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Hebrew at American Jewish Summer Camps: The Role of Israel and Israelis

Sun, December 13, 11:45am to 1:15pm, Sheraton Boston, Hampton A/B

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


American Jewish summer camps incorporate Hebrew to varying extents. Secular camps like Surprise Lake and Kinder Ring use only a few prayers and blessings; Reform and Zionist camps use Hebrew names for activities and locations; Ramah camps present announcements and theatrical performances in Hebrew; and Massad, Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute, and some new camps offer Hebrew immersion programs. All of these camps incorporate some programming oriented around Israel, and all have Israeli young adults on their staff (ranging from two to dozens). This roundtable investigates the role of Israel and Israelis in the use of Hebrew at camp.

Three of the panelists, Benor, Avni, and Krasner, have conducted ethnographic and historical research on the use of Hebrew at Jewish summer camps, and the other two panelists will offer their expertise as scholars of American Jewish history and sociology. Sarah Bunin Benor, a sociolinguist, will focus on Israeli staff members’ role in teaching Hebrew words and in correcting mistakes. Sharon Avni, an applied linguist and language educator, will focus on the ways in which Israelis represent Israel and themselves at camp. Jonathan Krasner, a historian, will focus on transformations in Hebrew use during the 20th century. Shuly Rubin Schwartz will offer her perspective as a historian of Jewish summer camps. Shaul Kelner, a sociologist, will moderate the discussion and offer analysis based on his expertise on American Jews’ connections to Israel. Questions to be considered include:

In what ways are Israelis positioned as language experts and as Jewish insiders and/or outsiders?

How does Hebrew serve as a mediator in “mifgashim” (meetings) between Israeli Jews and American Jews at summer camp?

How do Israeli and American staff negotiate word choice and pronunciation when camp tradition diverges from Israeli Hebrew?

Participants will answer questions briefly, leaving plenty of time for discussion. This panel will contribute to our understanding of Israel education and Hebrew education more broadly, as well as American Jews’ relationship to Israel.

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