The Marcus Jewish Community Center’s Camp Isidore Alterman is one of nine day camps across North America running a Hebrew immersion program in which campers from kindergarten through third grade spend all day surrounded by a staff of Hebrew speakers.
The program is known as Kayitz Kef, which means “summer of fun.” Besides the Marcus JCC’s Dunwoody campus, it operates at JCC camps in Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto, Chicago and Palo Alto, Calif., as well as Ramah camps in Nyack, N.Y., Philadelphia and Washington.
In Atlanta, the program is known as the Gesher Hebrew Immersion Program and runs over four or eight weeks alongside Isidore Alterman’s traditional day camp. Counselors speak only Hebrew to the campers during everyday activities including swimming, sports, arts and crafts, archery, and ropes. The schedule also involves an intensive, fun Hebrew language program.
“The kids really like it,” said counselor Noam Zadok, who came here for the summer from Kfar Saba, Israel, to work at the camp. “Most of the kids are coming back again from the first session. They pick up a lot of Hebrew in a short time. I had kids who didn’t know a word in the first week, and now they can say full sentences like ‘I have to go to the bathroom’ and ‘What activity do we have next?’ ”
This is the second summer that the Marcus JCC has offered the Gesher Hebrew Immersion Program, which is supported by the Areivim Philanthropic Group, the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Marcus Foundation.
Be’er Sheva native Tamar Gez is in her first of two years serving as the Atlanta JCC’s Israeli emissary through a partnership with the Jewish Agency of Israel. She oversees the summer program and the five Hebrew-speaking counselors from Israel.
“It’s a great way for the kids to be exposed to the language and play with it in a very nonformal way,” Gez said. “The whole idea for me is to have fun with the language. I don’t want a camper to come to me and tell me they had a boring time at camp. I want them to say to their parents, ‘We tie-dyed, and now I know how to say pink in Hebrew.’ ”
Some campers start with a strong knowledge of Hebrew; others know almost none. Gez said that even campers who know Hebrew finish camp speaking more fluently than before.
The five Israeli counselors, who stay with host families during their three months in Atlanta, regularly get invited to Shabbat dinner by the parents of campers.
“We get great feedback from all the parents,” Gez said. “They say their kids are having fun, and they are picking up an ear for conversational Hebrew.”