What makes Israel and HIP so special at Denver JDS

What makes Israel and HIP so special at Denver JDS
  • HIP (Hebrew Immersion Program)
Matan Halzel

By Benjamin Levy, Upper Division Dean of Judaic Studies



People often express surprise when I tell them that we send our 10th grade to Israel for over five weeks every year.  “How can they miss so much school?”  “Can they handle being so far from home for so long?”  The answers to those questions are simple.  They can miss so much school because the learning that takes place on the Hebrew Immersion Program (HIP) goes far beyond the Hebrew language and the State of Israel and is irreplicable in our school setting back in Denver, and a big part of that learning is the growth and independence that comes from the disruption of being outside of your comfort zone and discovering your true potential and adaptability.

Denver JDS sophomores engage in over 100 hours of ulpan, intensive Hebrew classes, while on HIP.  These classes take place in a classroom setting as well as out and about in the community, shopping in the shuk, buying falafel and shawarma, and spending more time than ever with their friends from the ART (Ramat HaNegev Teen Ambassador) program and their families.  Using Hebrew in real-life, high-pressure situations, like making sure they get the correct directions for where to go or, more importantly, the correct ratio of hummus to pickles in their dinner order, are what make the language truly come alive and begin to flow more naturally.

I had the opportunity to spend the first semester with the 10th grade in a wide-ranging class about the history and complexities of the State of Israel, but by being there on the ground our students have the chance to see things for themselves, and more importantly to judge things for themselves.  Seeing things through their own eyes, eyes which are opened a bit wider than they were at the beginning of the year, allow them to decide for themselves how they feel about Israel, its charm, its quirks, and its challenges, and this is the most important part of Israel education.  Any number of courses, books, and websites can tell a teenager how they think and feel about Israel, but HIP affords our students the opportunity to make their own judgments without the unavoidable biases that come with third-party information.

This trip is not only about learning Hebrew and Israel education—it is a life lesson for the 21st Century, where both the traditional media and social media, along with their friends from home and new acquaintances that await them in college will try to tell them how to think about different complex issues.  This trip puts our students in the driver’s seat of understanding different narratives and forming opinions that are their own, based on their own experiences.  

This is a tremendous opportunity for our students to grow in ways they never imagined, and to develop personal connections with the Jewish national homeland, something for which our people have yearned for longer than most other world cultures have existed.  It is a gift, but also a great responsibility to shape the narrative of the next generation of young people’s relationship with the State of Israel.  It is also only the first step in this process, a step which we hope leaves them with answers to burning questions, but more importantly, leaves them with new questions that take a lifetime to explore. 

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