Learning about Learning

Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, Brandeis University

Tag: camp

Hebrew Ba’Bayit

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.

Kids at camp posing under a sign in Hebrew

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

Where all the Singing Happens

By Joseph Reimer

As I look back at last month’s The Power of Jewish Camps, a research conference at Brandeis’s Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education that Jonathan Krasner and I planned, I am pleased with how many of the sessions went. The session that made the deepest impression, however, is “Jewish Music at Camp and Beyond.” Let me share its significance.

Virtually anyone who has spent a summer at a residential Jewish camp could tell you what a significant role Jewish music, and particularly, communal singing, plays in the life of the camp. Camp alumni report remembering fondly the way the whole camp came together to sing on Shabbat and how they still remember the songs they once learned for a camp play or song festival. The music lives on when other details fade.

So how can we more systematically understand the role that Jewish music plays at these camps?

Continue reading

For Camp Leaders, Some Questions and a Challenge

By Sandra Fox

Kiva Rabinsky, Seth Winberg, Sharon Feiman-Nemser and Joseph Reimer at the conference

At last month’s conference on Jewish summer camping, at Brandeis’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, I hoped my participation would place a friendly parenthetical question mark at the end of the conference title. This hope grew out my research, which  questions the assumptions Jewish leaders and educators hold about camp’s power, and highlights the perspective of the youth they seek to mold.  However, I ultimately found it refreshing to talk about camp with fellow scholars and practitioners–people who, like the historical figures I write about, participate in and shape the lived experience of Jewish camping today. Continue reading

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