After serving as the director of the Hebrew department at J-SITE and its predecessor organizations for more than 40 years, Nira Lion has resigned.
Lion will, however, continue to work at the school as a Hebrew teacher, and will continue to teach adult Hebrew classes at the Agency for Jewish Learning (AJL).
Her decision to resign as director of the Hebrew department was due to “a shift in the structure and future direction of our program,” said Ed Frim, AJL’s executive director. “Nira personally decided that she didn’t want to continue in her administrative role,” Frim said. “But we’re thrilled she is continuing with teaching, both teens and adults.”
Lion arrived in Pittsburgh from Israel in 1969 as a shelicha following her service in the Israel Defense Forces, and her university studies. Over the course of her career here, she has taught Hebrew, Hebrew literature and the Bible to both adults and children at the Hebrew Institute, Community Day School, the School for Advanced Jewish Studies, as well as J-SITE and the AJL.
She has trained many new teachers, and has developed new methods for teaching Hebrew, Frim said.
“I’m teaching more than 40 years,” Lion said. “And I will continue to teach as long as I enjoy it and God blesses me with good health.”
Lion submitted her resignation as department head one month ago, she said, and at that time, set the end of October as the end date for her tenure.
Lion was responsible for bringing the NETA Hebrew curriculum to J-SITE several years ago. NETA provides a classical approach to the teaching of a foreign language, a “comprehensive linguistic and educational framework that enables Jewish secondary school students to advance to high levels of Hebrew proficiency,” according to the program’s website. It was created by Hebrew language curriculum specialists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is used in more than 90 Jewish day schools worldwide, including CDS, Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh.
Lion is a proponent of the NETA program, which is a “classical approach” to teaching Hebrew, she said. She said she is concerned that J-SITE may abandon a classical approach to teaching, and that concern contributed to her decision to step down as department head.
“Nira is passionate about Hebrew,” Frim said. “She’s maintained a formal Hebrew program here for decades. She’s really been the mainstay of the Hebrew language program both for teens and adults. She’s really been the heart and soul of the Hebrew program for many years. I’m really glad she is still working for us.”
Gabe Goldman, AJL’s director of experiential education and J-SITE, “is working hard to evaluate the current model and offerings at J-SITE, and we are studying the best practices in both Hebrew language and Judaic studies nationally,” Frim said in a letter to J-SITE families and faculty. “We look forward to sharing new ideas and developments with you over the course of this year.”
Tal Perel, a current J-SITE teacher, will succeed Lion as director of J-SITE’s Hebrew department. Perel is a certified teacher of Hebrew, and has taught Hebrew at both J-SITE and in the AJL’s adult Ulpan. She has also taught at Yeshiva Schools and Tree of Life Congregation.
“Tal will be working closely with Gabe as we work to restructure our J-SITE Hebrew and Judaic Studies programs for next year,” Frim wrote.
There will be no changes in teaching assignments as a result of the transition of the department head, Frim said.
“Tal is going to be taking this over,” he said. “That will provide some continuity. It’s always good when a new person comes because there’s new energy. We’re going from one wonderful person to another.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)