Mohammad Boozarjomehri, a Language Schools student from Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., converses in Hebrew via the Internet with a new acquaintance in Indonesia.

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – It is 8:30 in the morning in Vermont and 7:30 in the evening in Indonesia, and students at both locations are speaking Hebrew with each other today via the videoconferencing tool Zoom.

After the students introduce themselves, tell where they are from, and explain why they are studying the language, they divide up into small groups for informal face-to-face discussions with their new friends in the city of Jakarta. With laptops propped open and headphones on, the sound of multiple conversations—all in Hebrew, of course—fills the air inside a classroom at Middlebury’s Davis Family Library.

“It’s a little chaotic, yes,” says Vardit Ringvald, the director of Middlebury’s School of Hebrew, amid the din, “but it’s a structured mess. And it is exciting because the School of Hebrew is becoming more global. There are a lot of different motivations [for learning Hebrew] at play here, and all this is going on outside the state of Israel.”

Sapri Sale, the director of the Hebrew-language program at the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace in Jakarta, proposed the idea of a combined lesson to Tomer Grossman, a faculty member in the School of Hebrew this summer. And in a way, it’s no surprise that the two teachers connected online. Sale published the world’s first Hebrew-Indonesian dictionary and is offering one of his country’s first Hebrew language classes. And Grossman, the principal of a high school in Lod, Israel, is seeking a PhD in educational and instructional technology while teaching at the Middlebury Language Schools this summer.

Tomer Grossman (standing) and Sapri Sale (on screen, foreground) developed the shared lesson in tandem. Click on photo to enlarge.

“This is a fine example of how pedagogy can combine with technology to promote peace and friendship in another part of the world,” says Grossman. “Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslems, and yet there are people there who want to learn Hebrew and speak it with us.”

(The Times of Israel news website published a story about Sapri Sale’s class in March of this year. The article was titled “Muslim Man Opens First Ever Hebrew Course in Indonesia.”)

For more than an hour, the two classes separated by over 9,000 miles are having a running conversation in Hebrew that concludes in an exuberant group singalong of Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu, or “Peace will come upon us, yet.”

One of the Middlebury students, Dammara Kovnats Hall, said afterward: “I love that our class was able to speak in Hebrew—and only in Hebrew!—with students from Indonesia. It inspires me to better understand the diverse reasons why people are determined to learn Hebrew.

“I am grateful that my time in the School of Hebrew has enabled me to understand enough to have a true conversation with these students in Jakarta, and I am excited to continue speaking with them in Hebrew and continuing a relationship with them even after the program ends,” she said.

The shared lesson concluded with the singing of a popular Hebrew folk song by students in both classes.

– With reporting by Robert Keren and photos by Todd Balfour