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.
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.
Those cheers have had to be rewritten this summer to fit the new gender-neutral Hebrew. Plural masculine nouns in Hebrew — including any group of people that includes at least one man — typically end in im, while feminine nouns end in ot. At Camp Moshava, all groups of both boys and girls now end in a blend: imot.
In Israel, some LGBT communities have adopted the –imot plural, but few seem to have decided on a non-binary singular.
So Habonim Dror decided on its own that –ol would be its singular non-binary ending, based on the word kol, which means “all.”