Our newest initiative, the helix project, creates the next generation of scholars of Jewish culture, who go far beyond the traditional stories of Jews in Europe to bring an expanded vision of art, music, and literature back to their communities at home, at school, and throughout the world.
In July 2013, the Helix sets off again, bringing American full-time college and university students for a week of intensive cultural studies training in Los Angeles, followed by an adventure through the heart of the historical Grand Duchy of Lithuania — traveling through the contemporary republics of Belarus, Poland, and Lithuania.
From the sacred to the mundane, from the liturgical to the literary, the Helix Project immerses students in the beauty and complexity of Jewish cultural history and creates a richer, fuller, more inclusive view of life and history. Using Yiddish culture as a model, Helix explores the range of the Jewish experience in Europe, from the creativity that blossoms when difference is celebrated to the cataclysmic disaster wreaked by hate.
what is the helix?
Each year, Yiddishkayt selects a group of extraordinary students for a summer of intensive exploration of Jewish history, culture, and heritage. Led by advanced graduate students who share their passion about a wide-range of topics in Jewish history and culture, the project provides students with a series of innovative educational experiences first at Yiddishkayt’s headquarters in Los Angeles, followed by the core part of the program — an adventure to the historical heartlands of Jewish life abroad. Based on students’ genealogical research into their families’ histories and their individual research interests, students are divided into groups that travel to the areas in Central and Eastern Europe that Jews called home for centuries prior to their immigration to America and before the destruction of European Jewish life in the Holocaust. After the trip, Helixers return home to share their collective experiences in Europe and for further work exploring the past, present, and future of Jewish culture and identity.
Watch Tessa (Helix ’12) tell a little about her Helix experience and what the experience meant to her.
why the helix?
The overwhelming success of Holocaust education over the past two decades has amplified a serious absence — students know about the loss, but not what was lost. Young Jews (and non-Jews) throughout America learn quite a lot about the obliteration of European Jewry during the Second World War: they learn about the murderous ideology of Nazism, about the stripping of the basic rights of Jews before the final solution, and more than anything else, they study the mechanisms of torture and murder that annihilated 6 million Jews. Most Jewish students enter colleges and universities able to name more Nazi leaders than they can name major Jewish writers and more sites of mass slaughter than cities that once flourished with nearly majority Jewish populations.
Currently, more courses at major colleges and universities throughout North America teach about the destruction of European Jewish culture than about the culture that was destroyed. As a result, young Jews (as well as many older ones) see the experience of Jews in Europe as a never-ending history of constant despair and sadness. Yiddishkayt sees this situation—so far from the truth of actual, lived experience—as a tragedy.
Seventy years after the murder of so many Jewish lives, the Holocaust now continues to obliterate any memory of the richness of Jewish life throughout the world. The Helix actively fights against this erasure by allowing young Jews to witness first-hand just how alive Jewish life once was by exploring the landscapes Jews called home and the cultural treasures they produced there. The voices of great Jewish authors and poets resound once more when Helixers visit the cities and towns these authors called home, read their works, and trace their footsteps through the sites described in their masterpieces of Yiddish, Russian, and Polish creativity. Yiddishkayt shows a richer, more pluralistic, more remarkable Jewish life than ever imagined.
who are the helixers?
The program is open to all full-time college students who wish to explore Jewish history in the most creative, direct, and personal way possible—regardless of financial status—to become the most knowledgeable and visionary leaders in their communities at home and at school. Here’s what some of our Pilot Helixers had to say about coming on the program!
who leads the helix project?
The Helix is led by advanced graduate students pursuing their doctoral research in a variety of areas of Jewish history, literature, and culture. If you are a graduate student in Jewish Studies who has advanced to candidacy contact us if you are interested in spending a summer sharing your passion and enthusiasm for your subject with students who are just beginning to delve deeper into Jewish history and culture.
how can you make this life-changing experience possible?
Creating this life-changing experience to our engaged future leaders in Jewish cultural life requires your help. Opportunities are available to fund or endow individual students, trip leaders, workshop faculty, and other facets that create the Helix experience. Contact us to find out how you can help.