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Jewish Language Project: Past/Present/Future
In-Person Panel at Der Nister Downtown Jewish Center
December 10, 5:00-6:30pm
We're pleased to announce an in-person program hosted by Der Nister Downtown Jewish Center in Los Angeles, and co-sponsored by The Forward! Three members of the HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project team will share their personal connections to Jewish languages and why the work of language preservation matters to them. Sarah Bunin Benor, founding director of the Jewish Language Project and Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Linguistics at HUC-JIR, will give an overview of the JLP and its accomplishments. Alan Niku - filmmaker, writer, and scholar of Mizrahi culture - will talk about his work interviewing speakers of endangered Iranian Jewish languages and preparing the videos for preservation. Eden Moyal - linguistics student and JLP curator and documentation manager - will share some of the JLP's educational resources, including the multilingual Omer counter and the Algerian Jewish Sign Language page, and will give a sneak peek into future plans.
Join us to celebrate, learn, and schmooze!
*Light refreshments will be served.*
HaKerem Company, "MiKarma Noshan" (2012), director: Gila Hakimi, photo: Avi Gordon
Our "Jewish Languages on the Stage" panel has been postponed until early 2024.
Details to be announced.
Click on the images below to watch videos of each event.
Jewish Language on TV
Jewish TV is having a moment! In our 4-part summer series on Jewish language on TV, linguists, anthropologists, actors, writers, scholars, matchmakers, and more came together to discuss how Jewish languages are used in contemporary television. From Jewish English in the United States to Hasidic Yiddish in Belgium to English-Hebrew language mixing in Israel, we looked at the humor, the drama, the love, and the fun that happens when Jewish language is incorporated into TV shows.
Co-sponsors: The Bagel Report Podcast, The Forward, J. The Jewish News of Northern California, Jewish Arts Collaborative, Judaism Unbound, NYU Center for Religion and Media, Ikar, and the Yiddish Book Center.
August 20, 2023
Language in "Jewish Matchmaking" and "Soon By You"
The web series "Soon By You" portrays an Ashkenazi Modern Orthodox community in New York, and the Netflix series "Jewish Matchmaking" represents much of the diversity of contemporary (mostly American) Jewry, including in ancestral background, region, and religiosity. Language plays an important role in both portrayals: Israelis and Israeli-Americans mix English and Modern Hebrew, and Jews of all backgrounds pepper their English with Hebrew and Yiddish words, such as mensch, mezuzah, Shabbat, daven, and middos. This event explores the decisions the creators of these two shows make surrounding language. What role does language play in dating and matchmaking? How do the shows make Jewish language accessible to a broad English-speaking audience? When are subtitles or explanations warranted? Moderator: Esther Kustanowitz, panelists: Sarah Bunin Benor, Aleeza Ben Shalom, Leah Gottfried.
August 13, 2023
Language in "History of the World Part II"
Building on the widespread popularity of Mel Brooks’ 1981 “History of the World Part I,” Hulu’s “History of the World Part II” brings a comedic lens to world events. From Noah’s Ark to Freud, from Kublai Khan to Jews in Space, Jewish moments abound. How does the series incorporate Yiddish and other languages? How does this language mixing fit into the history of American comedy? How did Yiddish come to be seen as a funny language? This panel convenes scholars to answer these questions and more. Moderator: Sarah Bunin Benor, panelists: Jennifer Caplan, Jeremy Dauber, Rebecca Margolis.
July 16, 2023
Jewish Language on TV: Language in "Rough Diamonds"
The family crime drama "Rough Diamonds" is set in Antwerp's Hasidic community. The characters speak a mix of Yiddish, Flemish, French, and English, with prayers and other excerpts in Hebrew and Aramaic. How did the show's producers, writers, actors, and consultants work together to create this linguistic portrayal? How accurate is it? Is this kind of language mixing common in other contemporary Hasidic communities? Find answers to these questions and more in this conversation with three of the creatives behind "Rough Diamonds" and scholars of Hasidic language and communities. Moderator: Sarah Bunin Benor, panelists: Yuval Yefet, Ini Massez, Mendy Cahan, Naftali Moskowitz, Chaya Nove, Sam Shuman.
June 4, 2023
Jewish Language on TV: Hebrew and Orthodox Jewish English in "Chanshi"
The Israeli show "Chanshi" features a young Orthodox woman from Brooklyn who makes aliyah. In Jerusalem, she encounters a whole new world: the Mizrahi Jews and tough Israeli soldiers she fantasizes about, her religious friend struggling with her sexual orientation, and a gaggle of English-speaking women. Although the show deals with intense issues - such as Israeli politics, religiosity, sexuality, mental illness, and assault - it offers a delightful viewing experience. It also provides an insider’s look into the language of American immigrants to Israel, especially their seamless mixing of Hebrew and Orthodox Jewish English. This event analyzes that language use, bringing two of the show’s creators and stars in conversation with two scholars. Panelists: Aleeza Chanowitz, Marnina Schon, Sarah Bunin Benor, Sharon Avni.
July 31, 2023
Lecture on endangered Jewish languages, including contemporary theater
An in-person event in Oklahoma City. Dr. Sarah Bunin Benor, founding director of the Jewish Language Project, explores Jewish languages and their endangered status, and Eleanor Harris, a student at Wellesley College and JLP intern, offers a glimpse into the world of theatre in Jewish languages. Sponsored by the HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project, co-sponsored by the Oklahoma Faith Network, Museum of the Bible, Oklahoma Christian University's Beam Library, Temple B'nai Israel, Oklahoma Hillel, Emanuel Synagogue, Anita Barlow, Drs. Stephen and Roberta Sloan, Rabbi Vered and Benji Harris, Oklahoma City University's Wimberly School of Religion, Oklahoma City Community College World Languages and Cultures Center, Jewish Theatre of Oklahoma, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City.
May 21, 2023
Unity Through Diversity: A Global Event in Celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month
Jewish artists, speakers, and leaders of diverse backgrounds come together to provide a virtual taste of the celebration of Jewish diversity, focusing on Shabbat. Whether it's Shabbat, Shabbos, Shabbath, or any other way you say it, Shabbat holds a special place in the Jewish world. HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project cosponsored this event run by the American Sephardi Federation and cosponsored by many others. See the JLP's contribution starting at 25:38.
May 2, 2023
The Language of Dying: Jewish Women’s Wills in the Premodern Mediterranean
Despite the popular idea that premodern Jewish women left little in writing, a significant number of Mediterranean Jewish women organized their affairs in anticipation of death by preparing wills. At least hundreds of these wills survive from before 1650, including at jewishwomenswills.org. Since Jews were deeply entrenched in the larger legal cultures of the places in which they lived, Jewish women comfortably turned to Jewish and Christian notaries alike to record their wills. The documents reflect women’s last, and at times most urgent, desires, as they related to their families, friends, communities, and material goods. Rena Lauer, Associate Professor of Medieval History and Religious Studies at Oregon State University, is in conversation with Sarah Bunin Benor.
March 23, 2023
Cawfee Tawk: The Accents and Vocabulary of Jewish New Yorkers
Do you drink coffee or cawfee? Do you stand in line or on line? Join experts as they discuss the way the Jews have shaped the language and accents of New York, whether the New York accent still persists despite the homogenizing influence of mass media — and what new ways of speaking are developing among emerging groups like the Orthodox and Gen Zers. Featuring Sarah Bunin Benor, director of the Jewish Language Project at Hebrew Union College, and Michael Newman, a professor of linguistics at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City of New York and the author of “New York City English.” Moderated by Andrew Silow-Carroll, hosted by New York Jewish Week.
November 13, 2022
Living Traditions: Women’s Songs in Endangered Jewish Languages
Panelists and performers: Vanessa Paloma Elbaz, Judith Cohen, Ruth Davis, Laura Elkeslassy, Miléna Kartowski-Aïach, Sara Manasseh. To celebrate its groundbreaking online exhibit, "A Millennium of Jewish Women's Voices," the HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project presents the second event in its fall series highlighting women’s literature, songs, prayers, and letters across the Jewish Diaspora. This event features archival and contemporary performances of women's songs in Judeo-Arabic (Iraq and Tunisia), Judeo-Amazigh (Morocco), Ladino, and more. See YouTube video description for cosponsor list.
October 30, 2022
Women’s Voices: Introducing an Online Exhibit of Jewish Languages
Panelists: Sarah Bunin Benor, Abby Graham, Federica Francesconi, Hilah Kohen, Laura Arnold Leibman, Renée Levine Melammed. This event introduces the exhibit, "A Milennium of Jewish Women's Voices." Where can women’s voices be found in historical records? In which languages? What is the process of researching women’s texts? What is the role of the Cairo Geniza in preserving the words of women? What socioeconomic factors and educational practices encouraged or discouraged women’s writing in various periods? In what other ways did women record their words for posterity? See YouTube video description for cosponsor list.
September 11, 2022
From Rachel and David to Maya and Ezra: Trends in American Jewish Personal Names
This panel explores the results of a new survey of American Jewish Personal Names. Which names do Jews and non-Jews associate most with Jews? How do Jews of different ages, ancestries, and religious orientations vary in the names they select for their children and their pets? How have American Jews’ names changed over time? Who names their children after living relatives, and who has a “Starbucks name”? Presenters: Sarah Bunin Benor, Alicia B. Chandler. Respondents: Rachel B. Gross, Aaron Demsky, Laura Wattenberg. Event Co-sponsors: Judaism Unbound, Kveller, Sholem Aleichem Institute, ASSJ.
July 17, 2022
Jeffrey Shandler, author of Yiddish: Biography of a Language
The most widely spoken Jewish language on the eve of the Holocaust, Yiddish continues to play a significant role in Jewish life today, from Hasidim for whom it is a language of daily life to avant-garde performers, political activists, and LGBTQ writers turning to Yiddish for inspiration. Yiddish: Biography of a Language (Oxford Universitiy Press) presents the story of this centuries-old language, the defining vernacular of Ashkenazi Jews, from its origins to the present. In this event, Sarah Bunin Benor interviews Jeffrey Shandler about the book, focusing on language ideologies.
May 25, 2022
Multilingual Jewish Prayer Throughout History: Performance and Analysis
Panel discussion featuring scholars and musicians exploring Jewish prayer in many languages. Which communities and which individuals recited prayers and other sacred music in languages other than Hebrew? What is the historical process for vernacular prayers becoming sacralized? What do the rabbis have to say about prayers in the vernacular? Speakers included: Asher Shasho Levy - Contemporary Ladino & Judeo-Arabic; Galeet Dardashti - Modern Persian & Moroccan Arabic; Ruth Langer - Ancient Judeo-Aramaic; Michael Ryzhik - Renaissance Judeo-Italian; Ora Schwarzwald: Early Modern & Modern Judeo-Spanish. Moderated by Sarah Bunin Benor and Mark Kligman. Co-presented with the UCLA Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience and the Open Siddur Project.
May 15, 2022
Queer Jewish Languages
Panel discussion about how each presenter is "queering" their respective language, moderated by Carmel Tanaka, Founder & Executive Director of JQT Vancouver. Speakers included: Eyal Rivlin - co-creator of Non Binary Hebrew in Boulder; Nesi Altaras - an editor of Turkish Avlaremoz and Ladino revivificationist in Montreal; Faith Jones - a librarian, translator, and researcher of Yiddish culture in Vancouver; Grace Elizabeth Dy and Ellen Perleberg - co-principal investigators of “Yallah Y’all: The Development and Acceptance of Queer Jewish Language in Seattle”; Yosef Jay Nemanpour - a Persian-Iranian research intern at JQ International in Los Angeles.
Co-presented with JQT Vancouver.
Languages of the Jews of Iran:
A Series of Online Conversations and Performances
Jews in Iran historically spoke many languages - from Semitic, Median, and Persian language families. The languages/dialects of Jews in different cities and towns were so different that their speakers often could not understand each other. Now these longstanding Jewish languages are endangered, as most Jews shifted to standard Persian in Iran or to Modern Hebrew, English, and other languages after emigrating.
The HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project presents a series of conversations and performances highlighting this rich linguistic heritage. By attending these events, you will learn how Jewish languages compare to each other and to local Muslim, Zoroastrian, and Christian languages. You will be inspired by the elderly speakers and young activists who are working hard to preserve them for future generations. And you will be entertained by new songs in Judeo-Isfahani, Judeo-Hamadani, and Jewish Neo-Aramaic.
This series of four events was sponsored by the HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project, Iranian American Jewish Federation, Nessah Synagogue, and USC Casden Institute. Co-sponsored by 30 Years After, American Jewish Committee, American Sephardi Federation, ASF Institute for Jewish Experience, Be’chol Lashon, Endangered Language Alliance, Iranian Jewish Women's Organization, JIMENA, SHAI: Sephardic Heritage Alliance, Inc., UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, and Y&S Nazarian Iranian Young Leadership Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
January 30, 2022
Judeo-Hamadani, Judeo-Isfahani, Judeo-Yazdi, and other Median languages
How do the Iranian languages/dialects of various cities and towns differ from each other and from Persian? What work is currently being done to record them and share them with the public? Why is this work so important? Linguist Haideh Sahim gives a historical and linguistic overview of Jewish Median languages, and Haideh Herbert-Aynehchi tells about her work to document these languages by interviewing native speakers. Saba Soomekh moderates this panel, and video clips of interviews and songs are shared.
March 13, 2022
Judeo-Persian in the 20th Century: New Research
The concluding event for the Jewish Language Project's groundbreaking series on "Languages of the Jews of Iran." Dr. Daniella Farah explains why Jews in Iran shifted from Judeo-Isfahani, Judeo-Shirazi, etc., to standard Persian. Alan Niku discusses the distinctive Tehran Jewish dialect of Persian based on recordings and fieldwork. Cantor Jacqueline Rafii presents Passover psalms translated into Judeo-Persian and recorded by her grandfather in Tehran in 1971. This event also included presentations about Judeo-Persian letters from the 20th century, but those sections are not included in the video.
January 9, 2022
Historical and linguistic overview of Jewish languages in Iran
Some of the world experts on Jewish Iranian languages - Dr. Nahid Pirnazar, Dr. Habib Borjian, and Dr. Thamar E. Gindin - explain the rich history of Jewish languages in Iran, from medieval Judeo-Persian documents to diverse spoken languages and dialects today. The event ends with new songs in Judeo-Hamedani and Judeo-Isfahani by Dr. Galeet Dardashti. Event video is not available, but visit our YouTube channel for other videos of songs by Dardashti and others.
February 20, 2022
Lishán Didán and Hulaulá: Jewish Neo-Aramaic in the Kurdish region of Iran
In each town of the Kurdish region, Jews and Christians spoke different dialects of Jewish Neo-Aramaic. Dr. Geoffrey Khan gives a historical and linguistic overview and showcases his NENA database. Shahnaz Yousefnejadian shares her long-term dictionary project of the Hulaulá dialect of Sanandaj. Ariel Nosrat describes current language revitalization activities in Israel. Alan Niku gives the perspective of a heritage learner/speaker. And musicians Alon Azizi and Adi Kadussi explain why it’s important to record songs in these languages.
March 6, 2022
Wordle, the international word game sensation, now has multiple Jewish versions. This event is a fun, enlightening conversation with some of their developers: Nesi Altaras, Jamie Conway, and Abra Kaplan. Why and how did they create them? How did they make decisions about which alphabets, spellings, and words to use? How have these games raised awareness about Jewish languages, and what educational applications are possible? Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief of the Forward, moderates the conversation, and Sarah Bunin Benor, Director of the Jewish Language Project, provides commentary. Sponsored by the HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project (Los Angeles), Forward (New York), and Shalom (Sydney).
February 28, 2022
Jewish Languages Today: Endangered, Surviving, and Thriving
Throughout history Jews have spoken many languages, such as Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Tat/Juhuri (Azerbaijan, Dagestan), Judeo-Median (Iran), Jewish Neo-Aramaic (Kurdish region of Iraq-Iran-Turkey), and Jewish Malayalam (Southern India). Over the past two centuries, migrations and other historical events have led to many of these languages becoming endangered. At the same time, Jews are now engaging with these languages in postvernacular ways, such as through song and food. This multimedia talk explains these developments and makes the case for the urgent need for documentation and reclamation.
December 5, 2021
Ladino/Judeo-Spanish Documentation and Revitalization Efforts: Language, Music, and Folklore
A panel conversation featuring Derya Agis, Rachel Amado Bortnick, Judith Cohen, Bryan Kirschen, Devin Naar, Rey Romero, and Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald. These scholars and activists introduce their recent work, which includes collecting artifacts of Sephardic history, teaching Ladino, and researching Ladino language and song. They discuss what additional documentation is necessary and how researchers, activists, and performers can work together to increase knowledge about and engagement with Ladino language and culture.
November 14, 2021
Documenting Endangered Jewish Languages:
Practical, Ethical, and Cultural Issues
Panel discussion featuring Daniel Bögre Udell, Executive Director, Wikitongues; Yehudit Henshke, Director, Mother Tongue; Tamari Lomtadze, Linguist, Akaki Tsereteli State University, Georgia; Ross Perlin, Linguist, Co-Director, Endangered Language Alliance. Moderator: Sarah Bunin Benor, Director, HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project. These scholars and activists describe their many years of high-stakes work recording the remaining speakers of Judeo-Tat, Judeo-Arabic, Jewish Neo-Aramaic, Judeo-Georgian, and other endangered languages. Then they discuss key issues in the field, such as how researchers locate speakers, structure their interviews, document language variation, and ensure ethical treatment of speakers.
October 17, 2021
Gala Celebrating the Documentation of Endangered Jewish Languages
This celebratory gala, benefiting Wikitongues and the Living Tongues Institute, includes a panel of speakers of endangered Jewish languages (including Rachel Amado Bortnick and Alan Niku), a presentation of oral history videos compiled by Wikitongues, and a showcase of Living Dictionaries for endangered Jewish languages. Sarah Bunin Benor gives a brief introduction to Jewish languages, and attendees ask questions and share their own Jewish language stories. The theme of the night: intergenerational transmission of Jewish languages. Make a donation to the gala here.
October 10, 2021
An Introduction to Sephardic Jewish Papiamentu
Bart Jacobs, Neil Jacobs, Lucille Berry-Haseth, and Heske Zelermyer
A Jewish language on a Caribbean island? Linguists Neil Jacobs and Bart Jacobs introduce the role of Sephardic Jews in the history of the Papiamentu language in Curaçao and discuss its Jewish dialect. Papiamentu advocate Lucille Berry-Haseth and speaker Heske Zelermyer discuss the specific Jewish features and the contemporary status of Jewish Papiamentu.
July 11, 2021
Echoes of Judeo-Arabic in the Baghdadi Jewish Diaspora
Lecture by Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah
Response by Benjamin Hary
Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah speaks about linguistic aspects of her book Baghdadi Jewish Networks in the Age of Nationalism. She explains how migrants from the Baghdadi Jewish community established satellite communities in India, England, and elsewhere. They maintained elements of Baghdadi Judeo-Arabic, also known as Judeo-Baghdadi, along with other languages, in their education, correspondence, home life, and business dealings.
Jewish Prayer in Many Languages: From Sephardic Seattle to Syrian Brooklyn
A concert/lecture series by Asher Shasho Levy
In most Jewish communities throughout history, the dominant language of prayer has been Hebrew, the “holy tongue.” Yet since antiquity, there has been a rich parallel tradition of prayer in the “mother tongue” – the primary language spoken in a region or country. This series focuses on the varied traditions of liturgy in the languages of the Middle East, North Africa, former Ottoman Lands, and beyond, as they are currently practiced in the United States. These liturgies, composed in different Judeo-Arabic languages, several dialects of Judeo-Spanish/Ladino, various Judeo-Iranian languages, and Judeo-Portuguese, served different functions for different communities, ranging from translations of Biblical passages and traditional Hebrew liturgy, to completely new texts composed to meet particular communal needs. We will move through the cycle of the year with sessions devoted to Shavuot, Shabbat, and the High Holidays, exploring these texts, the context of their development, the process of their proliferation, and a variety of musical settings.
Presented by the HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project and the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music; co-sponsored by the Cantors Assembly, the Sephardic Educational Center and Sephardic Studies – UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.
August 24, 2021
Ladino High Holiday Liturgy
July 13, 2021
Pizmonim for Havdalah in Ladino and Judeo-Arabic
May 11, 2021
Jewish Language Project: A Conversation Sarah Bunin Benor, interviewed by Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal
How is the Jewish Language Project applying academic research to solve real-world problems? Learn about auto-captioning of Jewish English videos, resources for people learning how to pronounce Hebrew and Yiddish words, and efforts to document endangered Iranian Jewish languages. Sponsored by Central Synagogue, New York City.
May 6, 2021
Endangered Jewish Languages: Spotlight on Iranian and Bukharian Jews
Sarah Bunin Benor and Ruben Shimonov
Several long-standing Jewish languages have become endangered, as they are spoken primarily by older people, including Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, and Jewish Malayalam (Southern India). This talk explains these developments and makes the case for the urgent need for documentation and reclamation, focusing on the Jewish languages of Iranian origin (Judeo-Tajik/Bukharian, Judeo-Tat/Juhuri, Judeo-Isfahani, Judeo-Shirazi, etc.).
Sponsored by the Yiddish Book Center and 7000 Languages.
May 4, 2021
Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps - A Conversation Authors Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni in conversation with scholars Shaul Kelner and Riv-Ellen Prell, moderated by Jon Levisohn. Sponsored by the Brandeis University Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education; co-sponsored by several organizations.
December 17, 2020
Diversity in Jewish English Writing
Jewish English writing uses multiple combinations of alphabets, such as English words written in Hebrew letters and letters that combine visual elements of Hebrew and English letters. This engaging lecture by Professor Sarah Bunin Benor demonstrates those uses, giving examples from Yiddish and Ladino newspapers, pedagogical materials, organizations’ and restaurants’ logos, and regalia advertising sports teams, universities, and political candidates. The analysis demonstrates that hybrid combinations of Hebrew and English writing serve four functions:
1) Translanguaging; 2) Symbolism; 3) Code; and
4) Pedagogy. Co-sponsored by Judaism Unbound.
May 29, 2020
Pastrami, Verklempt, and Tshoot-spa: Non-Jews’ Use of Jewish Language in the United States
Sarah Bunin Benor Jews in the United States use many Hebrew and Yiddish words in their English conversation. To what extent do non-Jews pick up these linguistic markers? This multimedia talk explains how words like klutz, shpiel, and kibbitz have become part of the broader American lexicon, sometimes popularized by comedians. Politicians use Hebrew and Yiddish words in diverse ways, from Bill Clinton’s “Shalom, chaver” to Michele Bachmann’s mispronunciation of chutzpah. A much more sinister use of Jewish language is white nationalists mocking Jews with words like Goyim and Shoah. Several video clips are shown, from James Cagney as a Yiddish-speaking Irish taxi driver to Barack Obama “getting all verklempt” while honoring Barbra Streisand. Co-sponsored by JewishLive, part of Shavuot lineup.
May 21, 2020
Jewish Personal Names Around the World: Tradition and Creativity
Sarah Bunin Benor
From ancient to present times, Jews have given their babies Hebrew and/or local names, demonstrating both their Jewish distinctiveness and their integration into local societies. This lecture offers a glimpse into this history, from the ancient Middle East to medieval Cairo, from Renaissance Rome to modern Poland. Then participants will learn how these trends continue among contemporary American Jews. When Jews today select names for their babies, they are sending a message about their specific type of Jewish American identity. The lecture ends with an (adorable) foray into American Jewish pets’ names. When Jews give their dogs and cats names like Babka, Rashi, Ketzele, and Golda Meow, they highlight some aspects of Jewishness that are important to them. Co-sponsored by JewishLive.
May 14, 2020
Jewish Surnames and Name Changing Around the World: Diversity and Unity
Sarah Bunin Benor
What makes a family name Jewish? Did immigrants change their names at Ellis Island? This session answers these and many more questions about Jewish family names. Participants will learn the origins and meanings of patronymic (father-based) surnames like Abramovitch, Isaacs, and Yaghobian; geographic names like Ashkenazi, Dardashti, and Shapiro; and profession names like Hakim, Melamed, and Fingerhut. They will learn about Jews changing their family names in the 20th century, especially in the United States. They will come away with an understanding of the cultural diversity and unity of the Jewish Diaspora. Co-sponsored by JewishLive.
May 7, 2020
Ruach in the Chadar Ochel: Language at American Jewish Summer Camps
Sarah Bunin Benor, Jonathan Krasner, and Sharon Avni
At most American Jewish summer camps, programs are conducted primarily in English, but the environment is infused with Hebrew signs, songs, and cheers. Hebrew-English sentences are common: “Madrichim [counselors], please bring your chanichim [campers] to the teatron [theater] immediately after the Birkat [Grace After Meals].” Why do some camps infuse Hebrew in these unusual ways? How are other languages used, including Russian, Yiddish, and Ladino? How do participants feel about this language mixing? This talk draws from Benor, Krasner, and Avni’s forthcoming book, Hebrew Infusion: Language and Community at American Jewish Summer Camps, based on over 200 interviews and visits to 36 camps.
Co-sponsored by JewishLive and the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University.
April 30, 2020
Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language & Culture of Orthodox Judaism
Sarah Bunin Benor
There is more to becoming Orthodox than observing religious laws. Newly Orthodox Jews, or ba’alei teshuva (lit. ‘those who return’), encounter a very different culture, including new ways of talking, dressing, and acting. Focusing on the Yiddish and Hebrew words used by English-speaking Orthodox Jews, this lecture explores how “BTs” integrate into the community partly by taking on these new practices. Based on Dr. Benor’s first book, this talk is appropriate for all audiences, regardless of prior exposure to Orthodox Judaism. Co-sponsored by JewishLive.
April 23, 2020
Mensch, Bentsh, and Balagan: Language as a Marker of Jewish Identity
Sarah Bunin Benor
Using quotes and images, this talk highlights the diversity of American Jews by focusing on the diverse uses of “Jewish American English” – enriched by Yiddish, Hebrew, Aramaic, Russian, Farsi, Arabic, and other influences. Jews use subtle variation in language to signal their textual knowledge, religious denomination, ancestral origin, and orientation toward Israel. Songs by Mickey Katz, Seymour Rechtzeit, Country Yossi, and Journeys demonstrate the similarities and differences of two types of Yiddish-influenced English: Yinglish and Yeshivish. “Jewish language” serves not only to distinguish Jews from non-Jews but also to distinguish Jews from Jews. Co-sponsored by JewishLive.
April 16, 2020
Do American Jews Speak a Jewish Language?
Sarah Bunin Benor
Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, and – Jewish English? Is it possible that Jews today continue the centuries-old tradition of speaking distinctly from their non-Jewish neighbors? This talk looks at several features common among Jewish languages of the past and discusses whether American Jews use them. From the tradition of translating biblical and rabbinic texts to the incorporation of Hebrew words, most of these features are common among religiously engaged American Jews. A major exception is the use of Hebrew letters to write the vernacular. Through analysis of language, we can gain a better understanding of contemporary American Jews and how they compare to Jewish communities of the past. Co-sponsored by JewishLive.
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