Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps. Now available to order here.

By Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni

Rutgers University Press, July 17, 2020, 318 pages

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.

Happy campers

Video Trailer for Hebrew Infusion

More about the research and project leading to Hebrew Infusion

Praise for Hebrew Infusion:

"Benor, Krasner and Avni have written a paradigm-shifting work that promises to reshape Jewish educators’ basic approaches to the whys and hows of language learning." -- Shaul Kelner, author of Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage and Israeli Birthright Tourism

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"The first serious work on Hebrew in Jewish summer camps is as important a work of history as it is an ethnographic study of a range of contemporary camps. This book will become an essential work not only for those interested in Jewish American cultures, but other diaspora communities in the United States, who face remarkably similar issues. An outstanding contribution to all of those interested in language, culture, and identity."-- Riv-Ellen Prell, author of Fighting to Become Americans: Jews, Gender and the Anxiety of Assimilation

"Hebrew Infusion is the remarkable result of a 7-year collaboration to explore and illuminate Hebrew language use, teaching, and learning in American Jewish camps. Bringing together historical, sociolinguistic, and applied linguistic perspectives, the authors examine the organization and meanings of Hebrew infusion practices and how they have varied over time and across settings. The authors effectively apply multiple theoretical frameworks to tell the story of how Hebrew has been deployed in camp contexts to construct local, national, and transnational understandings of Jewishness. For any scholar interested in the relationship between language and community, this book is essential reading."-- Leslie C. Moore, Associate Professor of Teaching & Learning and Linguistics at The Ohio State University

"Hebrew Infusion is a reminder that words matter and that relationships are shaped by language. At a time when “social distancing” has disrupted our sense of community, the ways in which the Jewish camps build connections through language seems ever more important. The authors weave together a fascinating linguistic, historical and sociological assessment of how Hebrew is taught and used to socialize children not just to communicate, but to experience being part of something larger. Its lessons are more important than ever."-- Leonard Saxe, author of “How Goodly Are Thy Tents”: Summer Camps as Jewish Socializing Experiences

"A lively, evocative and wide-ranging account of American Jewry's complex and often maligned relationship with Hebrew, this important book is as much about community as it is about language. In finding creativity where others have found fault, Hebrew Infusion challenges us to rethink our assumptions about the cultural grammar of the modern Jewish experience."-- Jenna Weissman Joselit, author of Set in Stone: America's Embrace of the Ten Commandments

"This is an excellent scholarly book that deeply examines the multiple dimensions of using Hebrew at Jewish summer camps, a major pillar of Jewish education in the United States. The authors weave together the extensive data, collected from a vast number of overnight summer camps, to trace the historical arc of the policies, implementations, and goals of Hebrew, and arrive at major conclusions regarding the unique character of Hebrew infusion – a process and product that allows for tremendous local creativity but that also raises questions about the transnational nature of Israeli Hebrew. The book will be of great interest to varied audiences: researchers of multilingualism, language teachers, and Jewish educators who are interested in creating and improving Hebrew education programs, as well as those who personally experienced Jewish camps as campers or staff."-- Elana Shohamy, author of Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches

"Hebrew Infusion introduces a new concept into the study of post-war American Jewish camping and transforms our understanding of Hebrew’s place in American Jewish life. A happy combination of history, sociology, linguistics, and education, it will be widely discussed among scholars, practitioners and policy makers alike."-- Jonathan D. Sarna, author of American Judaism: A History

"An extremely important contribution towards the study of a major aspect of the American Jewish Diaspora community and to sociolinguistics."-- Bernard Spolsky, author of The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History

"This engaging book delves into the use of Hebrew in the Jewish summer culture camps of the United States. While there is a call by some leaders to do Hebrew immersion to create proficient speakers, camps find immersion difficult to accomplish. Paralleling Native American language/culture camps and other language revitalization programs, infusion of heritage language allows Hebrew speakers to feel personally attached to their own beloved language by using what they know in daily conversations, even as the rest of the conversation is English. While there are differences between the situations of endangered indigenous languages vs. Hebrew for the Jewish diaspora, the many similarities establish this volume as a recommended read for everyone involved in endangered and minoritized language survival."-- Leanne Hinton, author of Bringing our Languages Home: Language Revitalization for Families

“Summer camps are rarely studied as significant social and linguistic experiences. This book is a first, as it shows how the infusion of Hebrew into English in Jewish summer camps emblematically establishes local solidarity and diasporic identity. The book offers an enlightening, new perspective on American Jewry in relation to Hebrew and Yiddish at the same time that it stands as a sociolinguistic landmark.”-- Walt Wolfram, author of The Development of African American Language: From Infancy to Adulthood

"Funny things happen on the way to heritage language revival. Creolized languages develop to serve even more useful functions for identity and community for migrants. This book offers a fascinating study into the emergence of "camp Hebraized English" in American Jewish summer camps. It provides another rich example of how translingual practices serve the needs of diaspora communities."-- Suresh Canagarajah, author of Translingual Practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations

"In this lively and engaging account of the rise of Hebrew content at Jewish-American summer camps, the authors illuminate the cultural work of language across generations."-- Leslie Paris, author of Children's Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp