Jewish-French Connection

Hi, happy to meet you! Ever since I have been teaching English at George Leven High School for 16 years, I have been trying to organize exchanges for pupils,” wrote Daniella Malka, an English teacher from Paris, in one of her first e-mails to our school’s faculty. This is about the Jewish-French Connection.

Little did she realize that our teachers, Doris Davis and Monique Caiden, were thinking about that exact plan. Caiden proposed the idea to her friend Hava Maguy, a teacher at George Leven High School.

These two French teachers and Andy Sandler, computer instructor and coordinator, have set up e-mail connections between students at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in Great Neck, N.Y., and George Leven High School in Paris, — both Modern Orthodox yeshivas.

“I am so excited about the new program, ‘Le Club de Français’, because I enjoy writing to my pen-pal,” said senior Sharleen Pouladian. “We’re just beginning to exchange ideas and plans. This way we can both develop an understanding as to where we come from and how that affects us, both being teenagers.”

Maurice Kaufman, a senior, was eager to share his thoughts about our club. “I want to find out how Jewish French teens live in France, the different things that the kids do, what problems Jewish people are faced with, what types of things they learn in school, and how their school is organized,” he said. “I think this project with the French pen pals is amazing. It allows us to communicate with kids in France and get their perspective on things.”

Melissa Benlolo, a senior who has several relatives living in France, is very concerned about the rising level of anti-Semitism there. “I love the idea of this club,” she said. “I feel it will broaden our horizons since we are now learning about how teens just like us are adjusting to society. I want to find out how they live their lives in comparison to ours, and how their social life differs from ours. It also interests me how they deal with and react toward anti-Semitism that I know is occurring in France.”

These Orthodox teens from two different countries want to become friends. Our teachers also recognize that in order for these relationships to grow and thrive, we need open and honest communication.

The teachers will guide students at certain points with a comment or question to be sure the process is educational as well as enjoyable. Many exchange programs fail when the ideas start disappearing. Our teachers assure us that won’t occur. French Jewish students will learn what it’s like to be a Modern Orthodox Jew in America and students will learn the same about the French students.

North Shore Hebrew Academy High School places a large emphasis on technology. Each student receives a laptop and uses a school network, known as Angel, through which this international French club link operates.

These e-mails will focus on everyone’s interests. For example: What are the foods, styles of dress, daily entertainment, hobbies enjoyed during free time, and places where these students have traveled? How important is religion to French teenagers and the same for American teens? How do all these interests shape the French and English language? What mutual slang words can be enjoyed?

Faculty from these schools are interested to see how this exchange improves English and French language skills. The George Leven students will write their e-mails in English and NSHA students in French. Usually when a casual conversation takes place, care about language skills becomes quite relaxed.

“They start by having to write sentences to realize that if what you write is not correct, the pen friend won’t understand you,” said Caiden. “They sometimes write sentences without verbs or without subjects or with the wrong tense. So, it’ll make them write correctly. The French students will write in English to the American students, who will reply in French.”

Faculty from both schools have begun to plan specific topics for this e-mail exchange. After hearing about our students’ trips to Holocaust sites in Germany and Poland, Malka gave a moving description of her school’s recent trip to Poland last year. Fifty teens from George Leven High School spent five days exploring the very painful memories of the Holocaust.

Her words in an e-mail describe the universal experience of both French and American teenage Jews, “… what moved me most was the quality of their faith and religious involvement and knowledge whenever we were inside synagogues. They organized prayers in all the synagogues we went to. Sometimes they got up very early to go and pray in some of them or just at the hotels. For most of them, this was very genuine.”

The faculty of Le Club de Français in both countries is looking forward to having two other French high schools join this program. Debra Robbins, chairperson of the NSHA Language Department noted, “The ultimate goal is to bring these high school students from France and NSHA together. In addition we will be implementing the same cross-cultural borders educational program in Spanish- and Italian-speaking countries in the near future.” n

North Shore Hebrew Academy
Great Neck, N.Y.