Hebrew at North American Jewish Overnight Summer Camps

Kids at camp posing under a sign in Hebrew

This interdisciplinary study is designed to document and analyze how Hebrew is used and taught in Jewish overnight camps in the United States. We seek to provide a robust evidence base that can be used by Jewish educators and policy makers to improve Jewish learning and socialization. In addition, this project will be relevant for historians, Jewish studies scholars, applied linguists, and linguistic anthropologists.

The study will address the following questions:

  • How is Hebrew used at camps, and how is it integrated into daily educational and recreational activities? How do these Hebrew-language practices connect to the educational and social objectives of each camp?
  • What is the reasoning behind the use of Hebrew at camp? What roles do Israel connection, Jewish peoplehood, and religiosity play?  
  • In what ways do camp affiliations and orientations (e.g., Zionist, denominational, communal, regional) result in varying Hebrew philosophies and uses?
  • What role do Israeli staff and campers play in the incorporation of Hebrew at camps?
  • In what ways have camps and their umbrella organizations changed over time in their use of and orientation to Hebrew, and how have these changes been affected by – and been part of – broader changes among American Jews?

Team members have visited 36 camps of diverse types and are in the process of interviewing dozens of stakeholders, including camp directors, educators, counselors, funders, Israeli emissaries, alumni, and campers. We are also exploring the history and evolution of Hebrew use at camps through archival research and interviews. Findings from a survey of camp directors were published in summer 2016, and publication of a book is expected in 2018.

This Mandel Center project has been generously funded by the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE). Additional support was provided by a Wexner Foundation Alumni Collaboration grant.

Project leaders:

Jonathan Krasner
Sarah Bunin Benor
Sharon Avni

Photo: Courtesy of Ramah day camp in Nyack