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Bilgray scholar will speak on language, names

Sarah Bunin Benor

Editor’s note: This article has been updated Jan. 25 to show that all lectures will be held at Temple Emanu-El.

Temple Emanu-El’s 35th annual Bilgray Lectureship will center on language and names, with Sarah Bunin Benor, Ph.D., as the scholar in residence. The free series features three lectures, Feb. 7-9.

Benor is a professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Her research interests include American Jewish language and identity; sociology and anthropology of American Jews; Jewish languages; Yiddish; Orthodox Jews; sociolinguistic variation; language socialization; and ethnography. “Learning about languages and names is a wonderful way to learn about Jewish history,” says Benor. “We use language and names as a lens to understand the diversity of the Jewish world.”

The Thursday presentation at 7 p.m. will be “Jewish Languages Today: Endangered, Surviving, and Thriving.” Over the past two centuries, migrations and other historical events led to major changes in the linguistic profile of Jewish communities around the world. “I’ll focus on how these languages are endangered and how people still engage in them in new ways,” such as through song and food, and new Jewish language varieties, Benor adds. Newly developing languages include Jewish English, Jewish Latin American Spanish, and Jewish Russian.

On Friday at Temple Emanu-El’s 7:30 p.m. Shabbat service, Benor will present on the popular topic of origins and types of Jewish family names around the world. “Cohen, Levi, Yisrael: Jewish Names Around the World” will dispel the myth about immigrants changing their names at Ellis Island. Benor encourages audience engagement with questions and comments.

The Rabbi’s Tish at noon Saturday at Temple Emanu-El will be a text-based discussion on “Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism.” Newly Orthodox Jews or ba’alei teshuva (those who return) encounter a very different culture from what they have previously experienced, including new ways of talking, dressing, and acting. “They don’t just take on the observance, they take on a whole system of culture,” Benor says. This talk is appropriate for all audiences, regardless of prior exposure to Orthodox Judaism.

Benor is the author of “Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism,” which won the Sami Rohr Choice Award for Jewish Literature. She is founding co-editor of the Journal of Jewish Languages and founder and editor of the Jewish Language Research Website and the Jewish English Lexicon.

The Albert T. Bilgray Lecture program is co-sponsored by Temple Emanu-El, UA Hillel Foundation, UA Center for Judaic Studies, UA Department of Linguistics, and the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture. The Bilgray Lectureship, created in 1985, honors the senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El from 1947 to 1972, who was the guiding force behind the formation of the UA’s Judaic Studies Program.

A catered, kosher Mediterranean dinner with chicken precedes the Friday evening presentation for $40 per person. RSVP to Temple Emanu-El at 327-4501 by Friday, Feb. 1. Participants should bring a vegetarian dish for the potluck following Saturday’s discussion. Temple Emanu-El is at 225 N. Country Club Road.