Hebrew at North American Jewish Overnight Summer Camps

***2020 National Jewish Book Award in Education and Jewish Identity Recipient***

“Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps” by Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni. 2020, Rutgers University Press, 318 pages.

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Hebrew Infusion book coverAbout the Book

Each summer, tens of thousands of American Jews attend residential camps, where they may see Hebrew signs, sing and dance to Hebrew songs, and hear a camp-specific hybrid language register called Camp Hebraized English, as in: “Let’s hear some ruach (spirit) in this chadar ochel (dining hall)!”

Using historical and sociolinguistic methods, this book explains how camp directors and staff came to infuse Hebrew in creative ways and how their rationales and practices have evolved from the early 20th century to today.

Baseball game at Camp Massad in the 1950s.Some Jewish leaders worry that Camp Hebraized English impedes Hebrew acquisition, while others recognize its power to strengthen campers’ bonds with Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people. “Hebrew Infusion” explores these conflicting ideologies, showing how hybrid language can serve a formative role in fostering religious, diasporic communities. The insightful analysis and engaging descriptions of camp life will appeal to anyone interested in language, education, or American Jewish culture.

About the Hebrew at Camp Project

Kids at camp posing under a sign in HebrewPhoto: Courtesy of Ramah day camp in Nyack

This interdisciplinary study documented and analyzed how Hebrew is used and taught in Jewish overnight camps in the United States. The project findings are relevant for historians, Jewish studies scholars, applied linguists and linguistic anthropologists.

The study addressed the following questions:

Team members visited 36 camps of diverse types and interviewed hundreds of stakeholders, including camp directors, educators, counselors, funders, Israeli emissaries, alumni and campers. We also explored the history and evolution of Hebrew use at camps through archival research and interviews.

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

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