, such as synagogue schools, private schools, and by bar/bat mitzvah tutors; yet it is wonderfully accessible for homeschools as well, even if the parent has never studied the Hebrew language. It also works beautifully whether the homeschool family is a Jewish one or a non-Jewish one! The Yacobis have designed a thorough and complete program, which takes students from the beginning stages of learning and writing the Hebrew alphabet (in both block and script forms) to actually reading and understanding it as they progress through the program. Read Hebrew Now provides a plethora of books and posters that leads the student through each step of the Hebrew language-learning process. It also offers an online subscription which contains auditory helps and pronunciations, visual introductions, and book PDFs and teachers’ manuals for each book. It has provided hours of enjoyable language-learning for me and my son, and we greatly anticipate further study with Read Hebrew Now.

When my son, who’s in seventh grade, and I first began to use Read Hebrew Now, I was able to speak via the phone to creator Diana Yacobi. She provided a great overview for me of the design and order of the course books and materials (although this information is also available at Read Hebrew Now’s website). The curriculum is designed for students in kindergarten through seventh grade, yet it’s easily used by older middle school and high school students and adults. The Yacobis have divided the course materials into four segments, and students start at the beginning and work their way through. I’d like to describe for you the four segments plus the online materials, then I’ll tell you more about our experience. (All the Read Hebrew Now books are 8 1/2” x 11” softcover books, except for The Aleph Bet Story Book, which is a softcover 8 1/2” x 9 1/2” size.)

 Every student who’s learning Hebrew can begin in Part 1: The Aleph Bet. The Aleph Bet is simply the Hebrew alphabet, and anyone who wishes to speak Hebrew must first learn its alphabet. The Yacobis have designed a book, The Aleph Bet Story, and by using it together with its accompanying materials, all students can easily learn this alphabet. What makes The Aleph Bet Story so special and effective is that the authors have written a little story about each letter. The stories tell the learner what to look for in each letter—which corners and curves; openings and closings; letter placement; dots; or arms, legs, toes, and tails identify that particular letter. For example, the letter “gimel” looks like a high-heeled shoe, and the letter “lamed” looks like a bolt of lightning. All the letters have a specific description like this, which spotlights the differences between each letter and helps the student remember which is which. Each letter’s story also contains pronunciation directions.

Part 1: The Aleph Bet utilizes the following books and materials:

  • The Aleph Bet Story Book. This softcover book includes the entire Aleph Bet alphabet story. It’s the starting place for each student’s Hebrew study. Its illustrations are colorful, and the story is interesting and causes each letter’s description to be firmly planted in the student’s mind. $9.95.
  • The Aleph Bet Story Workbook contains a page for each letter, with a small coloring picture of that letter taken directly from The Aleph Bet Story Book, as well as lines to write the letter on. It also includes fun learning activities to strengthen the student’s ability to recognize each letter. $7.95.
  • The Aleph Bet Story Activity Book is a wonderful workbook that younger learners will especially enjoy. It has a page for each letter, but the focus is more on recognizing the letter and then doing some coloring activities or identifications than on writing it. $6.95.
  • The Aleph Bet Story Poster is a brightly colored, 18” x 24” teaching aid that displays all the letters from the The Aleph Bet Story Book, all on one page. $9.95.
  • Reading Hebrew Poster: The Aleph Bet Chart is a colorful 11 1/2” x 17” chart of all the Hebrew consonants. $6.95.
  • Reading Hebrew Poster: The Hebrew Vowel Chart is sized 11 1/2” x 17” and displays all Hebrew vowels along with each vowel’s pronunciation. $6.95.

Part 2: Read Hebrew uses these books and materials:

  • Sarah, David and YOU Read Hebrew Book 1 teaches the student all the letters which are used in the greeting “Shabbat Shalom.” (This greeting is used by Jews on Shabbat, or the Sabbath; it means “peaceful Sabbath.” Isn’t that a wonderful way to begin?) Students spend time learning to recognize and write (in both block and script form) these consonants and vowels, and complete various activities to that end. There are also speaking activities. Use beginning in grade 1 and following. $7.95.
  • Sarah, David and YOU Read Hebrew Book 2 immediately follows the student’s conclusion of Book 1. More consonants and vowels are learned in this book, as well as the Yacobis’ “beats and baskets” method of learning to pronounce words and syllables. $8.95.
  • Sarah, David and YOU Read Hebrew Book 3 teaches the remaining Hebrew letters. It contains further “beats and baskets” practices, as well as reading and writing drills on letters. $8.95.
  • The Read Hebrew Now Primer focuses more on learning to read Hebrew, or review for returning students or adults, rather than on writing as Sarah, David and YOU Read Hebrew Books 1-3 do. It is appropriate for grade 3 and up, and covers all Hebrew consonants and vowels. $11.95.
  • The Skill and Drill Book is to be used when students have completed Sarah, David and YOU Read Hebrew Books 1-3 and/or The Read Hebrew Now Primer. It reinforces knowing the Hebrew alphabet and being able to read its words. It also includes Torah (the five books of Moses) and Tefilah (Jewish prayer recitations) readings. The Skill and Drill Book is the perfect bridge activity between Parts 2 and 3 of the Read Hebrew Now Program. $8.95.

Part 3: Prayer utilizes the following materials:

  • The Friday Night Book reviews what students have previously learned about reading and speaking Hebrew, then it teaches eight selected prayers, plus blessings and songs, used at the synagogue or at home while observing Friday nights. The workbook includes sections for content (word meanings and significance), review, and the prayers themselves. $7.95.
  • The Shabbat Morning Book is organized similarly to The Friday Night Book. It teaches 13 Shabbat (Sabbath) morning prayers, along with their meanings, reading practice, and components of the Shabbat service. $8.95.
  • The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Book is not only a wonderful resource for students, teachers, or rabbis preparing for their celebrations, it’s also a thorough cultural lesson for non-Jewish families. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Book moves carefully and clearly through each component of a mitzvah observance and describes each part of the service and the synagogue. Hebrew reading skills, prayers, and the bar/bat mitzvah’s order of service are carefully described. $11.95.

Part 4: Speak Hebrew offers these teaching supplies:

  • The Sarah and David Picture Book is a fun way to include Hebrew vocabulary in lessons our daily life. Lots of categories with pictures teach a variety of Hebrew words, such as those for animals, the classroom, colors, numbers, sports, and many more. This is a great way to further a student’s Hebrew knowledge. $6.95.
  • The Visit Israel Book is another interesting way to broaden a student’s understanding of the Hebrew language and culture, this time with a visit to Israel. Students learn vocabulary for outdoor markets, the Western Wall (or Kotel), cafés, high schools, and other themes of daily life in Israel. It’s a fun way to visit Israel without ever getting on a plane! $6.95.
  • Mah HaMatzav Poster Set: Four scenes in the Visit Israel Book are available as posters. “Mah HaMatzav?” in Hebrew means, “What’s up?” These posters, which may be purchased on their own or as a set show different life scenes in Israel, give Hebrew phrases and the Hebrew words for many of the items one would see or use in those settings. Individual posters $8.95. Poster Set $29.95. The Kotel poster is not available.

Our experience

When my son and I started with Read Hebrew Now, I had had no experience with Hebrew at all. My son had studied Biblical Hebrew for a semester, but with a curriculum that focused only on auditory and verbal skills. So, neither of us could recognize much about Hebrew letters, beyond seeing that they were Hebrew. I was apprehensive about my ability to teach and learn this language myself. Once we began, I was actually ecstatic—really—about how simple and enjoyable the Read Hebrew Now program was!

First, we put three of the posters (The Aleph Bet Story Poster, the Reading Hebrew Poster: The Aleph Bet Chart and the Reading Hebrew Poster: The Hebrew Vowel Chart) up on our schoolroom walls. I love the visual reminder they bring us every day, plus we’ve found them extremely useful not only in lessons, but as we happen across Hebrew letters in daily life. Then, we read The Aleph Bet Story Book on a regular basis and each time we start to learn a new letter. This book helps us to look out for the special components that define each letter. We’re using Sarah, David and YOU Read Hebrew Book 1 as we learn the first letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This book provides several pages on each letter, as we learn to write them (in both block form and script), read them, and pronounce them out loud. We utilize our online subscription as well for this so we can be sure we’re pronouncing each letter or group of letters properly, or to print additional copies of practice pages. We spend about a week on each letter, and we review the letter we’re working on each day for a few minutes. We also utilize The Aleph Bet Story Workbook, which provides writing and coloring opportunities which reinforce the letters we’re learning about (we actually prefer to use watercolor on the coloring pages; we simply tuck a piece of waxed paper behind the sheet we’re painting on so that it doesn’t bleed through). I’m fully confident that, as we work through Sarah, David and YOU Read Hebrew Book 1, we’ll be able to fully learn the language lessons it contains and we’ll be able to continue to progress to Book 2 and beyond! Each book, and each lesson, carefully and clearly builds on the lessons which have come before, and students gain confidence and ability as they work through the books.

I'm fully confident that, as we work through Sarah, David and YOU Read Hebrew Book 1, we'll be able to fully learn the language lessons it contains and we'll be able to continue to progress to Book 2 and beyond! Each book, and each lesson, carefully and clearly builds on the lessons which have come before, and students gain confidence and ability as they work through the books.

I can't express enough how truly excellent, yet simple to use, Read Hebrew Now's Hebrew reading and language program is. Despite the fact that I've had no Hebrew experience, the program is user-friendly and I've been able to jump right in to both teach and learn at the same time.  It employs stills in all three learning styles (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), so learners of all types should be able to benefit from this program.

-Product review by Melanie Reynolds, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2015