Reflection of YLC: Diversity in the Jewish Community

Looking back on the past five amazing days at Brandeis, I can’t help but to reflect on all the people that I met and all the material that I learned. Sitting in lectures, participating in our group discussions, and working on a cultural artifact symposium project, it all contributed to the overall incredible and intellectually stimulating experience. The Young Leaders Conference on Israel Studies is something that I know I will never forget and I know I will use the information that I have received for years to come. The way that information was conveyed to us throughout the whole conference, from an academic standpoint rather than an advocacy standpoint, truly shed light on a rich culture present in Israel that not many individuals take the time to study or appreciate. It is hard to articulate the sense of belonging that I felt while sitting in lectures with other delegates that I knew had the same love and passion for Israel as I did. The environment itself was very accepting and welcoming to all different peoples from all different walks of life. Having all of these people with varying views really brought new perspectives to the table that initiated some very thought provoking discussion. There were so many denominations of Judaism that all added new outlooks on issues that might have at first appeared to be black and white. For example, in my group we discussed the question of how does one define a Jew and who should be permitted to immigrate to Israel as a Jew, and concluded at the end that there really wasn’t one good answer. It’s conversations like that one that set this conference apart from other similar conferences and that made this program unique.


The highlight of the whole program, to me at least, was when we met in our groups. I looked forward every day to going to my group and participating in whatever was on the day’s agenda. My group, led by the amazing faculty advisors Mr. Chen Arad and Dr. Rachel Fish, had such in depth conversations on every topic brought up, whether it was one of the three case studies or something that we came up with on our own. My faculty advisors themselves made our group even more enjoyable as they seemed to add their views into the mix while still facilitating a functioning and respectful discussion. I also really enjoyed the Israel Story podcast group that came. The podcast itself was an outstanding idea on its own, but the content that was in it made it even more worthwhile. Watching people from wholly different backgrounds that live in Israel maintain a strong connection to Israel in their own ways just enabled me to nurture my connection with Israel even more. After experiencing all that the conference had to offer and learning so many new things, I believe that it is important for all Jewish kids to participate in a program like this one to learn an interesting take on Israeli culture in addition to fostering an even stronger love and appreciation for Israel. I loved every second of being a delegate at this conference and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity and the privelage of attending. I wish all the other delegates from the conference much success in their future endeavors and I hope that this program will somehow play a role in their lives in the future.


-Caylie T.

Jericho, NY


Dreams of Israel: Expanding my Horizons at YLC

During the commencement of the Young Leaders Conference this morning, June 30, we heard from Bari Weiss, who works at The Wall Street Journal. She said so many important things, but I just wanted to highlight one idea she left with us. She said to spend your time dreaming, and that Zionism is about dreaming about the improbable and making it a reality.

This really spoke to me as someone who has never been to Israel but who has an incredibly strong connection regardless. I can say I dream about Israel a lot. I dream about her culture and people, and the important sites throughout the state. I also dream about how my connection with Israel and my religion will be enhanced by a trip like this. Someday I hope to go to Israel for months at a time, preferably to study abroad, to make this dream a reality.

The Young Leaders Conference inspired these dreams even further. I learned an incredible amount about Israeli culture and the many ideas, emotions, and opinions that are portrayed in popular culture. Something that especially stood out to me was the Israel Story performance. Hearing the stories from the live performance was so poignant because it made Israel and its people even more relatable.
I would like to thank my faculty mentors, Chen and Dr. Rachel Fish, and the rest of the faculty for imparting some incredible knowledge upon us and always being there for us. Thank you, Brandeis Young Leaders Conference on Israel Studies. Thank you for broadening my horizons in terms of my views and ideas on Israel. Thank you for giving me great friends with whom I know I can have stimulating conversations about Israel. But most of all, thank you for helping me to keep dreaming.

-Dana B.

Wallingford, CT


Gaining Confidence in Myself, My Identity, and My Culture

The Young Leadership Conference was a completely different experience than anything I’ve been a part of before. Before this conference I did not really think about Israel in a critical way, I was not very connected to the country. After five intense, jam-packed days of discussing and thinking about Israel my view has changed. I have now formed my own opinions about Israel. Not only that, but I now know how to have discussions about this place with people who do not have the same views as me. At the beginning of the conference, I mostly stayed quiet in the group discussions, not being confident enough in my knowledge and opinions to voice them in a group setting. As the week progressed I grew more comfortable and realized that, even though I did not have as much factual knowledge about Israel as some other people, I could contribute greatly to the conversation. My group leader, Chen Arad, was very helpful in this area. He encouraged everyone in the group to think critically about the information being discussed and to voice their own personal opinions. My favorite discussion that happened in my group was based on the question “Who is a Jew?”. That discussion got the most people involved because everyone had their own perspective to share. There were many conflicting views and a few arguments, but ultimately this conversation allowed me to see so many perspectives of one group on a divisive issue. This really helped me understand where other Jewish people come from, what their backgrounds are, and why they have the opinions that they do. I now can think Israel in a completely and can apply the critical thinking and discussion skills to other aspects of my life.


Zoe S.

Winchester, VA


Coming Up on the End: How YLC Changed my Perspective on Israel and Education

I attended the Young Leaders conference on Israel Studies with absolutely no idea what to expect. I had friended and contacted a few people on Facebook just so that I would be acquainted with people and see some familiar faces when I arrived. While this was a great idea and turned out very well for me, I do not believe that it was the only thing that made my experience amazing. I made great friends, whom I plan to stay in touch with, and the social aspect has been very fun. What this conference was really about, however, was Israel. To me, Brandeis University seems very Jewish and I know that they have been advocates for social justice from the beginning. What I didn’t know was just how much of a reality this was. YLC, from the moment the first speaker opened their mouth, proved to me that Israel and social justice are huge aspects of this institution.
I would like to say that these 5 days have been a sort of series of enlightenments. The first occurred while we were in our smaller group discussions. We were going around the circle introducing ourselves with our name, where we are from, and why we feel connected to Israel. Everyone had such great stories to tell, and were so passionate about the land, and they each had their own stories and people and moments that made that connection. As our faculty member, Chen, was asking us to speed up so we don’t run out of time, I thought to myself- we all have so much to say, just about this, and so much to say about everything else, I could talk about this for months. And that’s when it hit me. That is what a college major is. In the past year I have been resistant to the idea of attending college, and could not imagine paying to go through the hell that high school gave me for free. Really. Does that make sense? But what Brandeis did was show me that there is a major in what I am passionate about, and it might not totally suck. We were treated with the respect of a colleague rather than students or children, and it felt as if our opinions were more valued and people cared about what we had to say, which is something I believe our American society today lacks. It was refreshing, and when I found out that what we were doing was much like a graduate program class, I knew that this was the place for me. Of course, I have since come to my (semi) rational senses instead of letting my new Brandeis obsession go into total overdrive, but this was a burst of enlightenment that gave me the type of feeling I imagine one must feel when they are “high on life.”

Then there was the second enlightenment. After discovering the learning environment of a college and opening up to the mere idea of attending it, I was introduced to just a small taste of the freedom it comes with. Having been to a URJ sleep away camp for the past six summers, I have absolutely no problem being away from home. In fact, I often prefer to be away for some time during the year (sorry mom and dad). Just walking across the campus alone, my professional-feeling messenger bag by my side, wearing my ever so class business casual outfit for the day, I suddenly felt like the world was at my fingertips. I felt so free and so in control of my life and what I was doing at the moment. At that time I was an independent person walking to a professional environment where my opinion was valued and I was going to have a pressure and grade free learning environment, and that felt so good. A refreshing change from the familiar high school halls, which often remind me more of a prison than a prestigious institute, like Brandeis does. So the third (and quite frankly most boring) was merely me telling myself “Emily, you’re in high school right now. You will be a junior next year, and you will still have a year after that. But your time will come where you can be in a college environment in every aspect, and right now you need to focus on doing what makes you passionate”. As cliché and inspirational as that sounds, I was actually pretty much telling myself to calm down and not get too excited because I still have two more years to serve.

Regardless, the Young Leaders Conference on Israel Studies at Brandeis has given me not only insight on Israel, but insight on how to lead a successful college life and be a successful conversationist. It has given me a purpose for the next two years of high school, as well as hope that I get to spend 4 years taking part in things like this, rather than just barely 5 days. And for that, I can never thank the people that ran this program enough. Andrew Flagel is truly a wonderful speaker and has made this first year of this conference life changing for me.

Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this, I merely love Brandeis and this program.
P.S. But seriously, no one paid me, I promise.
-Emily K.
Wilton, CT

The Director’s Perspective

At the end of Day 2 of the Young Leaders Conference, I found myself sitting with the members of Israel Story a few hours after their performance and there was one topic in particular that dominated our conversation: our students.
Here I was, surrounded by award winning artists and journalists and all they wanted to talk about was how impressed they were with the 51 young adults that gathered to see them perform that night. Their insight, poise, confidence and deep understanding was unlike anything they’d ever seen before.
And the best thing about their observation was that it was not the first time I had heard it this week.
We have had an amazing slate of Professors, Performers and PhD.’s address the group this week and the one thread they all have in common was their admiration for our students. As a Program Director, I am pleased by the reputation our students have developed. But more so, as a teacher, it warms my heart to see my students become the teachers and as we move towards their final presentations later today, I know that the best is yet to come.
-Josh Mocle, YLC Directer

Learning from Israeli Literature

Needless to say, Day 2 of YLC is much less hectic than the first! After breakfast, we began the day by meeting with our reading groups and discussing the selected works of Sayed Kashua from The Native. His first-person stories discussed his confusion and angst being an Arab-Israeli living in modern-day Jerusalem. He wrote his accounts with humor but also hints of crippling sorrow. Though it was refreshing to read a mildly humorous piece during YLC, I found that the writer’s apparent depression was by far the most striking discovery. Later that morning, Rabbi David Starr evaluated on the topic that Kashua touched on, and further discussed how the author could simultaneously appreciate Israel and feel disconnected from it. His lecture was alive with expression, excitement, and logical reasoning, which helped all of the delegates understand the difficult topic of Arab-Iraeli relations. After a quick debrief of Rabbi Starr’s lecture, we got into our collective groups to talk about Israel’s Declaration of Independence. I know my own group strayed a little further from the topic and went into depth about whether secularism separated “real” Jews from not-real Jews. Following the heated discussion, the lesson about the Israeli document revealed that the nation-state was never actually defined as a democratic one, which was a thought provoking discovery considering it is the only legal document democratic Israel has. After lunch, we gathered into our symposium groups in the Goldfarb Library. For four hours, we divided the work among six or so team members about a specific Israeli artifact, whether it was a piece of literature, art, or film. My group extensively studied the short story The Prisoner by S. Yizhar, and I found that his writing was quite modern for the time period of the piece.

The intense afternoon led us to dinner, and after that we had the pleasure of sitting in on a live show put on by three Israeli’s who created the podcast “The Israeli Life”, a Jewish spinoff of  “This American Life”. Their program for us featured various vocal interviews they conducted from residents of “48 Herzl Street” around Israel. The street name is significant for the “father” of political Zionism Theodore Herzl, and the number regards the year the nation-state of Israel was established; 1948. The purpose of the interviews was to show countries around the world that there is more to Israel and its people than what it seen in the news and in popular culture. After the invigorating show and an hour of some much-needed free time, the staff organized an elaborate social event for all of the delegates! There were oversized board games like Scrabble and Connect-4, as well as an area to spray paint your own t-shirt. There was a small area to make both Kosher and non-Kosher s’mores so all delegates could enjoy a relaxing evening and meet other participants. Day 2 was really long, but also invigorating. It made me look forward to what more studies and lectures were to come!

-Tamara P.

Bellingham, MA


Learning From Performance

Last night we listened to Israel’s Story, performed by a group of Israelis and two extremely talented actors. The performance was unbelievable, to say the least! The detailed stories told to us were so much more than just spoken memories. I personally connected with the references in each story to Israeli culture. I learned things about the people and their customs that I would’ve never learned without viewing this wonderful program. For instance, I found it very interesting that there was an African-American soul singer community in Dimona. These people traveled all the way from Chicago to reside in a land where they felt free as well as connected deeply in spirit. Fortunately, I was able to get a taste of this spiritual connection when listening to the stories. Additionally, these stories have given me a greater understanding of the composition of Israel, something I had wanted prior to coming to YLC! All in all, I’m extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to watch and listen to a performance that was uniquely Israeli.


-Max Ratner.

Arlington, MA


Herzl 48–Reflecting on the Israel Story Performance

During the Youth Leadership Conference, I had the incredible opportunity of watching Israel Story’s performance of Herzl 48, which is by far one of the best and most creative performances I have had the privilege of watching. Founded by three close friends, Israel Story is an online Israeli podcast that goes around the State of Israel interviewing different people, and recording their stories in both English and Hebrew for viewers around the world to listen to. Herzl 48 is unique in that all the people Israel Story interviewed share the common address of Herzl 48, which corresponds to the founder of modern day Zionism, Theodore Herzl, and the year Israel was founded, 1948.

Not only did this performance depict the huge diversity such a small country like Israel has, but also does it in a funny way by incorporating music, videos, and hilarious commentary after each story’s recording was played. The stories they presented made the topics we are learning about in our groups, such as biases, connections different cultural groups have with each other in Israel, and how they all view Zionism and the State itself, seem real and personal. 

Overall, this event has been the highlight of the programme, even if it has just been two days! The performers had me laughing throughout the whole show, and made me feel like I actually knew the people they had spoken to.


-Trevor Weinstein,

Pembroke Pines, FL


A Redesign of Forgiveness

Low resolution prototype of a redesign of the forgiveness experience.
Low resolution prototype of a redesign of the forgiveness experience.

A little over a year ago we here at the Brandeis Design Lab had the honor of presenting at JEDCamp Boston, an in-person gathering of the vibrant online JEDLAB community. At JEDCamp we remixed the’s “Redesign the Gift Giving Experience” into a redesign of forgiveness, an appropriate challenge as we were approaching the High Holidays.

This past year has been tremendous for the Design Lab. We’ve worked with multiple cohorts of high school students and educators, refined our approach to Design Thinking, redesigned a cemetery chapel, and even launched a pop-up food truck!

Still, we keep coming back to the resources for the redesign of forgiveness as the model for the work we do. Focused as much on empathy as on innovation and iteration, this activity gets to the heart of Design Thinking and what it means to be a Jewish in the modern world.

With Yom Kippur right around the corner, here are the resources from the redesigning forgiveness workshop for you to use, enjoy and be inspired by.

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



BIMA/Genesis Kavanot – Primal Scream

This summer, I had the opportunity to offer one of my favorite meditation exercises, the primal scream. It is an activity that I developed when I was a participant here in 2011, and have been working on and returning to ever since.

Meditation exercises often focus on silence and tuning out other noises. However, I often struggle to find ways to focus on being silent while I am meditating. The Primal Scream emerged from the need to draw contrast between my ability to produce noise — by screaming — and my ability to be silent and focus on the silence and the noises around me that are out of my control.

The Primal Scream, however, is more than just screaming. We focus on different breathing exercises, alternating between silence and screaming. We also took meditation exercises and adapted them to screaming, such as using our voices and our noise to propel our problems away from us. As with all good primal screams, we ended with a long run down Chapels Field, screaming for as long as we could.

After that, when we had been able to hear both our noises, our voices, and our silence, we gathered back together to appreciate the silence. We then read a passage from I Kings about Elijah the Prophet, who sought to find God through wind, earthquakes, and fire, but instead encountered God in a “Small, still voice,” or in silence.

The Primal Scream is much more than just uncontrolled screaming. It is, at its core, using noise and silence to find connections with something bigger than us. Some of us might call that God, while others might not. Despite that, the Primal Scream is one of my favorite meditations, and one that I was glad to share with participants this summer here at BIMA and Genesis.

– Community Educator Amram A.