Ilana Meydan –A Champion of Hebrew Education

1938 – 2015

If you or your children studied Modern Hebrew, chances are you benefited from the work of Ilana Meydan who dedicated her life to promoting the language that she loved.

Ilana arrived from Israel in Australia in 1969, in Perth. For the next three years, she taught Modern Hebrew to children and adults at the Carmel-Korsunski College, where she introduced audio-visual methods. After moving to Melbourne, she kept in touch with WA, often having long telephone conversations with Hebrew teachers, who continued to seek her guidance. While with VCAA, (Victorian  Curriculum  and Assessment Authority) Ilana conducted phone examinations of WA students for their Hebrew HSC.

In 1973 the family moved to Melbourne, where Ilana was engaged by the Prahran College of Advanced Education (CAE) to prepare a syllabus for the Jewish Studies Course. At the time, Modern Hebrew was taught at Jewish Day Schools but not at the tertiary level, as the Hebrew course at the Melbourne University was primary for scholars, who wanted to read the Bible in its original language. The diploma course curriculum, which Ilana drafted, was subsequently approved by the Victorian Institute of Colleges. In 1978, Ilana was employed as a lecturer at Prahran CAE, where she had a major input in upgrading the Diploma Course and the Modern Hebrew Course to the BA level.

Towards the end of 1981, the Prahran CAE was amalgamated into Victoria CAE, and Ilana moved to the Toorak Campus as a Lecturer in the Department of Language and Culture Studies. In the second part of 1989 she was the Acting Head of the Department. After 10 years, this part of the Victoria CAE was transferred to Deakin University, where from 1992 to her retirement in 2000, Ilana was a Lecturer in the School of Languages, Interpreting and Translating, in the Jewish Studies Section; from 1990 also serving as an Admission Officer.

In 1985 Ilana completed a written thesis: ‘Error analysis of written Hebrew in Victoria’ and was conferred a Master of Education by Monash University. This groundbreaking work was reviewed by the University of Sydney and applauded as being of an exceptionally high standard, equal to a PhD thesis. In 1989 she drafted a paper: ‘Teaching Hebrew at Tertiary Institutions in Australia’, which was delivered in absentia at the 10th World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

Over a quarter of century Ilana trained a generation of educators and teachers for the Jewish community. Among her students, two were appointed Directors of Jewish Studies in Melbourne Jewish day schools, two attained the positions of Principal and Deputy Principal in Israel, and three were granted full scholarships at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. During her time at Deakin, Ilana liaised with universities in Australia, Israel and abroad and the senior staff of the Victorian Department of Education. She was authorised by Tel-Aviv University to accept students to its Overseas Student Program.

Throughout her academic career, Ilana kept close ties with the Melbourne Jewish community and schools. In 1978-79 she was advisor and curriculum coordinator in Hebrew and Jewish Studies to Bialik College. In 1979 she was commissioned to design the H.S.C. Hebrew curriculum at Beth Rivka and Yeshiva colleges, which were subsequently used for over a decade. Over the years, Ilana was regularly consulted by Bialik, Beth Rivka and Mt Scopus Colleges on the design and content of their Hebrew courses. In 1984 Ilana served as an advisor and a panel member to select the Director of Hebrew Program for the Ethnic Radio and in 1991 as an honorary consultant to Yavneh College, assessing the standards of Hebrew teachers.

Although Ilana’s undertook numerous official consulting tasks, these played a relatively minor role compared to the extent of her daily interactions with the Melbourne Jewish community. Seldom had a day passed without a phone call from a teacher, educator or a parent, asking her opinion or advice on some matter related to Hebrew or teaching.

In 1989 Ilana became a Hebrew examiner for the Victorian Ethnic Commission and in 1990 to the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Board (renamed VCAA in 2001), examining HSC/VCE high school students in Hebrew. Her knowledge and dedication quickly led her to play a key role in the Victorian Hebrew examinations. In 1994, Ilana was appointed Chief Assessor and Examination Chairperson for Hebrew. For the next 18 years, she drafted and reviewed the Hebrew examination papers, trained the assessors, participated in assessments and diplomatically dealt with any complaints by students, parents or schools. After retiring from Deakin University she kept her involvement with the VCAA for 14 more years by taking care of the VCAA Hebrew examinations, a task she recognized as important to the Jewish community.

Ilana’s work and standing with VCAA has been best expressed by Claudia Cicuttini, a close colleague, who wrote:

‘What struck me was Ilana’s deep love for her family, her hilarious and wicked sense of humour, her passion for all things related to the Hebrew language, culture and traditions, her relentless pursuit of excellence, her non-negotiable high standards in terms of integrity, and above all, her inquisitive mind and her thirst for knowledge. On another level, Ilana was always interested in people- in nurturing her students, and caring for people on both a professional and a personal level. So many students, teachers and assessors have been the grateful beneficiaries of Ilana’s care, attention, intellect, advice and guidance.’

On October the 19th, Ilana lost a nearly four year long battle with cancer. She left behind a generation of teachers and educators, whom she trained, guided and supported and who will continue the work to which she devoted four decades of her life.

ת. נ. צ. ב. ה.