Areivim Hebrew at Camp

Hebrew immersion in summer camps encourages Hebrew language proficiency and promotes pride in Jewish identity in a nurturing, creative, and fun way.  Hebrew is a modern, thriving language. For Israelis, it is the language of everyday life and here in North America, learning Hebrew connects us to Jewish civilization, Israel, and Jewish Peoplehood in a transformative way. Giving elementary school-age children opportunities to gain proficiency in the Modern Hebrew language creates deep connections with the fabric of life and culture in the State of Israel that they carry with them in the ways they experience the world and express themselves.

The Hebrew at Camp approach immerses campers in Hebrew language throughout their camp day for 7-8 weeks, using Hebrew for communication between campers and staff, encouraging its use among the campers, and in certain camp-wide settings. In this arrangement, it is possible to employ the pedagogical strategies of the Proficiency Approach to second language acquisition, which the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) endorses as the gold standard in foreign language instruction in the USA and around the world.  Immersion in an environment where only Hebrew is spoken and where they are actively engaged in meaningful interactions in the language enables children to develop their speaking and comprehension skills in a highly effective way. Because the rhythms and routines of camp include such a broad range of life experiences—including communal meals, study, play and (in some contexts) worship—experiencing these moments in Hebrew provides for a much richer initiation into the language than is typically possible in school settings. Furthermore, observation of returning campers shows that they recoup their language gains from the previous summer within at most three weeks providing them with at least four to five weeks to build higher levels of proficiency.

Camp may prove to be the most fertile institutional setting in which young people—both campers and staff—in North America can develop both proficiency in Hebrew and a love of the Hebrew language. At camp it is possible to learn Hebrew in a fun-filled way while employing the language as part of everyday life. Hebrew experienced in such a positive fashion can be a powerful medium for Jewish engagement and for connection with Israel.

Based on initial and ongoing work of the Arevim Philanthropic Group at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, New York, and the day camps of the JCC of Metro Detroit and JCC of Greater Toronto, FJC is excited to expand the initial pilot of this innovative program and lay the groundwork for further expansion to other communities, in conjunction with local funding, leveraging the unique environment Jewish day camps provide for children to experience Hebrew language and culture in a fun-filled dynamic environment. FJC will work with the current three camps and with three new day camps at the Marcus JCC in Atlanta, the Mandel JCC in Cleveland, and JCC Chicago. 

Support for this national initiative has been granted by the William Davidson Foundation, The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, and the Arevim Philanthropic Group, and local funding has been provided by the Marcus Foundation, the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, and the AVI CHAI Foundation.