New Hebrew teacher Dr. Birnbaum sees the world through cinema and travel

LINGUIST%3A+Dr.+Birbaum+speaks+Arabic%2C+German+and+French%2C+in+addition+to+English+and+Hebrew.

BP Photo by Nettie Wolkind

LINGUIST: Dr. Birbaum speaks Arabic, German and French, in addition to English and Hebrew.

By Noah Elad, Senior Editor

With a niche interest in learning history through cinema, new Hebrew teacher Dr. Sariel Birnbaum hopes to bring more creativity and collaboration to his Hebrew department classes this year.

Dr. Birnbaum is teaching 10th-grade Hebrew 101 and SAS Hebrew Film and Literature at Shalhevet, and also teaches both Hebrew and Introduction to Judaism at UCLA.

Movies, he said, offer a different way to understand society and modern Jewish identity.

“Cinema might tell us things that people usually do not like to write about,” said Dr. Birnbaum.

He hopes his Shalhevet students will gain proficiency in the Hebrew language through class discussion and writing a final paper.

“I want the students to have interesting materials.” Dr. Birnbaum said in an interview Aug. 24. “I try to bring to the class things like TV series, films, also we can run things like mock trials based on things that happened in Israel, or things that we create.

You don’t really learn a language well just by filling in the blank.”

— Dr. Sariel Birnbaum, Hebrew teacher

“You don’t really learn a language well just by filling in the blank,” he said.

Born in Jerusalem, Dr. Birnbaum served in the IDF and then attended Hebrew University, where he received his Ph.D. in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies. He wrote his master’s thesis about how Palestinians see their history in the media, newspapers, and TV and published a book called Bechazara Leavar. Its English title is Back to the Past – Film History in Arab Cinema.

“I went to make something bigger for a Ph.D., so I wrote my Ph.D. about the genre of historical films in the Arab cinema and Arab TV,” said Dr. Birnbaum.

He has lived in Switzerland, Austria and Germany, and in addition to English and Hebrew speaks Arabic, German and French. In the U.S., Dr. Birnbaum has traveled coast to coast a few times. He also spent two months in China.

Dr. Birnbaum moved to Los Angeles just one year ago, but he in the U.S. has previously lived in Monterey, San Diego, Upstate New York and Ohio. He taught classes at universities including Binghamton SUNY and San Diego State about the Arab-Israeli conflict and also about Jews and Muslims in European films.

Additionally, he taught a Jewish cinema course which he described as similar to the SAS course he is teaching at Shalhevet.

Dr. Birnbaum also has published academic articles about the image of Arabs and Jews in cinema. His most recent work was published in the Israeli magazine Hashiloach about the story of the early 1950s kidnapping of Yemenite babies.

“I like to write, and if I don’t manage to write in an academic peer review I would write in magazines and also in social media,” said Dr. Birnbaum.

His hobbies include swimming, hiking and traveling.