4: Film, Joan Micklin Silver’s "Hester Street," 1975, Yiddish with subtitles.
This film was based on a novel about immigrant Jewish life in America by Abraham Cahan, editor-in-chief of the Yiddish-language newspaper Forverts (Jewish Daily Forward). In this clip, an immigrant woman played by Carol Kane watches her pious boarder, played by Mel Howard, teach the alef-beys to her son. The style of teaching—repetition after the teacher, and a sing-song delivery—is characteristic of the kheyder.
Suggested activity: Watch the clip, then watch it again with the students endeavoring to repeat after the melamed, just as the boy does. Have they had any experiences learning this way? How did the students feel while doing so? What are the virtues and drawbacks of such techniques? Understand that this style of rote repetition was not only used to learn the alphabet, but also to study entire sections of Torah.
Source: Hester Street, directed by Joan Micklin Silver (1975; Home Vision Entertainment, 2004), DVD.