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Events

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The HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project periodically offers lectures, concerts, and other events about Jewish languages and names.

On this page you will find information about upcoming events and videos of past events. If you want to be notified of future events, you can join our email list here. If you appreciate this content, we encourage you to make a donation to the Jewish Language Project.

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Jewish Prayer in Many Languages: From Sephardic Seattle to Syrian Brooklyn

A concert/lecture series by Asher Shasho Levy

  • Shavuot / Shabuot: May 11, 2021, 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern – Register

  • Shabbat – Part 1: June 15, 2021, 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern – Register

  • Shabbat – Part 2: July 13, 2021, 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern – Register

  • High Holidays: August 24, 2021, 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern – Register

 

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.

Past events

Click on the images below to watch the videos of each event.

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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.

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.

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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 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.

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December 6, 2020

Jewish Languages from A to Z: Celebrating a New Book

Aaron Rubin and Lily Kahn present information and images from their book. Sarah Bunin Benor interviews them and leads a question and answer session.

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 Judeo-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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

If you would like to express appreciation for the content on this site, we encourage you to make a donation to the Jewish Language Project.

May 11, 2021

Ketubba de la Ley: Sephardic Vernacular Liturgy for Shabuot from Former Ottoman Lands and Beyond

Asher Shasho Levy

Part 1 of a series on prayer in multiple Jewish languages.