BIMA and Genesis – Shabbat Shalom!

The first Shabbat on campus made BIMA/Genesis history as the first time that participants from both programs joined together for all meals. Shabbat focused on bringing together participants from their variety of backgrounds– whether religious, national, artistic, or philosophical. During Shabbat dinner, participants discussed by table different sayings from their home country or region, and then table by table, shared their favorite saying with the group. We learned how to say “That’s cool,” in French, “Isn’t it” in Pennsylvanian slang, “Hey’na,” and many more.

On Saturday, participants got to experiment with kavanot– different modes of experiencing presence on Shabbat. Some did this through prayer services in a variety of denominations, and others did through meditative options, such as expressive drawing and nature walks. BIMA and Genesis participants also had the option to teach their peers with a variety of limmud options that varied from text study to a discussion on what we know about outer space.

Shabbat concluded with story-telling groups where participants talked about important moments in their Jewish lives. We came together as a community for a beautiful Havdalah service on the Chapel’s Field, where we sang to amazing musical accompaniment thanks to a group of BIMA music majors. Shavua Tov!

- Community Educator Emily J.

App Design Boot Camp – Fablevision


This past week, App Design went on a field trip into Boston to visit Fablevision, a transmedia development studio. We had the opportunity to tour Fablevision’s office and learn about the company’s work, particularly the process to create a game. The participants had an exercise to interpret one of Fablevision’s game spec sheets– the description of what a particular section looks like and should do. They then played the actual game and compared it to the sketches they came up with.


After the tour the group split up to enjoy South Boston and to have dinner before returning to campus for the second class of the day. Later that evening we engaged in some group bonding, sharing something unique about ourselves or a fact we thought no one else in the room knew. There were some surprises that initiated many enthusiastic questions and discussions. Then, after learning what their app teams are, the participants split into their groups and competed against each other to see which group can solve a human knot the fastest.

With new information about the computer science world thanks to Fablevision, more knowledge from their classes, and closer friendships from group bonding, the participants headed to bed to rest until the next program-filled day at App Design.

Friendly Disagreements

The other day in zman bayit (“homeroom time”) our participants learned how to have friendly disagreements. One of the unique parts of BIMA/Genesis is the invitation to participants to take an active role in the shaping of community culture—this is especially important given the wide of variety of national and religious backgrounds represented here.


My co-leader Jessica and I began the session by demonstrating a disagreement over kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), sharing our passion for our own sides while making sure the other person felt heard. It got heated—both the words “holy” and “scam” were used! But at the end of it, we each felt like the other understood and respected us.


Then we invited the participants to try it, and their efforts were inspiring! In a disagreement about “cats vs. dogs,” my favorite part involved the line, “Small dogs are basically cats.” Multiple participants disagreed about the value of science vs. history, or science vs. literature—the variety of academic interests always comes out in the Genesis community. I think I was most impressed with a disagreement over some recent Supreme court rulings—despite the controversy of these rulings, the participants impressed us by carefully presenting their partner’s opposing viewpoint.

In the next zman bayit, we will be trying out our “friendly disagreements” practices in “real life”—that is, for conversations about challenges in the BIMA/Genesis community!

- Community Educator Matthew L.

The Russian-Speaking World of BIMA and Genesis

Every summer we have a group of Russian-speaking participants who brave the language barrier and come to Brandeis to be a part of our community. This past Shabbat, I had the special honor of being the assigned staff member (assigned, ha, I leapt at the opportunity) for an event listed as “Traditional Eastern European Song Session with Songs in Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew.” I entered the room and found that I was one of the only non-Russian speaking attendees!


The participants had put together a packet of songs (with transliteration, thankfully), and took turns suggesting songs. They started with something in Hebrew that I knew, so I was happy to join in—and then blown away when dancing erupted! Often their songs became dances. Sometimes only half the participants knew the dance, and would teach the others. At a certain point they had sung every song in the packet, and so they repeated songs or and thought of new ones that everyone (or almost everyone) would know.


I was impressed with their energy, their friendliness, and most of all their willingness to try something new in front of other teens. As an American adult used to the cultural expressions and inhibitions of American teens, it was both delightful and a real privilege to have a chance to witness one representation of non-American teen culture.

- Community Educator Matthew L.

App Design – Technology & Social Justice


Monday night, App Design had a special presentation by Ian Roy about Technology and Social Justice. Participants learned about the MakerLab, a place at Brandeis focusing on 3D printing and scanning.

First, they heard about what goes on in this space and then dove in on how 3D printing works and what applications this process has. Participants had the opportunity to see and touch a wide array of projects that were completed within the past year. These included prosthetic hands for children, 3D printed drones, shoes and more. They learned about the history of 3D printing as well as where this technology is heading in the future.

One major component of the presentation was examining the social and legal challenges that these technologies are creating. Participants discussed who really owns all of the designs that can be simply downloaded from the internet. What responsibilities do we have as people to use these discoveries to better our world? These are questions that right now do not have answers and much of it will be up to these future developers and trailblazers of technology.

Genesis Expedition: Jewish Power/Jewish Responsibility

Together with the participants we began an expedition called Jewish Power/Jewish Responsibility. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be looking at Israel and its meaning both for Jews and others. Since Israel was founded in 1948 Jews have been in a new position, one in which they control their own destiny and the destinies of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens. In this expedition we will focus on questions such as: What makes Israel a Jewish state? What responsibilities do Jews in Israel have to other Jews around the world? What responsibilities does Israel have regarding its non-Jewish citizens?

We began our work today by starting to examine the complexity of different narratives around Israel. We looked at 15 different images that tell different stories about what Israel is and what it can aspire to be. In our remaining sessions we will dive deeper into a few narratives in particular, looking at how different groups are affected by Israel and how they come to understand Israel’s meaning.

We also spent some time today getting to know each other. The expedition is one of the most important communities the Genesis participants will be a part of during the summer, and we wanted to make sure to establish our expedition as a safe space for our community. We did some icebreakers, and played fun games in order to learn each other’s names.

Each session will also begin with a Thought Provoking Question (TPQ) that participants will be asked to think about on their own, then to share with a partner, then to share as an entire group. Our TPQ today asked why the participants were here, both at Genesis and in our specific expedition. We had a range of answers that really helped us understand who our peers are and where they are coming from. Moving forward, our TPQs will focus on the specific areas we cover during each session.

I was so impressed with the sophistication that our participants brought to our conversation today and I can’t wait to continue learning with them throughout the summer. As we move forward and focus on specific narratives, it will be fascinating to see where the participants agree and disagree, what is new for them, and what insights they bring to our activities and discussions. Stay tuned!

 — Community Educator Eli C.

App Design Boot Camp – Arrival!

Yesterday was arrival day for App Design Boot camp! Participants from all over the country and the world arrived by plane, train, and car and were greeted by our staff outside the residence halls.

Once the majority of the participants got here, we gathered in the shade and got to know each other. We loosened up and let some energy out with a game and then went on a tour of the campus.

After dinner, we played some “Bingo to get to know you”– created by our staff member Christine, met the faculty, organized ourselves by birthday without speaking, and finally had a discussion about what we expect as a community throughout our time here. A day full of introductions, new people and sights, and a lot of expectation for what’s to come!

- Residential staff Missy K.

BIMA and Genesis Staff Reflections

The CEs started arriving on Monday June 29. Staff has been hard at work the past week with staff orientation, which has been an intense mix of planning and preparing for participants’ arrival, as well as getting to know our colleagues on the leadership team. It seems like we’ve been here far more than a week joyous and buoyant energy of the over 120 teenagers who will be arriving on Tuesday.

- Josh L., Community Educator

Impromptu dance party after a midnight snack run.
Impromptu dance party after a midnight snack run.

This past week the residential staff of Community Educators has been learning and sharing. We’ve gone over schedules, prepared our Expeditions, experimented with food combinations in the Usdan cafeteria, created spaces for reflection and connection, and had some more active fun. After six days of being together, we have a better sense of what makes each person tick and what each of us brings to the larger group.

I look forward to seeing how we continue to be a community of learning and growth over the course of the coming weeks.

- Molly M., Community Educator

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 designlab

Life-changing experiences for exceptional teens