Kids say ‘ken’ to Hebrew day camp at Palo Alto JCC

Elle McCool teaches at Tayasim Hebrew immersion camp. Photo by Jessica Nemire.

By Jessica Nemire

Crowding around a camp counselor as she holds up pictures of various fruits and vegetables, a bunch of 5- to 8-year-olds excitedly shout out the Hebrew word for each picture.

They’re part of a new camp experience at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, and while it includes many typical Jewish day camp activities, there is one major difference at the Tayasim Hebrew immersion camp: The counselors speak Hebrew about 85 percent of the time.

Tayasim campers engage in hands-on science projects, make arts and crafts, go on field trips, and do sports and music — getting introduced to new Hebrew words during each activity. They also play a lot of ga-ga, an Israeli game that’s sort of like dodgeball.

Moreover, each week brings a new focus, such as food. On one day during food week, campers learned Hebrew terms for fruits and vegetables throughout the day.

Tayasim is the first Hebrew immersion camp for children on the West Coast.

“We took something that most kids enjoy, like camp, and make that an immersive experience, so when they’re learning Hebrew, it’s fun,” said Rebecca Labate, the OFJCC’s camp director. “[Traditional] Hebrew school is very much in a classroom style, which is not always very engaging for the kids. And studies show that if kids don’t use things they learned over summer, they lose them.”

Labate said there are several ideas behind Tayasim: teaching Hebrew to children who previously didn’t know any; making sure children who have been learning Hebrew during the school year don’t lose that knowledge over the summer; and providing a fun learning environment so that the Hebrew is retained.

In order to better facilitate immersion, Tayasim is separated into two four-week sessions, whereas other specialty camps within the OFJCC’s J-Camp program have two-week sessions. The session that runs from July 10 to Aug. 4 has 21 campers; the last one had 18.

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