All posts by Brandeis Office of High School Programs

Brandeis High School Programs gives high school students the chance to explore and be challenged by new ideas, discover fresh forms of self-expression, and develop deep friendships on the campus of Brandeis University.

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.

Artists Beit Midrash – Theater

The theatre ABM is in the midst of devising a performance piece to show on Thursday. We’ve been exploring the themes of the Genesis story using movement scores, tableaux, and writing exercises.


For some participants, it’s their first experience doing theatre, so we’ve also been doing a lot of ensemble work and theatre skill building.

(null)_1 With the collaboration of many members of the ensemble, we’re closing in on the final draft of our script, and are looking forward to our two rehearsals next week to get ready to show the rest of BIMA what we’ve been working on.


The script is comprised of the participant’s writing, as well as scenes and movement sequences that the participants created in class. Below are photographs of three different tableaux created by participants to evoke the themes that we are exploring in this piece.

- Community Educator Josh L.

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.

picture for blog 3

- Community Educator Matthew L.

App Design – The Windup and the Pitch

IMG_6967   IMG_6964

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

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.