A group of teens transform an old chapel at the Baker Street Jewish Cemeteries



New ‘genizah’ and educational center soon to open doors

By Alexandra Lapkin

Advocate staff

This post was originally an article in the Jewish Advocate, April 17 2015.

Renovating an old cemetery chapel may seem like an odd activity for high school students, but that is indeed what Brandeis Design Lab kids chose to do over the course of eight Sundays this spring.“Our goal was to change the way people think about cemeteries,”said Joshua Winograd, a sophomore at Roxbury Latin School.

Part of the Brandeis High School Programs, the Design Lab TeenFellowship is a new program for high school students that providesthem with an opportunity to engage in a construction project aimedat solving a building problem in the Jewish community. A group ofthirteen teens from eleven high schools, representing six different communities acrossgreater Boston, make up the spring 2015 cohort of Design Lab Teen Fellows. Senior Jewish Educator, Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, heads the program. One of the goals of thisproject is to teach the teens “listening and empathy toward other people, organizations,and each other,” he said, “to hear their needs and stories.”

When presented with four possible construction projects from various Jewish organizations, the teens went through each proposal, deciding on the achievability of the project, the impact it would have on the community and its awesomeness factor.They chose the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts’s ( JCAM) proposal to refurbish the Sons of Abraham Chapel at the Baker Street Jewish Cemeteries in West Roxbury and turn it into a genizah, a repository for storing sacred materials, and an education center.

“I think why most teens were interested in applying to this program is the building aspect, building a physical solution,” said KateLynn Plotnick, project coordinator for the Design Lab.

Alex Spielman, a junior at Wellesley High School, agreed. Unlike other volunteer project she had done in the past, “This one is more hands­on,” he said. “It was a greatexperience to work together as a team and it gave me a sense of fulfillment to help the Jewish community.”

The genizah was originally at the Pultusker Cemetery chapel, which is a part of the Baker Street Jewish Cemeteries. “ It was a dark and dingy place,” said Lisa Berenson, director of Educational Programming and Development at JCAM. “ There were no windows, no electricity, and it was piled high with boxes of [religious texts].” The genizah is also used to store tefillin, tallitot, and Torah scrolls that are buried at JCAM’s annual book burial. JCAM staff came up with the idea to move the genizah into the Sons of Abraham Chapel, which was a more inviting space with big windows, but also in a state of disrepair and used mainly for storage. However it was redeemable, Berenson said. “The doors are weather­proof, it is light and airy.”

Over the course of two months, the teens have refinished existing pews, stained and sanded window sills, installed a new floor, and built and re­stained existing bookshelves.They divided the space into two sides: one part is the genizah for the community, where sacred materials will be stored prior to burial and the other side is the education center, where Berenson will give presentations and lead cemetery education tours for synagogue youth and groups of adults.

“There is an educational aspect of going through this process, so people learn which items are considered sacred and appropriate to be buried and which can be discarded. This is a resource that is offered to the entire Jewish community by JCAM,” said Cantor Alan Kritz, Assistant Director of Field Supervision at JCAM. “Recently there was a burial nearby and there were teens in the area, working on the chapel. When people asked about the teens, they were overjoyed to hear that teens were voluntarily at a cemetery, contributing back to the community,” Kritz added.

“ We’re so grateful to Brandeis for this program, we would never have been able to do this on our own. They really transformed the space.” Berenson said. She always ends her educational tours of Baker Street Cemeteries at the genizah, explaining that sacred books also receive a special burial. “ This new genizah is going to be a perfect ending to the tour.”

“The teens are connected to JCAM on such a level because they’ve been so involved in learning about the organization and how this education center and genizah work. Because of their investment in it, they’ve learned so much about the community and it’s really made an impression on them,” Plotnick said.

The rededication of the Sons of Abraham chapel will take place on April 26 at 2 p.m., at

766 Baker Street in West Roxbury.

To apply to the Design Lab Teen Fellowship, visit

www.brandeis.edu/highschool/ designlab

Culinary Connections – A New Course for Genesis

Guest Blog Post by Liz Alpern

community017 (1)

If sushi replaces gefilte fish on the Shabbat table, does sushi become a Jewish food? 

And if bagels are as ubiquitous as pizza in NYC, are bagels even still a Jewish food?

And how is it that in France, couscous is often associated with Jewish food, but in the U.S. that would make no sense at all?

It is with these questions in mind that I am thrilled to be teaching the brand new Culinary Connections Course at Genesis at Brandeis this summer. The course will explore the Jewish relationship to food—its past, present and future. We’ll delve deeply into recipes, stories, history and ingredients, all while getting hands-on in the kitchen.

The course will be co-taught with my business partner and writing partner Jeffrey Yoskowitz. Four years ago, the two of us launched an artisanal gefilte fish business, The Gefilteria, with the goal of reimagining and reinvigorating Old World Jewish foods. We’ve been researching, speaking about, eating and cooking Jewish food every day since. Currently, we’re writing a narrative cookbook on Eastern European Jewish food traditions, which will be published in 2016. The Culinary Connections Course is a synthesis of our special connection to Judaism, which has always been deeply rooted in the kitchen.

Teaching this course has particular significance to me because I participated in Genesis as a high school student in the year 2000. In fact, it is because of the deep inspiration I experienced at Genesis that I went on to study Jewish history in University, and likely why I’m doing what I’m doing today. I cannot wait to pay this inspiration forward to the students in our course.

As any student of Jewish history knows, eating is at the heart of Jewish life. Jewish food traditions tell the story of transnational cultures, patterns of assimilation and forced migrations. Jewish food also tells the story of family, rootedness and nostalgia. Our course on Jewish food, therefore, uses a relatable topic (we all eat roughly three meals a day) as a lens through which we can examine other, more complicated topics.

Our goal is to encourage every student to find a dish that speaks to him/her and that tells the story of a Jewish family or a piece of Jewish history. Each student will go deep with that food- from its history to its components. Through guest lecturers, field trips and time in the kitchen, we will bring the millennial-old culinary history to life.

Redesigning Forgiveness: An Introduction to Design Thinking

The BrandeisHSP Design Lab team* had a great time presenting an introduction to Design Thinking at this year’s JEDCamp Boston.

Design Thinking
Participants building their low-res prototypes

With a room full of Jewish educators, we remixed Stanford d.school’s fantastic “Gift Giving Project”  and transformed  it into a  redesign of forgiveness (in honor of the High Holidays! ).

After framing the design challenge with a classic text from Maimonides, we dove into the Design Thinking process, immersing ourselves in each other’s experiences of forgiveness, brainstorming solutions and developing low-resolution prototypes.

If you’re interested in the “Redesigning Forgiveness” challenge, you can find the full worksheet below, as well as the facilitator’s guide from the d.school challenge it was based on. Feel free to remix, experiment and tinker away, just let us know how you’ve used the worksheet!

Redesigning Forgiveness Worksheet
Redesigning the Give Giving Experience Facilitator’s Guide 


*The BrandeisHSP Design Lab is a partnership project of BrandeisHSP, CJP and The URJ. 


The Final Days

The final showcases for BIMA and Genesis took place on Sunday. Parents who could make it to campus were treated to presentations, performances, and the opportunity to experience a little bit of the magic that happens here every summer.

After the showcases, parents left campus, and the participants had one final night together. Participant band Grandma’s Birthday put on a concert, and then everyone went back to the lounge for an open mic.

Some of our participants were up early Monday morning to catch planes and trains back home. We miss them already! It’s been an experience none of us will ever forget.


Havdalah is one of the best parts of BIMA and Genesis. We end Shabbat and begin the week on a joyful note, with singing, dancing, and candlelight.

These clips give you a peek at the experience our teens have over the four weeks they’re here. We hope you’ve enjoyed these glimpses into life at BIMA and Genesis, and if you’re coming to the showcases this afternoon, we look forward to seeing you!


BIMA Dance and Theater Co-lab – Laban Movement Analysis

The Dance and Theatre majors came together for an introduction to Laban Movement Analysis (LMA). LMA is a method and language for describing and interpreting human movement, originating from the work of dance artist/theorist Rudolph Laban.


This was a natural opportunity for collaboration between the Dance and Theatre majors– both art forms rely on the body as the principal tool in the storytelling process. As actors and dancers we use our bodies to communicate on the stage – we need to understand and control our bodies so that our characters can be created from a blank physical slate, and embodied with specificity.

Our workshop focused on Laban’s eight Effort Actions. Effort, also called Dynamics, is a system for understanding the subtle differences in the way a movement is performed with respect to our inner intentions. The idea is that every movement is controlled and directed by subconscious states. As actors and dancers we can access these intentions through movement – motion can evoke emotion. Laban helps performers create momentary moods and definitive personality characteristics through movement and vocal expression.


The participants began by exploring the eight Effort Actions physically. They moved through the rehearsal room trying out the extremes and subtleties of Dab, Flick, Float, Glide, Press, Punch, Slash, and Wring. Each Effort Action is a unique combination of Weight (Heavy or Light), Space (Direct or Indirect), and Time (Sudden or Sustained). We identified characters from plays, books, and movies who seem to embody these characteristics: Float brings to mind Luna Lovegood, while Glide might conjure an image of Glinda, and Flick evokes Puck or Ariel.

After our physical exploration we brought the Effort Actions into our voices, exploring first a common text, and then applying them to individual monologues. We ended with a participants sharing their monologues and made some exciting discoveries about how applying the Effort Actions can help us find vivid characterizations, nuanced delivery, and a deepen connection between action and emotion. Not bad for two and a half hours!

- BIMA Theater instructor Lynda Bachman

Genesis Expeditions

Designed and facilitated by the Community Educators here at BIMA and Genesis, expeditions allow participants to explore a theme related to Judaism or the Jewish community. As I walked around campus this morning taking a peek at the expeditions, I saw the participants highly engaged in finishing up their expedition projects:

• designing an inclusive spiritual experience for the rest of the community;

• finishing their presentations of people in the Boston Jewish community who have had great impact on the community and who the participants interviewed last week;

• developing meditations to explore different emotions and connect them to Jewish text and experiences;

• editing a short film based on language and cultural issues that come up in the diverse cultural community of Genesis;

• working on projects related to the African refugees living in Israel, including storyboarding an online game that will be developed, writing a journalistic piece on the situation, and figuring out what possible political policies could be in dealing with the refugees

Genesis expedition Strangers in a Foreign Land explores the struggle of African refugees in Israel
Genesis expedition Strangers in a Foreign Land explores the experiences of African refugees in Israel

As the expeditions come to a close, the projects reflect a great deal of work and learning on the part of the Community Educators and the participants.

- Dvora Goodman, Senior Genesis Staff

BIMA Dance – Final Showcase Preparation

It’s our last week and for our final project, BIMA Dance participants are exploring Dances on Camera. They have taken on the role being directors, choreographers and dancers. Here’s a sneak peek of their work!

While doing this Dances on Camera project I found myself juggling the role of director, choreographer and cinematographer. I enjoyed seeing dance differently by using the camera to show a different perspective of the choreography. It was really fun because it was so different from what I’ve ever experienced. I’ve learned that dance also can be produced as a video and have a story, a theme or even emotions. Dancing is definitely easier for me than being behind the camera.

- Neomi Yehudai BIMA Dance Participant

photo 1 (3)

We are looking forward to seeing their work this Sunday at the BIMA Showcase!

photo 2


3D Game Design – Staff Reflections

Growing up and attending high school in South Florida, two very significant aspects of my teenage experience were my summers spent at Brandeis High School Programs.

Impact Boston 2010 and Genesis 2011 affected my life and opened my mind to a whole other world outside the small community I grew up in. These two summers were filled with exploration, leadership, service, Jewish discovery, social justice, and ultimately contributed to my personal growth and brought me to who I am today. 

I am currently a rising junior at Brandeis University, where I have also been working at the Office of High School Programs for the past two years, and my high school summer experiences continue to live with me on a daily basis. This summer I had the amazing opportunity to be a teaching assistant and residential staff member with the 3D Game Design program at Brandeis. 

From the first day, each participant took on leadership roles and brought excitement to our programming. Throughout the two weeks it was also amazing to see the manner in which all 36 participants created strong friendships that would last a lifetime. Whether it was in class, during afternoon programming or free time, the teens supported one another and had a great time together!

And as the last day came to an end, our teens decided they would take their communication to another level as they planned to continue developing games together and working on new programming ideas via Skype.

3D Game Design 2014 was a big success and it was so rewarding to know that the participants had such a great experience. I am truly inspired by the work ethic of our participants, as well as their passions and all they achieved this summer!

- Vanessa, 3D Game Design staff

Life-changing experiences for exceptional teens