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 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
By Jonathan Krasner
When President Barack Obama declared at the first White House reception for Jewish American Heritage Month, in 2010, that America must “uphold the principle of tikkun olam—ourobligation to repair the world,” he became the latest in a parade of prominent American politicians, celebrities and opinion-makers, including Bill Clinton, Cornell West and Madonna, to invoke the term. The Americanization of tikkun olam reflects its ubiquity in American Jewish life, where many religious and communal leaders identify it as a core Jewish value.
This is remarkable when one considers that prior to the 1980s most American Jews had never heard the term. Continue reading
In his article “American Jewish Education in Historical Perspective,” Jonathan Sarna demonstrates the historical antecedents of the pressing issues facing Jewish Education at the turn of the millennium and encourages us to turn more often to our predecessors’ approaches. In a move that should surprise no one, this eminent scholar of American Judaism believes that we need not recreate the wheel in every generation.
It is within this context that I want, briefly, to turn our attention to the publication last fall of Engaging Jewish Teenage Boys: A Call to Action, by Moving Traditions. Continue reading