Tisha B’av and the Process of Mourning

This past Sunday, we at BIMA and Genesis gathered to commemorate Tisha B’av, a Jewish day of mourning. I personally struggle with how different rituals that I perform on Tisha B’av — namely fasting, sitting on the floor until midday, and refraining from listening to music — help me evoke the sense of brokenness that we are meant to feel.

From that struggle came the idea for my session, where I sought to compare the ways in which mourning is ritualized on Tisha B’av, a very old day, and 9/11, when we remember the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Ritual is meant to evoke particular feelings and emotional responses. They are just as much a response to tragedy as they are a way to remind us of the tragedy.

We began by listing the different ways in which these two seemingly very different dates are marked. From there, we transitioned into a discussion about the ways in which these different rituals affect us, or not. Some participants in the discussion expressed frustration at the ways in which 9/11 was not discussed at all in their schools. Others felt uncomfortable with the ways in which we mark Tisha B’av.

Both of these days are rife with different rituals of mourning and reflection, although both of these are days that many of us do not remember personally. However, there are also significant differences. Tisha B’av is a day when we remember how our actions led to disasters– the rabbis of old blame us and our actions for the destruction of the Temples, not the Babylonians or the Romans who carried out the physical destruction. In contrast, 9/11 is a day when we mark what others have done to us.

This, in turn, spurred a discussion of the ways in which rituals — actions — function in time and place. It is not just enough to fast on Tisha B’av or hold a moment of silence on 9/11. These must be done in the context of other people and on certain days for the desired effects, whatever they may be. Ultimately, what emerged from this discussion were new ways of thinking about ritual in relation to tragedy, and also how we use rituals to connect with events which we still feel the effects of.

 – Community Educator Amram A.

Drawing Our Souls


My expedition, “Be More Awesome,” is an exploration of the Mussar (moral and spiritual self-improvement) movement in Judaism. In previous sessions we had learned about different approaches to mussar, such as “uncluttering the mind” and “storming the soul.” I had learned that my participants (11 total, from America, Israel, Russia, and Brazil) tended towards the secular, which had made the intensely spiritual language of our texts problematic at best. Interestingly enough for all of us, our lesson yesterday was about the “soul.”

They studied some texts in pairs concerning various elements of what’s called the “psycho-spiritual anatomy”—the various objects of our inner life, such as thoughts, emotions, and desires, but also terms like yetzer hatov and yetzer hara (the good and evil impulses), as well as the “higher self” and five different words for soul. They were enjoying the texts just fine, until I challenged them to draw personal pictures/diagrams of their psycho-spiritual anatomy. After some stares and some questions, they set to work.

In the picture below, you’ll see the variety of responses. Some mapped their internal life onto their physical bodies; others attempted organic metaphors; others went for pie charts and flow charts. Some included the word “soul” and others didn’t. As the leader of the expedition, I was really pleased with how seriously they took the assignment.

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- Community Educator Matthew L.

App Design – The Windup and the Pitch

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On Wednesday App Design had the incredible opportunity to visit the Google offices in Boston. Our five groups (Hello World, Instruct, Braction, Words of Wisdom, Puzzle Me) presented their apps to a panel of four Google employees.

The groups introduced their idea and themselves, described the programs they used during the creation of their app, showed a demo of the website that corresponded with their app, and discussed future plans– some groups even presented a video that they created!


As a bonus, there was a sub-group of three participants that formed the night before and presented to the panel an app inspired by the 3-D Printing MakerLab here at Brandeis.



Following their presentations, each team received feedback from the panel. The panelists were impressed by the level of work accomplished in such a short amount of time and gave helpful recommendations about what these teams could do to improve on their concepts and designs. They also touched on some major points that really hit home with the groups, like how to create a design that is both user-friendly and stands out from all the other programs that already exist.

After the presentations, the participants were given a tour by a Google employee. They had a blast seeing the Boston “T” themed hallways lined with white boards and recreational spaces with games like life-size chess.

The tour ended with a photo and a strong feeling in the air of accomplishment. In less than ten days, participants created an idea for an app, designed and coded it, and presented it to one of the largest companies in the tech world. They all walked away with a well-deserved feeling of pride in the work they did.

Genesis Expedition – Pop Up Food Truck


The groundwork was done. The PopUp Food Truck team conducted interviews, brainstormed, and their audience chose a prototype. The objective: use Design Thinking to create a pop-up food truck for the Prospect Hill Community Center. The goal was to provide healthy food options while raising awareness of the importance of locally grown food and seasonal eating with the help of the Brandeis University Rooftop Garden!

Like all Design Thinking projects, this one started with empathy– rather than approaching the challenge from our own perspective, to serve our needs, what did the children, parents, and staff of Prospect Hill want? From the initial planning stages to the final product, the team remained focused on meeting the needs of its audience.

First there was the menu– summery foods like wraps, fruit kebabs, salad on a stick, and yogurt ice cream. With a little help from Genesis Culinary instructor Liz Alpern and Sodexo, Brandeis’s dining service, the teens learned how to prep food for a large group. In the end they managed a speedy 45 seconds per wrap!

The teens also created a huge mural for the side of the food truck which became an interactive art project– kids could decorate their own fish or shells and stick them onto the mural to create something that belonged to the whole community.

The food truck was a huge success, and not just in terms of its execution. The teens were really engaged with what they were doing, and they also forged connections with the people at Prospect Hill. When the PopUp truck arrived last night, it was greeted by a swarm of kids who were incredibly excited to see what the team had created for them.

Pop Up for Change is planning more projects like this, using Design Thinking to find out what communities need and then to create it for them. You can Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, and you can also visit their site at popupforchange.org.

Genesis Expedition – Write These Words Upon Your Heart

Over the past weeks, my expedition, “Write These Words Upon Your Heart,” has been exploring Hebrew calligraphy and the spiritual significance of the Hebrew alphabet. In addition to studying texts from the Torah, Bereishit Rabbah, the commentaries of the Ba’al Shem Tov and Maggid of Mezritch, and the Zohar, students have been learning to inscribe each Hebrew letter in a traditional Ashkenazi script.

On Tuesday, July 14, we took a field trip to the Kniznick Gallery and the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, where we visited the feminist contemporary art installation “Father Tongue” by Milcah Bassel.

In “Father Tongue,” Bassel, whose father was a sofer (Hebrew scribe) explores the story of the first six days of creation through the manipulation of five Hebrew letters, light, and darkness. The director of the Women’s Studies Resource Center, Shulamit Reinharz, met us there and walked us through the installation, explaining some of the panels and listening to the teens’ thoughts and interpretations. It was a unique and enjoyable afternoon!

- Community Educator Jessica J.

Genesis Course Electives – Technology

This summer, Genesis participants will have the opportunity to take course electives! Each week, participants have a ‘taster’ session for a different course. For instance, a participant in World Religions might decide that they really want to see what Technology is all about, or vice versa. It’s a great opportunity for participants to engage in a broader variety of learning experiences.

For example, Technology instructor Russel Neiss is destroying perceptions of hackers and what hacking is. Through the course of several activities, participants will ‘hack’ photographs and videos, using commands in URLs to make videos autoplay, to rotate images, and to even add text!



For Russel, ‘hacking’ is all about finding uses for things that their creators never anticipated. You can read more about it on his website!

Mock Trial Boot Camp

As the sun rose on Waltham, Massachusetts on July 21st, Perry Mason, Matlock, and Matt Murdock were all quaking in their boots. The Brandeis Mock Trial participants were redefining the landscape of aggressive cross examination, fervent objections, and mastery of evidence.

Monday was long and grueling, but these high schoolers were more than up to the challenge. The day began with an intensive exploration of witness questioning. First they learned how to ask open questions on direct examination:

“How are you this morning?”

“What color car were you driving?”

“Who did you see coming through the front door?”

But the geniality of the first session quickly gave way to the brutal ruthlessness of the closed and leading questions necessary for effective cross examination:

“You did purchase the gun, didn’t you?”

“Isn’t it true that there is no possible way you could have known that?”

“You have every reason to lie here today, do you not?”

They all played the roles of witnesses faithfully and took on the role of attorney with gusto. After lunch, it was big picture time. What is a trial? Why are they important to our justice system? How does it work? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of our adversarial criminal justice system?

The student with an impressive grasp of nuance and appreciation for big ideas. So far, the students have been captivated by all discussions, from the minute – “what should I do to keep my hands from fidgeting?” – to the grand – “What is justice, and who gets to decide?” As for Mason, Matlock, and Murdock, their days are numbered.

- Residential staff Dave B.

App Design – Boston Scavenger Hunt

On Sunday the participants embarked on an epic app-themed scavenger hunt across Boston. Split into teams and handed a list, the participants completed a series of tasks ranging from Shazaming a song they heard in a restaurant to tweeting the dialogue of what they imagine birds saying to each other. They got to reenact a popular YouTube video and a quote from a film listed on Imdb.

Using Google Maps, they traveled to a Bostonian historic location and posted a photo of themselves, then found a Wikipedia article about the place. They videoed themselves performing a silly dance in public using Snapchat. Traveling to the Freedom Trail, they took a group selfie and published it on Instagram and finally interviewed a stranger using Voice Memos about how an app of his/her choosing has changed his/her life. Once they completed all the tasks the participants enjoyed the numerous events in Boston Commons including shows and carousel rides.


Once we all reunited, the group walked to Faneuil Hall to spend the rest of the day, strolling through shops, grabbing food, and enjoying some ice cream.

BIMA Dance – Participant Reflections

On Tuesday we had a fun collaboration with BIMA Visual Art. We looked at the natural shapes made by the joints of our bodies. As partners, we switched off between posing on the paper to create shapes and outlining them with oil pastels.

We cut them out and looked at all the interesting forms we were able to create through just bending our limbs. Then in small groups we choreographed dances based on the shapes and their movement, which we then performed for everyone. We learned about the connection between our bodies’ natural lines and the movement we take from them, all while having a great time.


On Wednesday, we had the opportunity to work with Avodah, a dance group from New York City that is rooted in Jewish faith.

We began our class by finding the concept of pulse and rhythm, a core principal of dance. Newman, a talented drummer who accompanied us throughout the workshop, led this activity. By applying the ideals of one consistent pulse and then adding layers of various timing and rhythms, we were able to explore various movements and timings while still adhering to one consistent beat.

We then explored a variety of modern exercises that challenged us on the precision of our movements as well as the alignment and image of our dancing. These concepts carried over as we moved our class outdoors, during which we were able to explore storytelling through movement. We also explored drawing and then channeling that into our movements.

Later in the day, two members of the Avodah company performed for us and opened our eyes to the possibilities of modern dance. Their dances were performed within the confines of dominos and using paper maps within the dance, respectively.

We then explored the concept of God separating light from darkness as illustrated in the Torah. We used a reflection method with a partner, in which we took turns illustrating lightness and darkness with our bodies before separating into different movements entirely.

Working with the Avodah dance company showed us the endless possibilities one can achieve through dance. Most notably, Avodah performs outreach in women’s prisons, which taught us the beauty and importance of dance, and how it can heal and help people cope with difficult times and emotions.


Art You Glad You Came to BIMA?

by Joe N.


As far as summer programs go, you can’t get much better than BIMA. It is a warm, friendly environment that both pushes kids to do the best they can in their artistic majors while also giving them opportunities to expand themselves and make new friends. I went to BIMA last year as a theater major and had a wonderful time, so I thought it’d be worth it to go back again and try another major. I like drawing, so I picked Visual Arts.

When I returned to the Brandeis campus, I was overcome with nostalgia for the previous summer, then followed by excitement for what the new summer could afford me. Right off the bat, it was clear that our instructors, Batnadiv and Ellen, knew exactly what they were talking about and that they would get us engaged in whatever projects we were assigned. The other students are also very strong artists who make it clear why they were selected out of all the other kids hoping to apply. Each has their own unique style that they can experiment with and apply to different kinds of art.

The course isn’t designed to just cater to what skills we already have, though. The whole point is to get us out of our comfort zones and try something new. We’ve worked with everything from wire to charcoal to ink and to plaster. If the results aren’t perfect, that’s fine– they’re not supposed to be. The point is to expand ourselves, and the fact that we do so in the first place is proof enough that we’re willing to be creative and do our best.

Our first two days mostly had us experimenting with things like movement and spatial relationships using a variety of materials. On Sunday, we visited the Institute of Contemporary Art in the city and viewed an exhibit on sculptor Arlene Shechet, and we are currently working on a gallery for local mikveh Mayim Hayyim. With so much exciting stuff going on, I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Life-changing experiences for exceptional teens