<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Tsipi Wagner
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The Mother of C of C's "Hebrew Family"
By Nicolle Pufal and William Thompson

"We call ourselves the Hebrew family," Hebrew professor Tsipi Wagner says to explain the close-knit feel of the Hebrew language classes she teaches. As the "mother" of this "Hebrew family," Wagner gives tough love.

"It’s a Jewish mother thing," says one Hebrew 101 student.

"We need to be tough," Wagner says. Her life story illustrates that point.

Wagner is a Holocaust survivor, born on the Greek island of Rhodes and during World War II was sent to the concentration camp in Feramonte, Italy at the age of one after an accident stranded her parents in the Mediterranean on their passage to Israel.

After living in Feramonte for two years, Wagner and her family arrived in the promised land via Alexandria, Egypt. Wagner's cousins and grandparents were killed before she was born, never knowing them gave her a profound appreciation of the value of family.

Wagner and her parents finally made it to Israel after British troops coming from North Africa liberated her concentration camp. It was in the Israeli schools that Wagner first learned the Hebrew language.

Wagner attended Bar Ilan University in Israel, majoring in English literature and Education. "I was born a teacher," Wagner says.

Her second degree in criminology and criminal law came from Tel Aviv University. Despite being urged by her professors, Wagner refused to become a lawyer, knowing that her destiny was to teach.

Wagner came to the American South to join her son, who had moved to Atlanta. Wagner started teaching at Emory University, and then moved to Georgia State University to build the Hebrew program there.

Wagner accepted the challenge of leaving her son and granddaughters in Atlanta when she came to the College of Charleston. She felt there were opportunities to do things inside the Hebrew program here that had not been done before.

One such innovation is Wagner's use of the computer program Audacity, to help her students better understand the Hebrew language. Audacity lets students record themselves reading aloud in Hebrew. The students can then e-mail the recordings to Wagner. Wagner intently listens to her students' attempts, and sends comments back to them verbally over email via Audacity. The Audacity program is a welcome tool among the students learning the challenging subject of Hebrew.

At the College of Charleston the painstaking process of learning the Hebrew language is as tough as its teacher. Wagner does take shortcuts teaching Hebrew, she teaches her students how to speak Hebrew, and read and write in Hebrew script and print, simultaneously. "We do not surrender," says Wagner. "We work."

Luckily the students have a mother in Wagner to help them through the daunting subject of Hebrew. "They're my children," she says. Her office door is always open, students even regularly call her at home. Students have come to visit her in the hospital, and she has gone to visit them. Wagner asks, "If you don’t have any family around, who can you count on?"

"She is very caring, very Israeli and likes to make sure people have enough help. People, usually, never need help, but she always asks anyway," said Brianna Farber, an office worker at the College's Jewish Studies Center.

Seeing the expression in the students' eyes change from puzzlement to understanding is the most rewarding part of teaching for Wagner. She says it is much easier for students to attain a minor in Jewish Studies if they take some semesters in Hebrew. Since Wagner's time at the college, the number of students taking Hebrew classes has doubled.

Kurtis Bishop, a student in Wagner's Hebrew 101 said, "She brings a lot of personality into class, which is unique and definitely cares about her students."

Wagner is currently working on her doctoral dissertation titled "The Profile of the Murderer and Victim in 20th century American Literature" which uses such works as "All My Sons" and "No Country for Old Men" as sources. According to Wagner the topic excites her because nobody has written anything like it before. "I'm doing it because I’m interested."

Wagner has two sons, living in Atlanta and Israel. She is the proud grandmother of four. Wagner kept her house in Israel and said, "I will eventually return- when I fulfill my objectives in the States."

Students prefer to call her Tsipi. In order to say Tsipi correctly, she said, "It's like you're saying the word 'pizza.' The letters 't' and 's' make a 'zz' sound. So, you get 't-zz-ip-e.'"