Camp Massad

By Philologos

Published September 08, 2006, issue of September 08, 2006.

In response to my August 18 column, Marcel J. Silberman writes in an e-mail from Oklahoma City:

“I was taken back when in your last column — about Katyusha — you mentioned that you had gone as a boy to a Hebrew-speaking camp. I too attended such a camp. It was Camp Massad in the 1940s; I was a counselor. Campers included such people as Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky. (The two of them turned out quite differently!)

“What I want to bring to your attention is that in order to ‘keep the purity of the Hebrew language and its completeness without the necessity of introducing foreign and unattractive expressions,’ Massad produced a practical dictionary which covered the vocabulary needed for camp life. It had Hebrew words for different foods, clothing, everyday activities, and also sports, and it came up with Hebrew baseball, basketball, and American football terms. I don’t know how many words in the Massad dictionary about those sports have survived or been adopted.”

I don’t know, either, but I do recall a few of them, because I also went to Massad. It may not have been physically the same camp that Mr. Silberman attended, because there were two of them, a Massad Alef and a Massad Bet, both in Pennsylvania’s Poconos, and while I went to Bet, I suspect that Mr. Silberman, as well as Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky — none of whom I remember — went to Alef.

Massad was a unique place, a combination of an American summer camp, a kibbutz and a Soviet gulag. The gulag part had to do with the fact that speaking Hebrew all day long was not only mandatory, even if you knew only a few words of it, but also something you were punished for not doing, and the counselors actually went around like police spies, keeping their ears open for forbidden English words. If you fulfilled your daily quota of Hebrew, you were awarded with an Ayin, which was the first letter of the word Ivrit (“Hebrew”), and every evening at flag lowering — we flew both the Stars and Stripes and the Star of David, although the latter, I believe, flew higher — each counselor had to announce how many Ayins his bunk had been awarded. Bunks that did poorly could be docked from activities, or given kitchen duty, and at the end of the summer the lucky Stakhanovites were presented with an Ayin sweatshirt.

I remember the Massad dictionary well, too. It was divided into sections, one of which was indeed devoted to baseball. A “strike,” as I recall, was hah.ta’ah (in ordinary Hebrew, that is “a miss”); “first base” was basis rishon, and I’m quite sure that there was even a translation of “Texas blooper,” though at the moment it escapes my mind. One term that’s engraved there permanently, however, is the Massadism for “double play,” which was du-siluk — literally, a “bi-removal.” The reason I will never forget du-siluk is that it was such a fancy expression that I didn’t realize it was Hebrew at all; I somehow fell under the impression that there was an English baseball idiom, “ducy look.” Sometime after my first summer at Massad, I was in a pickup game in the park. When, playing second base, I flipped a ground ball to the shortstop covering for me, who fired it to first for the double play. I shouted out: “Way to go! What a ducy look!” The look I got was indeed a ducy… .

I also can remember all the Hebrew names of the major league baseball teams, too. This is because every night at Massad, after dinner in the camp dining room, there was a news program delivered by one of the campers. The program would end with a sports round-up. Being one of the more proficient Hebrew speakers, I was occasionally given the job, and I can recollect quite clearly standing in front of the tables of campers and proclaiming: “Ha-Anakim mi-New York shalosh, ha-h.amkanim mi-Brooklyn shtayim! (That’s “New York Giants 3, Brooklyn Dodgers 2,” in case you’re not up on your Holy Tongue.) Ha-Garbayim ha-Levanim mi-Chicago arba, ha-h.umim mi-Saint Louis efes!” (Yes, the Saint Louis Browns — shut out 4-0 by the Chicago White Sox that day — were in the American League back then.)

Wondering if any Massad words ended up in Israeli Hebrew, Mr. Silberman writes: “I know of one really good word in the Massad dictionary that did not make it: tsimriyah, ‘sweater,’ derived from tsemer, ‘wool.’” In case you’re wondering why Massad had to invent a word for “sweater ” (Didn’t the Hebrew spoken in Israel have one of its own?), the answer is: It did indeed have one, and it was svedder — which fell under the category, I suppose, of “foreign and unattractive expressions.” It has remained svedder to this day, in fact, while tsimriyah is strictly a museum piece. As for du-siluk, I can’t say whether or not it’s been adopted in Israel. Although I do sometimes watch the Israeli sports news on Hebrew-language television, I haven’t heard anyone try to say “double play” there yet.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com.



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