All posts by

P04 p3

Genesis Reunites Two Families – The Incredible Story of Two Genesis 2013 Participants

Today we received an email from Dina Belinsky, mother of Mark Matsuki, a Genesis 2013 participant. It is an unbelieveable story of the reunion of two families after years of global separation.

“I wanted to share a Brandeis Genesis experience with you, which is really beyond imaginable.

The story goes back to 1930’s when my grandmother started elementary school back in Leningrad, Russia. She made two friends: Julia and Natasha. They continued in the same class together all the way to high school, graduating in June 1941. They went on a short vacation together to celebrate, and that was where they found themselves, away from the city and their families, when the war with Germany broke out on June 22nd. My grandmother told me that the three of them walked back to the city for days under heavy Nazi bombardment. They made it back to the city and very soon found themselves surrounded in the infamous siege of Leningrad. I will not go into the details of the war, suffice it to say that all three of them were evacuated, survived, returned to Leningrad after the war and re-established their friendship. Each one got married and had children and then grandchildren. The families lived within close proximity of each other, and I grew up knowing the two of them as “aunt” Julia and “aunt” Natasha. Childhood friendship turned into long-lasting family connections. I went to the same school as “aunt” Julia’s grand-daughter Masha.

Fast forward to the late 1980s, when Soviet Union started to fall apart, and Russian Jewish families scrambled for an exit. Aunt Julia’s family was able to find their way to Germany, my family left for the US, and aunt Natasha stayed in St. Petersburg. Grandparents kept in touch, but connection between grand-daughters didn’t endure. And while we knew of each other and had a rough idea of one’s life “outline” (via grandparents) we were not actively communicating.

Fast forward one more time to the summer of 2013 (did you guess where the story is going?). My son Mark Matsuki went to Brandeis this summer, my beloved alma mater (I am class of ’95). Two weeks into the program he called me with a question: “Mom, do you know a woman by the name of Masha Krichevskaya?” “Yes, of course, why do you ask?” “Her son is here at Brandeis, and we’ve become best friends!” As it turned out, when Leon Feldmann was speaking with his family back in Germany, he mentioned that there were many other Russian Jewish kids on campus, and even one “Russian Japanese kid.” (Mark’s dad is Japanese, Mark has a rather rare combination of Jewish-Japanese heritage). She quickly thought of me, could it be? “Ask Mark if his mom’s name is ‘Dina’,” she told Leon. “And if it is, ask if she remembers my name.”

Needless to say, Masha and I have since reconnected, to the great joy of our families. Mark now plans to visit Leon in Berlin next spring. The Genesis program brought together the 4th generation of friendship between the two families that is now 80 years in the making. We all thank you for that!”

Mark and Leon at Brandeis, Summer 2013

Mark and Leon











Leon’s great-grandparents (left and right) and Mark’s great-grandmother (middle) – late 1940s?

P03 p4

Mark’s great-grandmother (left) and Leon’s great-grandmother (right) – mid-to-late 1930’s

P04 p3


photo (9)

A Community of Learners: Staff Learning Opportunities at BIMA and Genesis

One goal at BIMA and Genesis is for all members of the community (participants and staff) to feel invested, engaged, and actively involved.  We invest a lot of time into supporting the educators during the summer as well as giving them an opportunity to learn and grow as educators.  This reflects a belief that everyone at BIMA and Genesis is a learner, and that engaging in active learning and being reflective about one’s craft as an educator makes one a better educator now and positively impacts one’s work.

As a group, the community educators (CEs) and interns engaged in deep learning about pluralism, using personal stories to build community, and creating a culture of appreciation. As individuals, each staff member engaged in an “investigation” – an opportunity to explore an element of their work as an educator with the guidance of a mentor. We see this as a gift of time to devote to their personal professional growth.

Community educators were instructed to choose an area of educational practice “which is connected to what you are doing here; which you like and are interested in; in which there is room for growth; and which is important to you.” We provided a structure, a mentor, opportunities for guidance, and precious time in the schedule for them to work on their investigations and share their learning with each other.

Interns developed and crafted research organized around a “central Jewish informal educational question.” Each intern created and chose a question with the intention of using the educational context of BIMA or Genesis as a laboratory for pedagogical inquiry.  Through the use of observation, survey, and interviews, each intern collected data and then analyzed their findings for presentation at the conclusion of the summer.

We hope to give you a sense of the learning that happened this summer. Over the next few weeks, we will post pieces of the “products” of their learning on this blog. We hope that by sharing some of our learning in a public way, others will think about related educational issues in their settings and we can continue the conversations we started during the summer at BIMA and Genesis.


Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 9.25.19 PM

So Much Talent!

Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 9.25.19 PM

Yesterday featured a delightful pizza-making activity in Ridgewood. The CIEE participants packed into a lounge where tables were ready with dough, cheese, tomato sauce, and plenty of options for toppings. After dividing themselves into small groups, they had complete creative license to prepare and decorate their own pizzas, which we then took to bake. And while everyone cleaned and awaited their creations the hot pizzas started arriving back in the lounge delivery boxes. So quick and easy! Before the baking stage, each group was assigned a number so that they could later claim their own, and indeed they did! And with what joy. A delicious meal made so special by our active participation in its making.
But what followed last night blew us away. It was an all-English talent show featuring performances, acts, and skits prepared by the participants. They had been planning and practicing the entire day, and boy did it pay off. Slightly nervous, they were not afraid of putting themselves out there, and doing so while often using their English! Here’s a short recap of what we witnessed:
-Comedy skit
-A reenactment of songs/scenes from Les Miserables
-A solo singing performance (no musical accompaniment!)
-A parody James Bond scenes (three of them!)
-A fully-choreographed dance
-A guitar piece that incorporated drumming (solo)
-A rendition of Gangnam Style 

Balancing Roles: CE Investigation

- Kelly, Genesis Community Educator, 2013.

One of my favorite parts of Genesis as an Educator, is how seriously Genesis takes education. The best example of this is that Community Educators and Interns are expected to explore an educational practice and reflect on it throughout the summer. I chose to examine the question, “How do I balance my personal prayer experience with my role as a prayer leader/educator?”

I chose to explore this question because I wanted to reflect on something I was personally invested in. I’ve led t’fillah (prayer) in various settings since I was in high school. Until very recently I found t’fillah to be most meaningful when I was leading. Through my investigation, I wanted to figure out what was missing. How could I make prayer meaningful for myself again?

I interviewed and observed several Genesis and BIMA staff and faculty members to see what they had to say about my investigation. One person suggested that I redefine what prayer is. Another person suggested that it was okay to not find prayer meaningful at this very point in my life. That same person suggested that I spend time during the school year exploring how to make prayer meaningful to me as a participant, and take leading out of the equation. Another person suggested that I develop my own ritual to do before I begin leading services to set an intention for myself.

One of my new favorite teachers encouraged me to try and define t’fillah for myself. He suggested that t’fillah is a journey towards holiness. Thinking of t’fillah as a journey implied that the prayer leader has to move people from one place to another. While my investigation left me with more questions than answers, I am looking forward to continuing my investigation and reflection throughout the next year and beyond.

Screen shot 2013-07-30 at 10.22.18 PM

Linking Hands

Screen shot 2013-07-30 at 10.22.18 PMA final note from Shira (Highland Park, IL):

“Welcome to Theater!”  An unfamiliar voice was heard in the background as we were told to remove our shoes and hold hands with the people in front and behind us.  I grabbed hands and followed the group as we walked into a dark room with an obstacle course leading to a glowing orb.  Theater is often confusing.

In my month at BIMA, I learned more about theater than I ever imagined possible.  From learning how to massage my hard palette to learning how to write and perform entire play in an ensemble of eighteen, I think I can safely say that BIMA provided me with the most intense, interesting, and invigorating theater experience possible, with the amazing assistance and support from my seventeen peers and three instructors.

In the final moments before our final show, all 21 of us stood in a circle warming up our voices and bodies to prepare to enter into the streets of Blahblahstan during a revolution.  I once again grabbed hands with the people on either side of me, though this time, I was linked to twenty of my best friends, a community that I will remember for the rest of my life, and was ready to stand on the stage with them.  After my three weeks as a BIMA Theater Major, I now feel prepared to step into any theater class, any show, or any mysterious obstacle course.  I will never forget our tongue twisters and voice warmups, and what I will forever cherish is the unbreakable and indescribable bond that I formed with these twenty people.  If there is only one thing I remember from this class, it will be: theater is confusing, but that is what makes it such a beautiful art, especially when surrounded by an ensemble of people you love.

And a note from Aliza (Edison, NJ):

This was my second summer at BIMA and it was nothing short of incredible. I learned so much and gained so much more confidence on stage. Not only was I able to act, but I also had the chance to write a show that discussed a Golem and the Arab Spring.  Our hard work and dedication truly paid off in our performance at the Arts Festival. Every participant is so talented in their own unique way, and it was truly amazing to both watch the other majors and perform our own project. I am so sad that this amazing summer had to come to an end, but the friendships I made and the memories I created will certainly last a lifetime. Thank you BIMA!!!!


Being Journalists

IMG_6435A final note from Ronit, instructor:

The Genesis Times published its first – and last – edition on Sunday, July 28. It included written stories as well as short video pieces by the acclaimed reporters of the Journalism Course. All their reporting can be found on our blog.

Compiling all these stories took much effort, but it was truly rewarding to meet the deadline and create such interesting, powerful and diverse stories and share them with others. Below you can find the full list of topics and headlines.

What did we learn in this process? A few things. That spotting the right news story which you are enthusiastic about is kind of nice. That details matter, as does accuracy, and facts need to be double
checked otherwise no one will believe journalists. That steadily holding a video camera is a challenge, especially when you are walking on Boylston St. That rushing to meet the deadline can get you to lose some sleep. That nagging someone to give you an interview is really uncomfortable, but when they agree it pretty much makes the story. That with some support we can create great reporting, if we set our minds to it.

We also learned about immigration reform, the NSA leak, racial profiling, anti-gay laws in Russia, new chief rabbis in Israel, protests in Istanbul, smuggling in Gaza, media coverage of the Boston bombing, a historic huge trade deal, the slump of blockbusters this summer, and more. Want to be in the know? Read all about it by clicking on the title:

A Park Divides A Nation/ By Melissa Baron

Chief Rabbinate in Israel: The Meaning of Leadership/ By Adam E. Chanes

Historic Megaflop: Six Blockbusters fail this Summer/ By Dan Krutonog

Boston After the Bombings/ By Abby Biesman and Kineret Brokman

Citizens React To Government Scandals / By Rachel Frazin

Siberian Rainbow/ By Yurii Plotkin

The Biggest Trade Deal Ever/ By Liza Ziborova

America after Trayvon Martin/ By Abby Biesman

Nowhere to Go for Gazans/ By Jason Mast

How Far is Too Far?/ By Kineret Brokman

The Explosion of the Boston Marathon Bombing/ By Rachel Frazin and Ilona Plaksina

Changes in US Immigration Policy Will Change the Lives of Millions/ By Rafaella Zabot-Hall


From the Lab

IMG_6543A final note from Julia, instructor:

Science participants worked incredibly hard on their showcase presentation. They filmed and edited four  videos and one animation, made slides and wrote scripts. They even designed a t-shirt! Despite more than our fair share of technical difficulties, both before and during the presentation, our participants did exceptionally well. They highlighted their newly-acquired laboratory skills and explained some of the implications of our data, such as finding that some kinds of bacteria seem to be found predominantly on one farm, or that some kinds of bacteria seem to be found exclusively on one kind of vegetable on all three farms we visited. The presentation concluded with participants posing some ethical questions that came up in our discussions over the course of the month. These questions included those relating to human and bacteria communities, how DNA affects our identity, whether the advances of science are positive or negative, and what the relationship is between science and religion. It was a great summer, and I wish all of the participants best of luck!



Retracing Our Steps

A final note from Elizabeth, instructor:

Our final showcase for the World Religions course was an opportunity for reflection, rather than performance.  We took it as a chance to retrace the steps we’ve taken on our journey together, marking each moment where we felt challenged, frustrated, excited, and changed.  This process of reflection began with the participants revisiting the journal entries they wrote throughout the course, beginning with the first day of class and continuing after each site visit.  The act of reading these reflections helped guide the participants through the summer and the varied experiences they encountered along the way.

With this new vantage point on their summer, they began to draft and construct visual representations of their time in the World Religions course.  Through drawing, collage, photographs, and words, the participants externally marked their internal transformations and then displayed them in a gallery as their final showcase.  In addition to their individual creations, the participants also used their newly-acquired skills related to oral histories to record a short interview about their experiences this summer.  Those clips were then woven together–along with images chosen by each student to represent this journey–into a final movie presentation.

The participants invested their whole selves into the programs, discussions, and site visits, allowing themselves to be challenged and stretched beyond that which they already knew about their world.  It was a special summer that demanded exploration, engagement, and encounter of not only “the other,” but also of the self; the students in the World Religions course rose to this challenge, and they grew tremendously as a result.


Being Lawyers

A note from Adam, a member of the residential team:

Today the mockers started the lessons out with a first-class lesson on cross examination. Their two guest instructors, David Bunis and Dan Rabinowitz are very succesful attorneys. We learned about them from the two participants who introduced them, David and Tori. This is part of a strategy to have the participants work on their public speaking by introducing the high profile speakers.

After a lesson on cross examination, David and Dan asked everyone to try it out with their very own mock trial case. Everybody had the chance to be a lawyer at some point during this lesson. Both lawyers gave every participant unique advice about what to improve and what to keep doing. Mr. Bunis and Mr. Rabinowitz were extremely impressed. Also, on their recommendation, all the participants are going to watch My Cousin Vinny. A must see for future lawyers.

The next guest is an expert on memory mapping. This is a key component to the case that the particpants are working on. Laced within this, we are learning about expert witnesses, what makes them experts and how to analyze scientific information within the context of a trial.
Although everyone seems incredibly motivated to work, there has been a lot of non-mock trial related fun as well. One local mocker woke up  early and asked his mom to bring over a basketball. Needless to say there have already been two rapid fast rounds of pre-breakfast and pre-lunch basketball (thanks, Mom!). Everyone is learning a lot from each other. At lunch we discussed cartoons, rugby, stanley kubrick, college, science, math history. All together, it’s a pretty cohesive group. Sometimes diversity makes the best glue.

Tonight we will be out on the town in Harvard Square. More updates to come from there.