Summer Camp

Connection, Not Proficiency: Survey of Hebrew at North American Jewish Summer Camps

November 29th, 2016

About a century after the first Jewish overnight summer camps were established in North America, Hebrew remains an important component of the camp experience. Some camps use very limited Hebrew, such as blessings and a few terms like Shabbat shalom and tikkun olam. Others incorporate Hebrew in activity names, announcements, and theatrical productions. To understand better how and why camps use Hebrew, Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni — a sociolinguist, a historian of Jewish education, and an educational linguist —conducted this study.

This report is part of a larger study, “Hebrew at North American Jewish Overnight Summer Camps,” including observation and interviews, the results of which will be published as a book (Rutgers University Press, expected publication 2017). The study is a project of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University, with funding from the Consortium for Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE) and additional support from the Wexner Foundation, Hebrew Union College, and City University of New York.

Beginning with pilot research in 2012 and culminating in 2015, the study involved several components:

  • observation at 36 camps around north america;
  • interviews and focus groups with about 200 staff members and campers;
  • archival research; and
  • document review.

To complement this qualitative research, the researchers conducted a survey of Hebrew use at camp, the results of which are reported in Connection, Not Proficiency. 103 camps participated in the survey, a response rate of 64%. They represent approximately 45,000 campers at a diversity of camps according to region, religiosity, and orientation toward Israel. For results of the full study, see the authors’ book, forthcoming in 2017.

Connection, Not Proficiency: Survey of Hebrew at North American Jewish Summer Camps, August 2016