Category Archives: Genesis


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!


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

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Shabbat is a special experience at BIMA and Genesis. This summer we’re experimenting with Design Thinking. We empower our participants to identify the needs of their community and to design a Shabbat that serves those needs. They interview each other, then split into groups to organize chofesh (free time options), meals, kavanot (times for intentionality and reflection), havdalah (ceremony to end shabbat and welcome in the new week), community spaces and norms, limmud (study).

Participants spend Thursday afternoons and Friday mornings designing Shabbat, deciding what the activities will be, and preparing for everything. Kavanot options for Shabbat this summer have included:

  • Mechitza Minyan
  • Egalitarian Minyan
  • Yoga and Guided Meditation
  • Silent Room
  • Nature Walks
  • Silent Dance Party
  • Reform Service

The joyful capstone for a BIMA and Genesis Shabbat is Havdalah. Candles, spices, and singing fill the air as participants welcome in a new week.

Havdalah at Massell Quad

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Genesis – Gender and Sexuality

Gender and Sexuality is the newest Genesis course. As one of the interns, I have the privilege of helping prepare and teach the class twice a week. Our activities range from fun games that help us think about the way we perceive all of the aspects of our identity — not just our gender and our sexual identities, but also our racial/ethnic, class, and a host of other aspects that make us who we are — to reading and debating some of the theorists that are writing about these issues today.

We also try and introduce uniquely Jewish aspects to understanding gender, such as using the story of Dinah and her brothers in the Bible (Genesis 34:1-31) to show not just how women were perceived, but also to understand the power of the male gaze– that is, the theory that what motivates people (specifically men) is how others from the same gender would perceive them.

One of the most challenging things for me has been finding materials that are both meaningful and engaging to the wide range of participants in our course, both Jewishly and nationally.  To make these challenging texts more accessible, we spend much of our time studying texts in hevruta, or study partners.

We also try to mix in artwork, short YouTube clips, and other media to take the texts off of the printed page and into our lives. When we read Judith Butler’s idea of how language affects our perception of gender, we can use a YouTube video to help understand it. We can take texts that discuss feminism in Islamic countries and place them in conversation with texts that talk about the empowerment of women in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. These make the texts, which are often dense, dry, and philosophical, both comprehensible and pertinent to our lives.

- Amram Altzman, Genesis Intern

Genesis Innovation and Revolution – Shab ‘BOT’ Shalom

The students in our Genesis: Innovation and Revolution course recently created their own ‘Twitter bots,’ automated Twitter accounts that respond to certain words. Some are complex, like the Pentametron, which retweets in iambic rhyming pairs. Others simply respond to a particular phrase.

Jflixbot generates a new fictional film starting jewish actors every hour.
Honor Thy Bot responds to people who “hate their parents” with a reminder to observe the 5th commandment.
Loving Israel professes love for a random city/settlement/etc in Israel with a satellite image of the place every 6 hours.
ShabBOTinator answers people who say “shabbat shalom” on Friday with a “shabbat shalom.”
Is That Kosher?  responds to people tweeting about treif and ask them if it’s kosher. 

Genesis Social Entrepreneurship – Sherman Design Challenge

Assistant Director Tirtzah Bassel joined the course to begin this multiple day design challenge: 

How might we improve the dining experience at Sherman dining hall?
To help us understand interview technique and dining needs, Tirtzah interviewed course instructor Dave Weinberg.

Participants are spending the next few days observing and interviewing various Sherman “users” to better understand their needs and experiences. 

Tirztah will come back to class on Tuesday for the data debrief and solution discussion.  We hope at that point to have a few realistic ideas to present to Sodexo management for evaluation.

Genesis Science – Sharing Is Caring

Recent advances in technology have made it feasible to ask scientific questions of the scope and scale that we have not been able to even contemplate just a generation ago. For example, these new technologies are making it possible to study how the composition of populations of microorganisms that cover virtually every surface on the planet, including our skin, change over time. Early studies in this field indicate that we tend to share microorganisms with people and pets in our households. Our experiment this summer will take the very first look at how fast humans begin to share the composition of our bacterial communities when we form a new human community that resides in close quarters.

For this experiment, we took swabs of the participants’ upper arms the day they arrived and we will again in two weeks. We will combine the swabs in small groups and use the technology known as high throughput sequencing to learn what kinds of bacteria are present among the participants when they first arrive and whether two weeks later the kinds of bacteria are more evenly spread among the participants.

Genesis Science practices pipetting liquids with instructor Julia Khodor (photo by Ty Ueda)
Genesis Science practices pipetting liquids with instructor Julia Khodor (photo by Ty Ueda)

During the summer, we will be asking many questions, both in scientific and Jewish contexts. We will get together with the participants from the Innovation Revolution course to discuss how society changes when so much data can be generated and stored about each of us, who that data belongs to and who should be able to learn from it. We will explore Jewish takes on having certain kinds of information and what responsibilities go hand in hand with having that information, and we will ask and answer interesting and novel scientific questions.

- Julia Khodor, PhD, Science and Ethics faculty

Genesis Expeditions #1

On Wednesday this week we started our expedition, “Inclusive Spiritual Community.” In this expedition we are exploring the nature of spiritual experiences and how they happen (or don’t happen) in a community of people with diverse Jewish beliefs.

It all started off with some group bonding activities, including “the human knot.” Neither group were able to untangle themselves, but it definitely made for a fun time that brought us closer together!


We began by talking about the experience of connection, then moved on to brainstorm the various kinds of “ultimate reality” that underlie spiritual experiences. On Thursday we really got into a heated debate about the ways in which Jewish beliefs and practices made participants feel connected or alienated.


- Matthew Lowe

Matthew is a Genesis Community Educator who is leading one of this summer’s expeditions. Check back for updates and highlights from the other expeditions, and read more about them below:
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BIMA and Genesis – Arrival

Yesterday we officially welcomed BIMA and Genesis participants to the Brandeis campus. They came from Spain, Israel, France, Germany, the UK, Brazil, Russia, Canada, Ukraine, the former Soviet Union– and of course all over the United States!


In the afternoon, everyone gathered outside and then travelled en masse to the Usdan Student Center for icebreakers. Already some students have gotten into the collaborative spirit, as you can see!

A group of nearly 200 people can get pretty loud, so BIMA and Genesis Director Rabbi Charlie Schwartz took a few minutes to remind us of the importance of silence.

BIMA and Genesis Director Charlie Schwartz bringing quiet to the group (Photo by Ty Ueda)