REFLECTIONS OF A SUMMER SHLICHAH IN THE KAYITZ KEF PROGRAM
By Zohar Glezin
“You’re going on shlichut – a mission – to instruct American children and teach them Hebrew. You’re required to speak to them only in Hebrew. The games are in Hebrew, the activities and the daily discourse – all in Hebrew. Not everyone speaks Hebrew and not everyone understands it. But do not give up – in time it will happen.
Oh yes, and don’t forget – this is summer camp and the goal is to have fun. Good luck!”
After completing my shlichut on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Israel in Brooklyn, New York, I thought about how to summarize the experience in words. The truth is, I’m not sure I’ll succeed. It was a special experience – exciting, informative and surprising.
This camp program allowed me to experience New York – the attractions, the streets, the people, and the daily life of this special city. I stayed with two families, was given the opportunity to enter their homes and become a part of their families. I visited amazingly beautiful places, and I met good, kind, nice people.
I was given the opportunity to be a counsellor for a group of 4-6 year olds, each one a world unto itself. They each had their own backgrounds, weaknesses and strengths, fears and successes, and moments of crisis and happiness. I was privileged to be part of a program that is supposed to teach and develop the understanding and use of Hebrew – a language that is second nature for me, the language with which I grew up, that I speak with the people closest to me – a special language, different from all others; a language that reminds me of home and deeply moves me.
These children were so amazing, funny and playful, smart and sensitive.
I won’t lie – before I came here I had my doubts about this program and its method for teaching the language, as well as the ability of the children to absorb and understand it in such a short time. I especially had doubts about my ability to teach children a language they do not speak regularly. Some of the children spoke a little Hebrew at home with their parents, some more and some less. Some of them didn’t speak any Hebrew at all, didn’t understand it, and maybe had never even heard how the language sounds. The one thing certain was that they were all much more comfortable speaking English.
With a lot of apprehension, tension, excitement, and support from all sides, we got started. At first we spoke slowly, using demonstrations, body language and inflection. Over time I felt the instruction became easier until, miraculously, the children started to understand! They knew where to go, what to do, what to bring. They knew how to ask for water, food, a snack, or to go to the bathroom. They’d tell me what they like to eat, their favorite color, where they live, and what their favorite camp activity is.
I felt such happiness and joy! I felt as if I had made magic happen! The children understand Hebrew! They’re speaking Hebrew!
I don’t know if all the children will continue to build on the Hebrew they learned and continue to improve, develop, study, and practice. We succeeded, however, in giving them a good experience with the language. They enjoyed the camp, had fun new experiences, played games, went on trips, and met new friends – all the while working on their Hebrew. Their smiles when they actually spoke some Hebrew, that look in their eyes that said they understood what we said, the satisfied parents who talked about the Hebrew their children brought home – it was worth it all!
It was a wild, empowering, educational, and significant experience for me.
A true shlichut-mission. Thank you for the privilege!
Kayitz Kef / Hebrew at Camp is a project of The Areivim Philanthropic Group in partnership with Foundation for Jewish Camp
For information please contact Bill Magaliff, National Director
Bill@Areivim.org / (212) 792-6238