The Joys of Ivrit
By Rafi Ellenson
Rafi (he/him/his) is thrilled to come back to OSRUI as Rosh Ivrit! Rafi was last at camp in 2017 as Rosh Chalutzim and before that as a music specialist, songleader, and madrich (counselor). Between his time on tzevet (staff) and as a chanich (camper), this will be his 13th summer at camp. Rafi loved OSRUI so much as a kid that he was more than happy to fly to Oconomowoc every summer from his hometown of New York, NY. Rafi is currently a rabbinical student at the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College outside of Boston in Newton Centre, MA.
When I was last at camp, as Rosh Chalutzim, I would sometimes play a game. If the eidah was out and about anywhere during sport (sports), in the chadar ochel (dining hall), or just hanging out, I would close my eyes and see how much Hebrew I could hear. The first couple of weeks it would start off slow — maybe a shalom (hello, goodbye, peace) or mah nishmah? (how are you?) here and there — but by week 7 I would sometimes hear full on conversations and I knew that I and the tzevet (staff) had done our job. It reminds me of how the first time I knew that Hebrew could bring me joy was as a chanich (camper) in Chalutzim when my friends and I would stay up late on Friday nights telling jokes from our bunk beds. Every week without fail our madrichim (counselors) would come in, “ Mah Koreh Po???” – “What’s going on here???” – and all we did was laugh harder until the threat of no Shabbat morning doughnuts or shoko – chocolate milk – got the better of us and we settled down before falling asleep.
Hebrew is as much a part of OSRUI as tiyulim (trips), omanut (art), and Shabbat shirah (Shabbat song session). That is to say, camp wouldn’t be camp without it. I am so overjoyed to be Rosh Ivrit this upcoming summer because it gives me a chance to bring my love of Hebrew to all of camp. In many ways, that love is already there and it will only grow stronger in summer 2021. We will be doing so much more than milat hayom (word of the day)!
Summer 2021 will be the summer of “the Joys of Hebrew” — “HaHana’ot Shel Ivrit.” I dream that every chanichah and chanich will leave camp understanding how fun and meaningful Hebrew is. Together, as a whole camp kehilah (community), we will learn Hebrew and learn about Hebrew. We’ll see how this modern Jewish language can add value to our lives through connection to Jewish people from Israel to France, helps us in studying Jewish history and literature, and builds muscles for religious life by helping us read from our siddurim (prayer books). Throughout my time living in Jerusalem over the past several years — The Oconomowoc of the Middle East — I experienced the personal and communal growth that comes out of learning Hebrew. Now, as a literary translator, rabbinical student, and educator, I have benefitted endlessly from learning at a young age about all the joy that Hebrew can bring.
Hebrew is a living language and, next summer, there’s nowhere it’s going to live more than in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin!