February 4, 2023

HBI Celebrates 25 Years: A Message from the Director

By Lisa Fishbayn Joffe

head shot of Lisa Fishbayn JoffeThis past summer, HBI held a workshop in conjunction with the art exhibition, Seven Species, Three Generations. As we experimented with weaving and collage under the tutelage of Mia Schon and Charlie Dov Guterman Schön, the conversation flowed amongst the women around the table. Ronnie Levin, BA ‘73, MA ‘78, and a “Friend of HBI,” told us how apt it was for us to be meeting in the Epstein Building, now home to the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. She recalled that in 1972, she and nine other women had gathered in this space, then the home of the Brandeis Facilities garage, for a class on car repair taught by the university’s mechanic. That may have been the first women’s only class taught at Brandeis, but Levin and her peers continued to demand women’s studies offerings. The creation of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, now entering our 25th year, is in part the fruit of this advocacy a half century ago. 

Levin’s story really is an HBI story in that something seeded long ago came to fruition many years later in diverse and creative ways. This was evident in December when more than 1,200 Jewish Studies scholars came together in Boston for the annual Association for Jewish Studies Conference. I was delighted to see many HBI research affiliates, alumni of our Gilda Slifka Summer Internship, and scholars who were supported through the HBI Research Award program or the collegial environment of our Scholar in Residence program presenting exciting new work and important reflections shaping the future of the field of Jewish studies.

Joy Ladin

Many of this semester’s programs also highlight work supported by HBI during the research phase that has come to fruition. For the opening session of the Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series on Wed., Jan 25 at 7 pm, we will  learn with Joy Ladin, widely published essayist and poet, literary scholar and author of Shekhinah Speaks. Ladin’s new collection of compelling poetry, supported by a 2018 HBI Research Award elucidates and channels the voice of the Shekhinah, Judaism’s feminine aspect of G-d. We will follow with on Wed., Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. with Pnina Lahav, Professor of Law Emerita and winner of Israel’s Seltner Award, and the Gratz College Centennial Book Award, for her remarkable feminist biography of Golda Meir, The Only Woman in the Room: Golda Meir and Her Path to Power, in which Lahav explores the myth of how a lone woman surrounded by men makes it to the top. We will also celebrate the release of the newest book in the HBI Series on Jewish Women, Sculpting a Life: Chana Orloff between Paris and Tel Aviv, the first book-length biography of sculptor Chana Orloff (1888-1968), with author Paula Birnbaum on March 15 from 7 to 8 pm. 

Samantha Pickette and Rachel B. Gross, both former HBI interns and now published scholars and professors will be presenting on their latest research and publications. Drawing on themes she honed at HBI as a graduate intern and later working for the program as the Intern Academic Adviser, Pickette, now at University of Texas at Austin, presents Peak TV’s Unapologetic Jewish Woman: Exploring Jewish Female Representation in Contemporary Television Comedy on March 13 at noon. She will analyze the ways in which contemporary American television, Broad City, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, establish new versions of the Jewish woman and a new take on American Jewish female identity that challenges the stereotypes of Jewish femininity proliferated on television since its inception. 

Gross, now an HBI Scholar in Residence and associate professor at San Francisco State, will present, Preaching the Promised Land: Mary Antin’s American Religions on March 28 at noon, exploring Mary Antin’s variable and dynamic approaches to religion. As a political campaigner, a Zionist, a member of an intentional Christian community, a devotee of the Indian spiritual leader Meher Baba and more, Antin’s political and spiritual explorations tell us about the possibilities of early 20th-century American Jewish identities. 

We will also hear from novelists, Rachel Barenbaum and Elizabeth Graver, both of whom used their semesters as Scholars in Residence to complete research on Jewish women’s lives to write novels. Barenbaum will offer a sneak preview on Jan. 23 at noon of her next book, Lady Killers: Jewish Female Assassins in late 19th Century Russia, a collection of six short stories, each portraying a separate Jewish female assassin from the Russian Revolution including women who ran safe houses, built and planted bombs and planned various assassination attempts against the Czar. Graver will speak May 3 at 7 pm in the final program this semester of the  Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series. She will discuss her newly released book, Kantika, a dazzling Sephardic multigenerational saga based on the life of her grandmother, that moves from Istanbul to Barcelona, Havana, and New York, exploring displacement, endurance, and family as home.

A series of eyes with all different color pupils in the shape of an eye

Work by Gil Yefman

There are so many more programs to explore. Visit our Upcoming Events page to register and learn more about our Studio Israel programs with Gil Yefman Thurs. Feb. 9 at noon, and Zoya Cherkassky on Thurs. March 30 at noon; our seminars with Scholars in Residence Shula Mola on the Formation of Blackness In Israel: The Case of Ethiopian Jews on Mon., Feb. 27 at noon, Sivan Rujuan Shtang on Mizrahi Feminist Art: A Multicultural Imagination on Mon. March 6 at noon, and with Edith Pick, HBI Research Associate, on Gender Perspectives on Jewish Diaspora Organizations, on Mon. April 3 at noon. 

Many of these programs are available through the generosity of our donors and Friends of HBI. Contributions of any size help to fund research positions, research awards, student internships, and public programs. I am grateful to all our supporters, including our Friends of HBI. If you became a friend of HBI during the depths of the pandemic, I invite you to renew your support or become a new Friend of HBI  this year by making a sustaining annual gift of $180 or more. To discuss gifts in honor of our 25th anniversary, please reach out to me or contact Amy Powell. I hope to see you at these events online and in person. Please join us and feel free to spread the word about our work.


Lisa Fishbayn Joffe 

Dr. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe is The Shulamit Reinharz Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.

Become a Friend of HBI or make a gift of any amount here. 

Visit HBI’s Scholars at AJS

HBI is proud of our current scholars in residence and research associates who will be presenting at the 54th bookshelf in the HBI library with booksannual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies, Dec. 18-20. This conference, the largest annual gathering of Jewish Studies scholars in the world, will feature more than 1,200 attendees and 190 sessions along with programming, awards ceremonies and a major book exhibit of leading publishers. 

Below are the sessions featuring HBI’s affiliates, including our director, Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, our visiting scholars in residence and our research associates. Join us for a session if you are registered for #AJS22. Please check your conference program for session locations and updates. 


Session 5, Monday, December 19, 2022 8:30-10:00 am


Chair: Sara Ronis, St. Mary’s University, Texas, HBI Scholar in Residence

Bringing the Bible to Babylonia: The Bavli’s Infusion of the  

Mesopotamian landscape with Biblical narratives 

Omer Shadmi, Haifa University 

Saving Face with David: Echoes of b. Sanhedrin 107a-b in Tafsīr and Late  Midrash 

Madeline Wyse, University of California – Berkeley 

Tractate Kuttim and the Emergence of Jewish Dhimmitude, Eliav Grossman 


Chair: Keren R McGinity, USCJ, HBI Research Associate

“I Could Not Live a Double Life”: Giora Manor, the Kibbutz, and the  Dynamics of the Transparent Closet, Dotan Brom, Tel Aviv University

Sidney Franklin’s Verónica Pass: The First American Bullfighter and His  Construction of Queer Jewish Masculinity, Emily Robins Sharpe, Keene State College

The first Hungarian transgender children’s book? Gender nonconformity  in Jewish author Zsuzsa Kántor’s Szerelmem, Csikó (1973), Bogi Perelmutter, University of Kansas

“There is No Prize at the End of the Movement”: Alon Karniel’s Queer  Choreographic Structures as Jewish Diaspora, Hannah Kosstrin, The Ohio State University)

Session 3, Sunday, December 18, 2022 2:30-4:00 pm 


Moderators: Anna Hajkova, University of Warwick

Gregg Drinkwater, University of Colorado, Boulder 

Discussants: Rafael Balling, Stanford University

Aleksandra Gajowy,University of College Dublin

Carli Snyder, City University of New York, Graduate Center

Max Strassfeld, University of Arizona, HBI Scholar in Residence

Mir Yarfitz, Wake Forest University Department of History

Session 4, Sunday, December 18, 2022 4:15-5:45 pm


Chair: Yoel Kretzmer-Raziel, Achva Academic College

Constructing Corpses: The Babylonian Talmud and the Fetal Dead 

Sara Ronis, St. Mary’s University, Texas, HBI Scholar in Residence

The Animalization of Illness in Rabbinic Literature: Models of Illness and Rabbinic Subjectivity, Shulamit Shinnar, Columbia University

“Torah scholars who are similar to women, but act mightily like men;” Once again on construction of rabbinic masculinity Roni Shweka, Bar Ilan University

Session 4, Sunday, December 18, 2022 4:15 pm – 5:45 pm 


Discussants: Mara Benjamin, Mt. Holyoke College,  

Marla Brettschneider, University of New Hampshire, HBI Research Associate

Julie E. Cooper, Tel Aviv University

Session 5, Monday, December 19, 2022 8:30-10:00 am


Chair: Sara Ronis, St. Mary’s University, Texas, HBI Scholar in Residence

Bringing the Bible to Babylonia: The Bavli’s Infusion of the  

Mesopotamian landscape with Biblical narratives 

Omer Shadmi, Haifa University 

Saving Face with David: Echoes of b. Sanhedrin 107a-b in Tafsīr and Late  Midrash 

Madeline Wyse, University of California – Berkeley 

Tractate Kuttim and the Emergence of Jewish Dhimmitude, Eliav Grossman 


Chair: Marsha Dubrow, The Jewish Theological Seminary of America

“Call Forth My Southern Blood”: Performing Confederate Jewish  Womanhood, Heather Nathans, Tufts University

Cosmopolitanism and Cochin’s Jewish Women, Bindu Malieckal, Saint Anselm College, HBI Research Associate

Contributions to a Mizrahi Women’s Living Archive in the Face of Israeli  Ethnonationalism, Ilise Cohen 

Session 7, Monday, December 19, 2022 1:15-2:45 pm


Chair: Julia Sharff, The University of Toronto

Miriam Karpilove and the Yiddish Middlebrow

Jessica Anne Kirzane, The University of Chicago

Mary Antin as American Religious Seeker

Rachel B. Gross, San Francisco State University, HBI Scholar in Residence

Jessie Sampter: A Poet to Forget? Sarah Imhoff, Indiana University

Respondent: Laura Leibman, Reed College

Session 8, Monday, December 19, 2022 3:00-4:30 pm


Moderator: Max Strassfeld, University of Arizona, HBI Scholar in Residence

Discussants: Rachel Adelman, Hebrew College

Esther Brownsmith, MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society

Tyson Herberger, University of Southeastern Norway

Jane Nichols, Yale University

Madadh Richey, Brandeis University 

Session 10, Tuesday, December 20, 2022 8:30-10:00 am 


Chair: Michal Raucher, Rutgers University, HBI Scholar in Residence

Jewish Nationalism and Religion: The Hebrew Bible and the Formation of the “New Jew” 

Yitzhak Conforti, Bar-Ilan University

Shabbat According to their Halacha: Worship Rituals and Secular Observance Amongst Israelis on the Weekend, Stav Shufan, Bar Ilan University

Educational Prayer in Mandatory Jerusalem: The Case of the Evelina de Rothschild SIDDUR for Girls , Rueven Gafni, The Department for Eretz-Israel Studies, Kinneret Academic College)


Chair: Keren R. McGinity, USCJ, HBI Research Associate

Distinctively Jewish? Personal Names of American Jews, Sarah Bunin Benor, Alicia Blumenfeld Chandler, Wayne State University

Hebrew, French, and “Integration;” Confronting Community Change through Language Practices in a Luxembourgish Synagogue, Anastasia Badder, The University of Cambridge

Multilingualism and Identity Construction in the Ukrainian Jewish community during Russia’s War against Ukraine, Renee Perelmutter, University of Kansas

Thinking Strategies of Bible Study, Ehud Tsemach, Stanford University

Session 11, Tuesday, December 20, 2022 10:15 am – 11:45 am 


Chair: Norma Baumel Joseph, Concordia University

“A Distinctly Jewish Form of Domestic Violence”: Transformations in Jewish Communal Discourse Around Domestic Abuse and Get Refusal,  Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, Brandeis University

 “It was Humiliating”: Orthopraxy and power in stories of Get Abuse in Canada

 Deidre Butler, Carleton University,  Betina Appel Kuzmarov, Carleton University

“Scheming Woman, Clever Man: Rabbinic ambivalence towards abusive behavior in Jewish marriage and divorce” Mari Masha Yossiffon Halpern, University of Toronto, HBI Graduate Student Research Assistant

Compiled by Mara Lebovitz, Brandeis ‘24 and Amy Powell, HBI Assistant Director

‘A selfish, egocentric, jealous and unimaginative female’: Self-doubt among geniuses of the 20th century

(Opinions expressed are those of the writer, Lauren Hakimi.) 

By Lauren Hakimi

Grace Paley thought no one would read her stories. Sylvia Plath “felt sick” when she read back her work. Had I never visited the Smith College archives as part of the 2022 Gilda Slifka Internship Program, I might not have known about the widespread self-doubt among some of the geniuses of the 20th century. 

After visiting the Jewish Feminist Archives at Brandeis, all the HBI interns were excited to visit the Smith College archives. The day my fellow intern Miranda Hellmold Stone, a Smith student, suggested the idea, I went home and looked through the library website. I found a Grace Paley interview I could read, partly because it seemed interesting but also because I sensed that identifying a source for my summer project on Paley would bolster our argument when we pitched the Smith trip to our supervisor. I was equally excited, if not more so, about seeing the documents of Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf and Gloria Steinem. 

Our time in the archives was limited to a couple of hours. Still, what I managed to read demonstrated the uphill battle faced by women whowould turn out to be some of the best writers of the 20th century. The insecurity these women felt about their work is blatantly tied to their gender, and to discrimination against it.

“I put off writing in a way, because when I thought of stories, I thought of stories about women,” Paley, who began writing in the 1950s, said in the interview transcription I read at Smith. “But it seemed to me that nobody would read it. I thought, women’s stuff, they’re not going to read women’s stuff.”

In a journal entry she wrote in 1951, at age 18, Plath wrote, in all capital letters, “CAN A SELFISH EGOCENTRIC JEALOUS AND UNIMAGINATIVE FEMALE WRITE A DAMN THING WORTH WHILE?” As she wrote in the third person and used “female” as a noun, her wording suggests a misogynistic voice that has embedded itself in her head. Her early diaries are full of passages like this.

Plath compared her mind to “a wastebasket full of waste paper; bits of hair, and rotting apple cores” — surprising, since, at the time, mindlessly scrolling down Instagram until you desperately have to use the bathroom had not yet been invented. 

At one point, she even questioned the value of her existence at all, writing, “I think I am worthwhile just because I have optical nerves and can try to put down what they perceive. What a fool!” 

(I found these quotes in Plath’s published journals, not the Smith archives, but the Smith archives have a vast collection of her writings where she surely expresses similar sentiments.)

Of course, both Paley and Plath were geniuses, and despite their concerns, many people would read their work. Paley, for her part, influenced the short story, writing semi-autobiographical and extremely funny stories where, critics would complain, nothing actually happened. And Plath wrote The Bell Jar, one of the greatest novels in the history of American literature. Why were they so insecure? To what extent did that insecurity hinder them, and to what extent was it necessary to their success?

I believe self-doubt can be a good thing; while general doubt is the basis for scientific advancement, perhaps self-doubt is the basis for personal growth or the growth of a writer. Thus the saying that a good writer is someone never satisfied with their work. 

But self-doubt can also be crippling, as Paley described. It takes a certain ego for someone to take up space with her words. Plath, despite all her hair bits and apple cores, certainly had such an ego. Writers are notorious for this — for being both insecure and egocentric at the same time. This combination — possibly the result of extremely high standards rooted in the basic knowledge that one really can be a great writer — must be why writers have a reputation as being so annoying to work with or have as friends. 

Surely, no insecurity could have stopped women like this — forces of nature — from putting pen to paper. When somebody was the kind of writer they were, the words must have almost forced themselves out, no matter what risk they posed to the person speaking them. Writing is the means and ends of life, patriarchy or not. But then, if that were true, no great writer would commit suicide — as Plath did.

As multiple interns had expressed interest in Plath, Maureen Cresci Callahan, an archivist at Smith, who guided our exploration of the archives, brought out the typewriter the author had used as a college student. 

picture of Plath's Royal typewriter

Courtesy of the Sylvia Plath Collection, Smith College

I’d never written on a typewriter before. Two of my fingertips grazed its buttons, half-fearing that touching them might lead to the spontaneous combustion of all the world’s paper. Overcoming that fear, I tried typing a few words on it, but for some reason, whatever I wrote failed to materialize into an era-defining novel translated into at least 32 languages.

The typewriter had all the same letters as my own keyboard at home. I was surprised, as if I’d expected Plath to have access to some secret bonus letters that brought her thoughts to life. She had no such thing. No magic wand, no invisibility cloak, no secret telephone where God could reach her and whisper the words into her ear. She really just had this boring old typewriter. The boring old typewriter, and her mind.

One of the pieces of advice Paley gave aspiring writers in 1970 was that they didn’t have to be writers. She quoted a poem by Paul Goodman in which a man needs a new ship but says he is too tired to work for it. The shipbuilder responds:

“No one asks you, either,”/he patiently replied, “to venture/ forth./Whither? why? maybe just forget it.”

No one asked Plath to venture forth; no one asked Paley. In the end, we are all just unimaginative females sitting alone before a blank page. It is up to us to drag the truth from out of our hearts and shape it into art. A little bit of selfishness and egocentrism can only help with this noble cause.

Lauren Hakimi wearing a brown shirtLauren Hakimi is a writer and journalist with bylines in JTA, The New York Jewish Week, The Forward, Lilith magazine and more. She was a 2022 HBI Gilda Slifka Intern and is now the associate editor of New Voices magazine. Find her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi. 


Happy Anniversary to HBI: A Message from the Director

head shot of Lisa Fishbayn JoffeTwenty five years ago, in a small office at Brandeis, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute opened its doors to a single scholar, published one book, and gave out 20 HBI Research Awards.

Today, we have more than 60 books still in print, publish a leading journal and have hosted hundreds of scholars, interns, artists, and authors, and funded research all over the world. Most importantly, we are a crucial collaborator in the field of Jewish women’s and gender studies, making important contributions that have supported generations of innovative scholarship by and about Jewish women. Our work also finds its way into popular culture through best-selling books, major museum exhibitions and an upcoming major motion picture.

Former HBI interns and research assistants are now Jewish studies experts, Jewish clergy and Jewish communal leaders, helping to forge a more inclusive Judaism. HBI scholars and artists create new interpretations of identity and belonging from the perspectives of women, LGBTQ and non-binary people, inspiring individuals from all backgrounds to find their own authentic place in Jewish history and peoplehood. 

That’s why I am so proud to celebrate HBI’s contributions and to host a lineup of programs and scholars, artists, and authors that will continue to highlight the importance of HBI’s work and build on our legacy into the next 25 years. This year, we will share new research, new books and new solutions to some of the most challenging issues we face in terms of reproductive rights and domestic violence. 

We will continue to work collaboratively with our campus and community partners. Please visit our current art exhibition in the Kniznick Gallery, Seven Species, Three Generations, before it closes on Sept 15.  The show, which is rich with meaning, gorgeous, and appealing to all the senses, is the product of a collaboration between the Schön family of artists, who clearly take such joy and find so much inspiration for their work in each other, the Women’s Studies Research Center, and CJP.  The mission of HBI, and of Jewish Studies at Brandeis more broadly, is to produce and share new knowledge about Jewish life, traditions and texts. This show is a wonderful example of this, using the frameworks of gender, family relationships and art to find new meanings in these ritual foods and objects. It received rave reviews in The Boston Globe and JewishBoston.com

Please join us tonight, September 8, for a virtual program to learn about all the artists in the Seven Species, Three Generations exhibition. You will have an opportunity to see images of the art and hear the stories behind it in the panel moderated by Adele Fleet Bacow. 

Our opening session of the  Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series will take place on September 14, featuring HBI Scholar in Residence Rachel Barenbaum discussing her new book, Atomic Anna, a gripping read and powerful exploration of Jewish women’s lives in the former Soviet Union and as immigrants to America. It also deals with challenging relationships between mothers and daughters, spiced with discussions of nuclear disaster and time travel. It received a well-deserved positive review in the The New York Times.

On October 18, HBI Research Associate Tamar Biala will join us for the online launch of her book Dirshuni: Contemporary Women’s Midrash, the newest publication in the HBI Series on Jewish Women from Brandeis Dirshuni book jacketUniversity Press. This collection of contemporary women’s midrash, combining classical literary forms with feminist insights on topics ranging from re-interpreting women’s stories in the Torah to reproductive decision-making to responding to domestic violence, has been praised as a “unique and transformative” contribution to the Jewish canon. Read reviews from The Jewish Book Council, the Association of Jewish Libraries, and The Jerusalem Post.  We look forward to welcoming Biala in person for events later in the fall. 

On October 26, we will welcome HBI Scholar in Residence, Professor Max Strassfeld,speaking on their new book Trans Talmud: Androgynes and Eunuchs in Rabbinic Literature, which explores ways that Jewish texts understand non-binary and intersex individuals and considers how these insights might guide responses to contemporary legal and ethical struggles for equality. 

We welcome a cohort of new and continuing in-person hybrid,scholars in residence: In addition to Professor Strassfeld and Ms. Barenbaum, Dr. Shula Mola will begin her year-long visit during which she will produce an oral history of the women of Enkash, focusing on the phenomena of the Zar and the Mergem Gojo (blood hut) as spaces for resistance to patriarchal oppression in the Israeli-Ethiopian community. 

Professor Michal Raucher will join us to work on her new book The New Rabbis, which follows the career paths of women ordained to the Orthodox rabbinate and considers how their work is changing our understanding of what constitutes religious authority. 

Jewish law and tradition affirms a range of approaches to reproductive decision-making that are not reflected in the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health.  Even the most restrictive interpretations of Jewish law identify situations, where the mother’s life or health are at risk, abortion is not merely permitted but must be performed as mandatory religious duty (mitzvah) to save the mother’s life. Other widely adopted ideals within the Jewish community affirm the right to choose abortion for all pregnant people in ways that work best for their lives and their family circumstances. HBI Scholar in Residence Professor Sara Ronis will be spending her term with us studying how rabbinic discussions of the status of the fetus in various contexts shape the construction of notions of personhood. Our spring art show in the Kniznick Gallery will continue this theme, exploring the relationship between religion and reproductive rights through the work of a diverse group of artists reflecting on Jewish texts. 

All of this work is made possible by financial support from donors and friends. Contributions of any size help to fund research positions, research awards, student internships, and public programs. I am grateful to all our supporters, including more than 110 people who became Friends of HBI  last year. I invite you to renew your support or become a new Friend of HBI  this year by making a sustaining annual gift of $180 or more. To discuss gifts in honor of our 25th anniversary, please contact Amy Powell. 

I hope to see you at these events online and in person. Please join us and feel free to spread the word about our work.

Become a Friend of HBI or make a gift of any amount here. 


Dr. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe 

Dr. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe is The Shulamit Reinharz Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.



The HBI 2022 Internship: Research, Bonding and Wedding Bells

Hossein and Katayoun

By Amy Powell

When Katayoun started the HBI Gilda Slifka Summer Internship program in June, the last thing on her mind was sharing her wedding with a group of people she had  just met. 

When Cheryl Weiner accepted the job as the summer internship’s academic advisor, she was not expecting to host a wedding in a home that she didn’t yet live in. 

Madison Cissell, had recently married another couple by getting a license for one day, but she was not expecting to adapt her service while completing her work as an HBI summer intern. 

And, no one expected to be dying their hair purple. 

But, life has a way of throwing unexpected circumstances at us all. On July 23, Katayoun and her fiance Hossein, both 30, got married in the backyard of Weiner’s house with Cissell officiating and all of the Gilda Slifka summer interns taking various parts. It is the story of a group of young adults who came together to study Jews and gender, and after a few weeks of studying, talking, socializing, cooking, and living communally, created a bond so strong that they shared this special moment.

Gabi in purple tie, Noah and Miranda with purple hair

Noah Marchuck, Miranda Hellmold Stone, Gabi Matus

“We shared the same interests, we went to coffee shops, we studied together, and everyone supported each other. This internship became an incredible community and knowing the others was like knowing them forever,” Katayoun said.  

The Gilda Slifka HBI Summer Internship has a four-pronged approach. The students have an opportunity to create a unique research project in any aspect of Jews and gender with the assistance of a research adviser. At the same time, they support the work of an existing HBI affiliated scholar, take day trips to Jewish sights in the greater Boston area, and participate in a series of talks with scholars and authors on Jewish and gender issues. They live residentially at Brandeis and are paid for their work. For the past two years, the internship has been remote according to Brandeis covid-19 protocol, but was able to resume live this summer.

Weiner noted that Katayoun and Hossein, both Iranian, were searching for a community and this internship became one where they were embraced. “It was so incredible. We had a Muslim wedding with vows in Farsi by a Jewish American of Iranian descent, with a Christian minister for the day under an arch built by my Jewish husband,” Weiner said. 

Both Katayoun and Hossein are doctoral students at the University of Connecticut. Their families are in Iran and not able to come to the U.S. because of immigration policies. They had been looking for venues and ideas for a small wedding and at one point asked Weiner if she knew of any waterfront homes or boats they could rent for the day. Instead she offered to host the wedding herself, just two weeks after moving into a new home.

“I thought it was a great idea. It’s the first time we lived in a place with space. I just felt like we had a beautiful space and I wanted to bring beautiful people into our space together. Being in community with people is so important,” Weiner said.

With Cissell offering to officiate, and Lauren Hakimi, another intern was able to recite the vows in Persian, they had the building blocks of a wedding. Then, everyone chipped in. Michaela Harrel lent her expertise in photography, Mia Hay did the flowers and the day’s itinerary, and Miranda Hellmold Stone and Noah Marchuck served as maid of honor and best man. Miranda’s mother, Margery Hellmold, joined the festivities to lend her beautiful singing voice to the ceremony. Marchuck did the grilling and Weiner’s daughter, Gabi Matus, 15, created all the desserts.

Because Katayoun loves the color purple, the wedding took on a purple theme with many of the guests and participants dying their hair purple and wearing purple clothing. Matus’ desserts featured homemade vanilla blackberry ice cream, purple heart-shaped sugar cookies and purple cake pops. 

Cissell thought the nature of the group and the internship helped to create the close bonds they felt with each other. “We all got so close. There was a bit of diversity in the group – we all came from other places, no one knew anyone before it started. We lived in close quarters. The intensity brings you closer together as we are all navigating work for our advisors, our personal projects and the other programs,” Cissell said. 

Despite the workload, she was thrilled to participate in the wedding. “When else do you get this opportunity in an eight-week program to throw a wedding for your friend, co-intern, roommate?”

Katayoun loved the idea of so many different types of religions mixing into the ceremony. “The kindness felt very holy to us. These friendships are pure and sacred. There are lots of religions here and we are all sharing the same values, respecting each other. I didn’t care if we didn’t share the same religion. In reality we were like family members and our families in Iran were so happy that we found great friends and felt like we had a family.”

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI with contributions from Lauren Hakimi, 2022 Gilda Slifka Intern.

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