Manitoba Campers Embrace Hebrew Language

By Chisvin, Sharon | Winnipeg Free Press, May 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

Manitoba Campers Embrace Hebrew Language


Chisvin, Sharon, Winnipeg Free Press


For those unfamiliar with Camp Massad of Manitoba, it might seem surprising that the camp's executive director, a graduate of Garden City Collegiate and the University of Winnipeg, would be invited to a New York City meeting with Jewish philanthropists to discuss Hebrew language use in the Diaspora.

But those who are familiar with Massad will understand why 32-year-old Danial Sprintz was invited to attend this high-level meeting. Camp Massad, after all, is the only Hebrew-immersion residential summer camp in all of North America. The fact Massad is located just outside Winnipeg, with its Jewish population of about 16,000 and only a handful of native Hebrew speakers among them, makes this achievement even more remarkable.

"Hebrew is the foundation on which Camp Massad was built," explains Sprintz.

"Massad has become a centre of Hebrew camping excellence."

The Hebrew language, for centuries the language of Torah and tefillah (prayer), began enjoying a resurgence in the late 19th century, evolving into the lingua franca of Jewish pioneers to pre-state Israel. Modern Hebrew, as well as modern Arabic, were official languages under the British Mandate for Palestine and remained so when the State of Israel was declared in 1948.

Winnipegger Soody Kleiman was one of several idealistic members of the Labour Zionist youth group Habonim who flocked to Israel in the years following that declaration of statehood. It was while he was in Israel that Kleiman got the idea of starting a Hebrew-speaking camp in Manitoba.

When Massad opened its gates for the first time in 1953, with Kleiman as head counsellor, most of its campers were students from the Winnipeg Hebrew School. In the years since, thousands of children from a variety of schools, cities and backgrounds have learned Hebrew at Massad while going about their regular camp activities. …

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