Book Review: Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps. Authors: Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni


Source:   Journal of Jewish Education


Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps by Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni uses stories, as well as historical, ethnographic, and sociolinguistic methods to examine the ideologies and pedagogies of Hebrew education in the American Jewish summer camp setting. They uncover and analyze two models of integrating Hebrew into these primarily English-speaking environments: infusion and immersion. The authors define Hebrew infusion as a “socialization process” in which the goal is for campers to develop “feelings of connection” to Judaism and to being Jewish “through the use of Hebrew … as the emblematic language of the Jews and Judaism” (p. 3). The goal of Hebrew immersion, on the other hand, is for the campers to develop fluency and competency.

In contrast to other recent books about Jewish summer camps, which provide an analysis of the environmental landscape of the American Jewish camp system (Sales & Saxe, 2004) or are studies of specific camps in particular (Cohen & Kress, 2010; Lorge & Zola, 2006; Rothenberg, 2016), Hebrew Infusion offers a distinctive and focused study of one aspect of Jewish summer camping. This approach provides the reader with a deep understanding of the purposes, goals, and pedagogies of Hebrew education in the camp setting and offers readers opportunities to extrapolate the findings to consider how they may apply to other Jewish educational settings.

The first section of Hebrew Infusion presents historical case studies of models of Hebrew infusion and immersion in early American Jewish summer camps. Cases were developed by examining archival documents, photographs, and artifacts and via interviews of individuals who worked at or attended these camps.

Combining a number of qualitative and linguistic methods, the authors studied 36 camps over a total of 78 days between 2012 and 2015, resulting in the presentation of a broad picture of Hebrew education in American summer camps today. The authors immersed themselves in an extensive and diverse set of camps, which varied in size, geography, religiosity, and movement affiliation. They “arranged [their] visits so [they] could experience parts of the full camp schedule at various camps: staff week, first day, last day, weekday, Shabbat, awards ceremonies, outside performers, visitors day, talent show, Tisha B’Av, and maccabiah” (p. 10). At each camp they had both formal and informal interactions with members of the camp communities, created photographic artifacts that captured relevant data, as well as witnessed and experienced the camp culture directly. Additionally, they conducted interviews with camp leadership, staff, and campers and surveyed camp directors from Jewish-identified camps in North America. The comprehensiveness of this study is impressive and enables the authors to create thick descriptions and comparisons across settings as well as provide thorough and nuanced illustrations of different facets of Hebrew infusion, including “a day in the life” at camp, language infusion practices, the roles Israeli emissaries (sh’lichim) play in promoting and enacting Hebrew education at camp, and the symbolic acts employed to embed Hebrew into camp culture.
The research contained within Hebrew Infusion sits at the nexus of the fields of Hebrew education and camp education and touches upon the field of Israel education. Those whose research agenda sits within these fields will find that Hebrew Infusion provides a new set of data points worthy of examination and may even generate new research questions worthy of study.

Practitioners, historians, linguists, and social scientists will find this book worthy of their time. Those with an academic or research-oriented frame will find this multidisciplinary exploration of the American Jewish summer camp thought provoking and informative. Furthermore, and frankly, anyone who went to Jewish summer camp will enjoy reading this book as it will take them back in time and space to their own memories of hot summer days at camp, learning and singing Hebrew songs, sitting on the mirpeset (porch), programming in the ulam (auditorium), swimming in the breicha (pool) with their friends from their eidah (unit), and ending the day with Hashkavah (closing circle)ץ


Cohen, M., & Kress, J. (Eds.). (2010). Ramah at 60: Impact and innovation. National Ramah Commission. [Google Scholar]

Lorge, M. M., & Zola, G. P. (Eds.). (2006). A place of our own: The rise of reform Jewish camping. University of Alabama Press. [Google Scholar]

Rothenberg, C. E. (2016). Serious fun at a Jewish community summer camp: Family, Judaism and Israel. Lexington Books. [Google Scholar]

Sales, A. L., & Saxe, L. (2004). “How goodly are thy tents:” Summer camps as Jewish socializing experiences. Brandeis University Press. [Google Scholar]


Read the entire review at JJE.


Updated: Jul. 15, 2021