Campers in the local JCC’s Hebrew immersion program

A dozen campers in a special unit of the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit Day Camp are part of a Hebrew immersion program in which they play, eat, enjoy sports and create art surrounded by a supportive staff of Hebrew language speakers who gradually initiate them into Hebrew proficiency.

Known as “Kayitz Kef”— meaning “summer of fun” in Hebrew — the program is coordinated by Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), supported continentally by the Areivim Philanthropic Group and is running now at nine day camps across North America.

“Camp is such a fun, immersive environment where Hebrew can be a part of the experience,” says Batia Kritzer of the local JCC. “We want all of our campers to feel a true connection to, and comfort in, the language and culture.”

Launched by the Areivim Philanthropic Group as a design experiment at Camp Ramah in Nyack, N.Y., in 2013, Kayitz Kef has expanded to additional camps across North America as camp leaders, educators and parents see its effectiveness.

Evaluation of the program shows that campers grow in their Hebrew language proficiency and gain a deeper connection to Israel and Israelis, who serve as counselors and interact with campers. Another evaluation by Rosov Consulting shows that parents also see their children can have fun while learning Hebrew and they, too, are positively influenced by its presence at camp. Some even become inspired to learn Hebrew themselves.

“Kayitz Kef helps camps utilize the proficiency approach to second language acquisition,” says Shira Ravin, Hebrew director for Kayitz Kef at Foundation for Jewish Camp. “With a team of native Hebrew speakers trained in language acquisition methods, camps use Hebrew for communication between campers and staff, among the campers and in camp-wide settings. This provides opportunities for campers to function in Hebrew naturally in daily camp experiences. A special connection forms when Israeli counselors engage campers in Hebrew, and activities campers will remember for a lifetime happen in an authentic, cultural and meaningful Hebrew environment.”

Native Hebrew speakers serve as project leaders for Kayitz Kef and receive training by FJC in this proficiency approach and in different methodologies to engage campers in Hebrew acquisition. Counselors also are native Hebrew speakers who undergo a training process designed to maximize the opportunity for campers to interact and connect with the counselors’ authentic “Israeliness” — all while they implement Hebrew proficiency throughout camp life.

The result is that Kayitz Kef promotes acquiring rather than teaching Hebrew, as campers are motivated to communicate and function in Hebrew in a short period of time and in a very natural and fun way.

Kayitz Kef is supported by the Areivim Philanthropic Group, a consortium of major North American philanthropists committed to developing and supporting transformational projects meant to significantly impact the next generation of Jews through formal and experiential Jewish, Hebrew and Israel education. National funding for Kayitz Kef is also provided by the William Davidson Foundation, the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, the AVI CHAI Foundation and the Marcus Foundation.

Campers in the local JCC’s Hebrew immersion program