Eliezer Ben Yehuda is known as the “father of Modern Hebrew,” but he had important partners: kindergarten teachers. Ben Yehuda understood that the adoption of the Hebrew language depended on education from an early age, so he published a children’s newspaper called Iton Katan and tried (unsuccessfully) to make his son, Itamar, speak only Hebrew. Alongside his attempts, the first kindergarten teachers –Esther Shapiro Ginzburg, Leah Mazya-Neiman, Yehudit Eisenberg-Harari, and Elisheva Gisin-Schroit-Efrati – taught the children in their care to speak and play in Hebrew.
The first kindergartens in pre-state Israel were established by the German-Jewish Ezra Association according to an educational model from Berlin. Initially, their purpose was to prepare children for first grade; this later shifted to focus on acting and singing. The teaching method was called “Hebrew in Hebrew” –learning the language as a mother tongue.
However, members of the Yishuv’s old ultra-Orthodox community opposed the Hebrew-language kindergartens. A poster from Jerusalem in 1902 states: “We will not surrender our morals to the leaders of the kindergartens, nor will the language of the Torah cease from our mouths,from the mouths of our children, and from the mouths of our children’s children forevermore.”
Despite the opposition, the first generation of children that grew up in pre-state Israel learned Hebrew in kindergarten from their teachers and then taught Hebrew to their parents at home.