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‎14 Kislev 5783 | ‎07/12/2022

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Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Language Project, with Dr. Sarah Bunin Benor

Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Language Project, with Dr. Sarah Bunin Benor

ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question:  What are some of the unusual features of the Jewish Language Project’s Passover Haggadah?

Wherever Jews have lived around the world, they have spoken and written using language distinct from their non-Jewish neighbors. 

Because of migrations and other historical events, many of these languages are on the verge of extinction, and most Jews today are unaware of their existence.

 It is imperative that we document and raise awareness about these languages in the next decade – for the sake of the elderly Jews who are their last speakers and for the sake of Jewish children who would benefit from knowing about their multifaceted heritage.

The Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion’s Jewish Language Project, which was launched in 2020, addresses these problems through their many initiatives. So far over 1.3 million people have visited their websites, and they have reached thousands of others through online events, videos, and educational social media posts. They have also convened organizations and scholars to document endangered Jewish languages and created collaborative dictionaries for emerging Jewish languages. The Jewish Language Project was created building on and encompassing several projects led by Professor Sarah Bunin Benor.

Professor Benor is an American linguist and scholar of Jewish languages. She is a professor of contemporary Jewish studies and linguistics and vice provost of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. She received her B.A. from Columbia University in comparative literature and Ph.D. from Stanford University in linguistics. As a college student, she stumbled across references to rare languages such as Judeo-Italian and Judeo-Spanish, which led to her interest in studying Jewish languages.

Benor is author of Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism, which won the 2013 Sami Rohr Choice Award for Jewish Literature. In 2021, she received a National Jewish Book Award in Education and Jewish Identity for her book Hebrew Infusion, a book on language infusion at Jewish summer camps co-authored with Jonathan Krasner and Sharon Avni.

Benor founded the Jewish English Lexicon as an “Urban Dictionary of Jewish Language,” to track words derived from various Jewish languages that Jews use even when they are speaking English.

LINKS TO SOME OF THE PROJECT’S INITIATIVES:

Jewish Language Website                                                      Jewish Lexicon Project

Jewish Language and Names Consultation                          Fun Facts