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Upcoming online events
Sunday, September 11
10-11:30am Pacific / 1-2:30pm Eastern / 8-9:30pm Israel
This panel explores the results of a new study of American Jewish Personal Names, based on a survey with over 11,000 responses. 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”? At this event, the researchers present their findings, followed by commentary from experts on names and American Jewish culture.
Sarah Bunin Benor, Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Linguistics, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Alicia B. Chandler, PhD Student in Sociology, Wayne State University
Authors of “American Jewish Personal Names: Results from a National Survey”
Aaron Demsky, Professor Emeritus of Biblical History, Bar Ilan University, author of These Are the Names - Studies in Jewish Onomastics
Rachel B. Gross, Associate Professor of American Jewish Studies, San Francisco State University, author of Beyond the Synagogue: Jewish Nostalgia as Religious Practice
Laura Wattenberg, Name Expert and Entrepreneur, author of The Baby Name Wizard
Event Co-sponsors: HUC-JIR Jewish Language Project, Judaism Unbound, Kveller, The Sholem Aleichem Institute, and Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry (ASSJ)
Save the date!
Sunday, October 30, 2022:
Women’s voices: Introducing an online exhibit of Jewish languages
Sunday, November 13, 2022:
Living traditions: Women’s songs in endangered Jewish languages
February - April 2023:
12-Week Course in Endangered Jewish Languages
Click on the images below to watch videos of each event.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
May 11, 2021
Ketubba de la Ley: Sephardic Vernacular Liturgy for Shabuot from Former Ottoman Lands and Beyond
July 13, 2021
Pizmonim for Havdalah in Ladino and Judeo-Arabic
June 15, 2021
Shabbat Liturgy in Ladino
August 24, 2021
Ladino High Holiday Liturgy
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 Judeo-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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
All of our events are free to attend. 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.