Eleven-year-old Shayna McCormack has never been to Israel. But for a day, she got a taste of what it is like.
Monday afternoon, teachers, parents and students at the Hebrew Academy, a Jewish day school, transformed the playground into a pseudo-Israeli market--with signs in Hebrew, backdrops of the Western Wall hanging behind carnival booths, and teachers and students alike speaking only in Hebrew . . . at least as much as they could.
The festival was the idea of parent Molly Weinberg, who figured re-creating an Israeli carnival--complete with the unique sound of its language--was a way to make Hebrew and the culture more meaningful to the children.
"It's helping with my Hebrew," said McCormack, a sixth-grader from Yorba Linda. "It's an important part of our religion, it's special. I want to go (to Israel) so bad."
The 200 first- through sixth-grade students ran from booth to booth, carrying their workbooks to translate all the necessary English words--such as water gun and shoot --into Hebrew.
High school students mingled among booths to help youngsters stuck on particularly troublesome translations. (Those who refused to use Hebrew were sent to a "prison," where they were given time to learn the words in Hebrew).
"It's fun because it's my heritage," said sixth-grader Rebecca Zahabian, 11, of Huntington Beach as she busily sent a telegram to a friend telling her (in Hebrew) she didn't have to do her homework for the day. "I want to know the language of my religion and my heritage."
"Raque Evreet! (Only Hebrew)" yelled Weinberg to the scores of children shooting apples from one another's heads and getting hearts and balloons painted on their faces.
"They can hear, see and move," she said, as two boys yelled "slicha, slicha!" (excuse me, excuse me), hoping to get her attention. "As chaotic as it is, they won't forget it."
Rabbi Moishe Engel, vice principal of the academy, said that the school hoped to make the Hebrew language more alive for the children.
"We want them to remember it forever," Engel said. "Otherwise, unless they live in Israel, it is a dead language to them--learning Hebrew is part of what being Jewish is all about. This way they are learning things it takes weeks to get across--they have to say it so many times, by the end of the experience they walk out and say 'wow,' the language has become a part of them, and real."
After the carnival, Eran Feiganbaum, an Israeli magician who works at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles, did some tricks--including turning a dove into a large, fat rabbit.
Feiganbaum, who lives in Irvine, said teaching children Hebrew through magic is a treat.
"I teach kids Hebrew without them knowing they are learning," said Feiganbaum, who has lived in this country for two years. "I can teach them without being the policeman, and (using) the mystique of being a magician."
Children from across Orange County and Los Angeles send their children to the Hebrew Academy. Engel boasted that the success of its students during the last 25 years has earned it the nickname "Little Harvard."
"Parents who send their children here want to get a feel for the heritage, get a good Jewish experience along with excellence in education," Engel said.
"It's our belief that whatever we do should be an entire learning experience."