Hebrew High: Helping teens make a difference

The fall session of Hebrew High for students in grades nine through 12 will start on Oct. 27, and it will be the second session for Rabbi Aviva Shira Funke as principal.

Aviva grew up in the Valley and attended Hebrew High herself. “I have known Myra (Shindler) my whole life,” she says. Myra is the executive director and former principal of Hebrew High. “I did one of the Camp Ramah programs in Israel during 11th grade. Because of the Hebrew learning that I was able to attain at Hebrew High, I was really set up to have a successful time in Israel.”

Rabbi Aviva Shira Funke

Hebrew for Credit is one of the courses offered at Hebrew High. It allows students to attain high school credit for a language while learning at their own pace. With online and in-person instruction, every student gets a program catered to their own learning trajectory.

The other Hebrew High Courses are offered in quarters lasting seven weeks and held on Tuesday nights. Students can enroll in single classes or “fully enroll” for eight classes in a year. Classes are available on Zoom or socially-distanced in person at the Ina Levine JCC campus in Scottsdale.
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Aviva is excited about the classes the upcoming fall session offers. The offerings include Andre Ivory teaching the History of Antisemitism; Elise Herman and Andrea Cohen teaching Tough Conversations: Social Justice and the rabbi teaching Tools for Jewish Spirituality.

When Aviva put out an interest survey at the beginning of the school year, she had imagined that with the pressure of online learning, the high schoolers would want more enjoyable, lighthearted classes. She was wrong.

“I was blown away by the desire that the students have for really important, hot topics,” she says. “They want to talk about social justice,  about racism in our country, about the issues of antisemitism and how to combat it. They want to get into text study. They want to look at morality and ethics. These are kids who are looking to make a difference.”

She shares the story of one student who was so impacted by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death that she rallied 40 people to come together on Zoom, say kaddish to memorialize RBG, and then do phone banking for the election.
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Aviva has learned over the years working with teens that they become more engaged when they have an active ownership of a program. She was the school rabbi for Brawerman East elementary school through Wilshire Boulevard Temple of Los Angeles, CA, before moving back to Scottsdale.

“We have a new leadership initiative that I started called our delegates initiative,” says Aviva. “The whole idea is to get the teens to help really build out what Hebrew High is.”

She hopes is to have several students in the community to help recruit and plan events. “Let them have opportunities to lead or to dream,” says Aviva. “(Ask them) what kind of changes do we want to make within our community? My job is to support them and give them the tools to do that.”
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Aviva is also a singer/songwriter and the co-founder of Na’or, “A prayer project to help reimagine what spiritual prayer experience can feel like,” she explains. “Bringing in the music to help reawaken our connection to those (spiritual) texts.”

Aviva believes we all have inner creativity, whether it’s a logical sense of creativity or an abstract sense of creativity. “Bringing our unique spark to the table takes time. It takes time to figure out what kind of gifts we each bring,” she says. “I want Hebrew High to feel like a catalog of offerings of where you can experiment, and you can explore what your unique gift is and what your passions are and how we can help propel the Jewish people forward with our passion.”

For more information, or to register for classes, visit bjephoenix.org/hh-courses.

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