The seven Habonim Dror camps, spread across North America, are pioneering a new gender-neutral form of Hebrew this summer. They hope to set an example that Hebrew-speakers worldwide might someday follow.
When Zev Shofar, a 14-year-old from Takoma Park, started going to Jewish summer camp seven years ago, the children all learned the Hebrew words to introduce themselves. “Chanich” means a male camper; “chanichah” means a female camper.
But what if Zev didn’t feel male or female — neither a chanich nor a chanichah?
Zev’s camp didn’t have a word that worked for Zev. In fact, the Hebrew language doesn’t have any words. Like many other languages — Spanish, French and Russian, for example — Hebrew assigns each noun a gender.
In Israel, or anywhere else that Hebrew is spoken, there’s no linguistic solution, either. But now there is at camp. Zev is a chanichol.
“It really reinforces the impact of summer camp as a safe space,” said Sara Zebovitz, the North America director for Habonim Dror, a youth group based in Israel. “Camp has always made it okay to say, ‘I can be myself here.’ ”