by Hannah Tobin Cohen
Republished from forward.com.
Do the following scenarios describe a Disney movie or the latest headline about Israel? The forcible separation of a baby from its mother, villagers persecuting a feared outsider, and factions competing in a deadly battle to control the land.
Spoiler alert: it’s both. Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King tackle these tricky subjects with young kids.
So why are adults so afraid to do the same when it comes to Israel?
While we allow our children to watch movies packed with flawed heroes and moral ambiguity, Israel education continues to be a manichaean struggle between good versus bad. Our schools, camps, and even we ourselves shut our children out of honest conversations about Israel for fear of them not being “ready.”
Well, they are.
As part of the research team at the Children’s Learning About Israel Project of Brandeis University, I have spent the past eight years conducting hundreds of interviews with Jewish kids about Israel. Following a cohort of 35 Jewish elementary schoolers as they aged from kindergarten to middle school, I heard them express their thoughts and feelings about the country. Listening to these kids discussing Israel, it’s clear they have something to teach the adults in their lives.
The children in our study are spread across a diverse group of schools: One is Reform, one Conservative, and one a non-denominational community school. One has a large Persian-Jewish population, one has predominantly Ashkenazi students, and one has a large number of Israeli expatriate families.
There is just one area in which our cohort is uniform: Our children are all frustrated and confused about Israel. And it’s because of us.
by Jonathan B. Krasner
Long before Ben Platt was a Broadway sensation in Dear Evan Hansen, he was wowing audiences in Hebrew language productions at Camp Ramah California. Platt recalled playing Sky Masterson in a Hebrew language production of Guys & Dolls and even sang a few lines of “Luck be a Lady Tonight” (“Hey lady, tni li mazal”) in a November 2016 episode of Late Night with Seth Myers. Ramah was a formative experience for Platt, who credits it with keeping him engaged with Judaism. His memories of the Hebrew show tunes he performed help keep the connection solid all these years later.
One of the takeaways of Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps, the recently-published book that I coauthored with Sarah Bunin Benor and Sharon Avni, is the critical role that music plays in creating a Hebrew atmosphere at many Jewish summer camps. Often, multiple Hebrew music genres comprise a camp’s soundscape, with one form or another coming to the fore, depending on the context.
Hebrew singing has been heard in some form at Jewish summer camps since their inception at the turn of the twentieth century. Many of the early camps, particularly the philanthropically-funded “fresh air camps,” were charged with Americanizing the children of immigrants, while other privately operated camps attracted a middle-class and wealthy clientele.
by Sarah Bunin Benor
Second in a series
courtesy URJ Jacobs camp
This week in a non-pandemic year, I would be driving up to the mountains to visit my middle daughter at Habonim Dror Camp Gilboa, dropping off my oldest at the bus for Ramah in California, and hugging my youngest as she goes through airport security to fly to Ramah in the Rockies. What I find myself missing most this year is not the clean, quiet house (although that is never far from my mind), but scouring for Hebrew words in the parent blog posts and photos from my children’s camps.
For the past eight years, my colleagues Jonathan Krasner and Sharon Avni and I have studied how Jewish summer camps use Hebrew. Our book Hebrew Infusion presents historical and contemporary analysis of what we found through camp visits, interviews, surveys, archival research, and outward-facing materials like websites and parent updates. Camp leaders infuse Hebrew words, signs, songs, and fun activities into the camp experience to create a rich local tradition and foster campers’ connections to Hebrew, Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people.
We found sentences laced with Hebrew words – mostly nouns – in dozens of camps. At Solomon Schechter, an independent camp near Seattle, we heard, “Madrichim, madrichot [male and female counselors], you can pick up dessert for your tzrif [bunk].” At Hilltop, a Reform camp in California, a staff member announced, “We’re going to the teatron [theater] for Shabbat shiur [lesson].” We call this register “Camp Hebraized English.”
by Sharon Avni
First in a series about the new book Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps, the product of the Mandel Center’s Hebrew at Camp project.
Courtesy Ramah Day Camp in Nyack
For all of the six years that Sarah Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and I spent researching and writing about the use of written and spoken varieties of Hebrew at American Jewish overnight camps, we never imagined that as our book Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps was coming off the printing press we would be facing a situation in which most of these camps were making the painful decision to close for the summer of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though we had some inkling around Passover that camp leadership was grappling with the implications of the virus’s severity, there was still a glimmer of hope that if anyone could figure out a creative way to keep camps open and safe, it would be Jewish overnight camp directors, who seem to have superpowers that enable them to do what often seems like the impossible: keep hundreds of campers and staff members engaged, entertained, well fed, and happy, while dealing with the logistics of staffing, grounds keeping, and security issues. But the joy of finally receiving copies of the book was tempered by the reality that camping was not going to happen this summer. As a camp alumna and a parent of two children who have attended Young Judaea camps for years, I, along with my family, was devastated by the news we received in May. The annual ritual of pulling out the enormous duffle bags from the basement closet, beginning to label clothing and packing up their belongings was quickly replaced with feelings of sadness and disbelief.
One of the central findings of our book is that Jewish overnight camps have a “secret sauce”—and that Hebrew is one of the key ingredients in creating each camp’s distinctive Jewish flavor. Continue reading
By Robin Kahn
“I need to hire another teacher.” This is my August refrain. My colleagues around the country share it because there is a shortage of Jewish educators in the US. Year after year, I have lamented the dearth of qualified religious school teachers. So when I was asked late last August to direct the Mandel Center’s Undergraduate Fellows program, I jumped at the opportunity to foster the professional growth of young adult Jewish educators.
And so my journey with a group of Brandeis undergraduates began. Each fellow had committed to teaching in a local supplementary school in 2020-2021, which was a commitment to waking early on Sunday mornings, preparing lessons in their free time, and arranging their course schedules to allow for mid-week teaching.
The fellows and I met 12 times over the year, over dinner, to explore teaching and learning in a supplemental Jewish educational setting. We covered such topics as the Hawkins Triangle, multiple intelligences, social, emotional, and spiritual learning, teaching Israel, talking about God, studying Jewish texts with young children, child development, and choosing materials.
From the very beginning I was inspired by the fellows’ passion for engaging their students in Jewish life. I was confident that over the year, they would become more thoughtful and better Jewish educators. I also knew this experience would be an opportunity for me to learn. Continue reading