Sherry Shamash, a beloved instructor of Hebrew has been teaching in LCL for more than 35 years. A Massachusetts native, Sherry earned an MA in Religion from Smith College with a concentration on Jews in the Muslim World. She became a full-time faculty member in the LCL department in 2012.
She is recognized for her dedication to teaching. Her priory, she explains, is “to communicate enthusiasm and get students excited.” In her three classes – elementary, intermediate, and advanced Hebrew – she continually ties her language lessons to current and historic global events. Each semester, her students give an oral presentation. In the first semester, they act out a skit, in the second they tell a story, in the third they produce a commercial, and in the fourth they prepare a cooking presentation. In the advanced courses, the students choose a special topic or period and Sherry designs the course content accordingly. One semester the class covered the Jewish experience during Islamic rule in Spain. Another semester, Sherry discussed the Six-Day War and how popular songs reflect on the events. “This was very emotional at times,” she recalls, “because the students watched videos that re-enacted tragic events during the war.” This year Sherry’s class chose Israeli humor. “There is so much material!” she says, some of which includes short videos or little jokes that stem directly from the WhatsApp conversations between her and her family in Israel.
When it comes to student enrollment, Sherry wishes that there was more cross-pollination between the different sections and departments. “There are so many archaeological excavations in Israel, for instance,” Sherry says, “and knowing some Hebrew would be very useful to students in anthropology.” However, she is aware that students do not always have a lot of flexibility in their schedules to study languages on the side. In the case of Hebrew, she wants students to know that they should not be intimidated by the alphabet. “It is completely phonetic,” she explains, “and students master it within the first two weeks.” Her students all have very different backgrounds, “but everyone who makes the effort succeeds and I am always willing to give extra help.” A nice treat for her students is the movie night she organizes each year. The students do different assessments of the films depending on their level and she brings dinner for them. To see her teaching in action and to hear some of her students describe their experiences in class, take a look at the short video “Why Hebrew?”, produced and posted by UConn’s Center for Judaic Studies.
By Maria Reger