Campers in the Apachi Ivrit program enjoy playing outside, making craft projects, and other traditional camp activities. But these 60 kids also do one major thing differently: they don't speak a word of English.
Apachi Ivrit, hosted by JCC Chicago at Apachi Skokie/Evanston, features a full-immersion environment where kids learn Hebrew in a fun and practical way, using their new vocabulary to introduce themselves, ask for freeze pops, play games with oral responses, sing camp songs, and much more. With 20% of the Apachi Skokie/Evanston campers enrolled in Apachi Ivrit--the highest enrollment in a Hebrew immersion camp program in the United States--many kids in the Chicago area are building both friendships and foreign language proficiency.
"Proficiency in modern Hebrew affirms individual Jewish identity and a collective sense of Jewish peoplehood; opens the door to Jewish life and culture, the study of Jewish texts, and appreciation for the breadth of Jewish learning; and deepens connections with Israel," said Abby Ashkenazi, who runs the immersion program based on the proficiency approach to second language acquisition.
Connections with Israel are possible thanks to the counselors who travel to Chicago from Israel. Two of this year's counselors are from Kiryat Gat, part of JUF's Partnership Together region in Israel.
Brit Tzadik has been to the United States twice before for other JUF programs--she worked with Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School students at 13 and three years later, joined JCC's Staff in Training at JCC Camp Chi.
"It only felt natural to come here one more time before I start my 'grown-up' life after my army service," said Tzadik, who served in an intelligence unit in the Israel Defense Forces and hopes to one day join Israel's diplomatic corps. "I like the city and the community around here. It almost feels like home to me."
"Being a counselor is such a huge responsibility, but at the end of the day, it feels amazing," she added. When she returns to her host family, her job is not done: she is also tasked with representing Israel to local families and helping the Chicago Jewish community engage with the country.
Reem Samila, who served as an officer in the IDF Border Patrol and hopes to study filmmaking, is having a "great experience" in Chicago as well. "It's not easy to keep an eye on 14 kids running around; you have to really work and show who you are and how much fun and interesting you can be," he said. "I'm having so much fun every day."
Thanks to Samila and Tzadik's enthusiasm, as well as the fun activities at Apachi Skokie/Evanston, many campers come home speaking Hebrew, and some even ask if they can go on the weekends. By "learning Hebrew naturally, doing the things the kids love at camp," they form an attachment to the language and Jewish culture, Ashkenazi said.