Chana knows and loves camp. And Chana knows and loves Hebrew. Now in her seventh year at Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia, Chana is combining these two things she knows and loves as the camp Amita Ivrit – Hebrew Fellow – to ensure that campers and staff find new ways to connect to the language of the Jewish people! The Ramah camping system has always prioritized Hebrew language learning since the establishment of the first camp in Wisconsin in 1947. Informed by the Hebraic movement afoot at that time, and inspired by the Hebrew-speaking Camp Massad in the Poconos, the educators who created the Ramah approach wanted to ensure that Hebrew was a living language for the camp community as well as a key to the Jewish learning that took place over the summer. This tradition continues on in its own unique way at each Ramah site and program, with all of the camps building on the idea that campers and staff alike should learn at least meah milim – one hundred words – of Hebrew that become a part of their working language vocabulary.
At Ramah Darom, Anna Serviansky, the Camp Director, wanted to ensure that this goal was accomplished in a manner that was joyful, approachable, and lively. Working with her Assistant Director, Ayala Wasser, who had been introduced to Hebrew at the Center’s Amitei Ivrit program at Ramah Sport, looked to the long time staff member Chana Mayer, as the person who could embody this love for Hebrew and use her unofficial role as the “mother of the Israel delegation” to empower the entire, forty-plus Israeli staff at camp with strategies for Hebrew engagement. In April, Chana joined camp educators from camps across North America for a two-day intensive seminar run by Hebrew at the Center to better understand how language is used both for communication and to build a shared sense of meaning, the different types of activities that could make Hebrew come alive, and ways to make this approach effective for the unique goals of Ramah Darom.
Chana also works closely with the three Israeli scouts at camp to bring this programming to the campers each day in the dining hall and in creative programming that connects these young people to Israel, Hebrew culture, foods, games, and music. Each night, Chana sends out to the entire staff the next day’s milat hayom – word of the day – and the mishpat hayom – the sentence of the day – so that the entire staff can reinforce the language learning throughout the day and in every area of camp. One of the scouts dresses as “Hebrew Man,” and is accompanied to the front of the room each day by energetic singing from the entire camp as he teaches both the word and the sentence of the days, units of language selected specifically due to their usefulness within the camp community. Chana makes certain these words are then put up around camp so that campers and staff alike can see how they are written, pronounced, and used.
Camp culture is typically shaped by both the leadership of the camp and the energy and interests of the college-age staff. Knowing this, Chana and her team also run staff training programs to help each counselor, specialist, and unit head reflect on why Hebrew is important to them, or to create opportunities like an Israeli staff dinner to connect the language with culture and experience. During the activities with the campers, this sense of buy-in is obvious as the staff join in with their own Hebrew skills and model positive engagement. Anna could not be happier about what is happening at her camp, sharing “Hebrew has really come alive and is experienced by everyone at camp as an essential part of our community.”
Hebrew at the Center is excited to be working with Ramah Darom and looks forward both to the ongoing growth of the program in preparation for the summer of 2024 and looks to help campers and staff alike connect with Hebrew when home from camp as this initiative moves to year-round settings such as congregations and youth programs in the communities served by Ramah Darom.
This article was originally published by Hebrew at the Center
Hebrew at the Center is committed to raising the bar in Hebrew teaching and learning. Two truths: Excellent education outcomes are accomplished through well-prepared and talented teachers and inspired teaching. The transformation of Hebrew and the field requires bold collaborative leadership and willingness to disrupt the status quo. Whether working with a day school, a summer camp, or other educational setting, Hebrew at the Center helps institutions clarify their vision for Hebrew, create an effective work plan to build internal capacity, introduces effective tools for assessment and evaluation, and provides coaching and mentoring at each level to advance educational outcomes and build support for continued growth.