By Sofie Braun ’22, Contributing Writer
This year, Heschel welcomes back Pesya Bassal-Altman, a returning Hebrew teacher. Bassal-Altman worked at Heschel two years ago and rejoins the Heschel community after spending part of the year in Israel. She teaches 9th, 10th, and 11th grade.
As a child, Bassal-Altman lived in Bnei Brak, Israel in an Orthodox community. Her grandfather was the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. 31 years ago, she moved to the United States.
Bassal-Altman is a playwright and director. “In Israel I had a small theater,” she said. “I wrote plays and directed, so I always felt like I have a special connection to the Hebrew language.” Her experience inspired her to teach Hebrew in the United States.
In addition, Bassal-Altman is an artist and has worked as an art teacher. She has a studio and exhibits her work in galleries around the US, Europe and Israel. This year, she lives in Sag Harbor and plans to teach exclusively over Zoom.
In Bassal-Altman’s view, teaching should inspire creativity in students. “I believe in using the language to create something. Not just learning and studying the verbs and the grammar. That’s not interesting enough. But using the language and expressing yourself, that’s what’s interesting. Two years ago when I taught, I did a nice play with my eleventh graders, and I think it was really good for the students and the school community.” She hopes to direct a Hebrew play again this year.
Every couple of years, Bassal-Altman travels the world. During her most recent time in Israel, she put on a show in a university and taught there for a bit. One particularly meaningful experience she had was living in Oaxaca, Mexico and working with indigenous artists. She is a strong proponent of indigenous people’s rights.
This year, Bassal-Altman is looking forward to Heschel’s sense of community. “Community is important, so at least we can create a community on Zoom. I think it’s wonderful,” she shared. Teaching on Zoom will be a challenge for Bassal-Altman because she’s never taught virtually before. She hopes to provide her students with a meaningful experience even over Zoom.