BGI Undergraduate fellowship kicks off with a weekend seminar at Southbridge, MA

BGI Undergraduate Fellowship kicked off this past weekend (October 4th-6th) with an opening seminar at Southbridge, MA.  Seventeen fellows, all of whom are undergraduate students at the Brandeis University, gathered together for a weekend full of meaningful, intellectual and fun activities. This weekend marked the beginning of a two-year program that integrates academic study at Brandeis with BGI extracurricular programming designed to enhance connections to the Russian-speaking Jewish world. 

Breanna Vizlakh, BGI Fellow ‘15, reflects about her experience at the seminar:

Individually, the BGI fellowship currently consists of a fairly diverse mix of cohorts. Some are seniors, well-versed in the procedures and events of the fellowship. Others are juniors, nestled between the graduating class and the most recent addition: sophomores like me, for whom this is not only the first BGI retreat but also our first opportunity to become fully acquainted with the full array of fellowship members. Collectively, we all approached our first retreat together as a learning experience.

We each faced our own form of challenges throughout the duration of this retreat. For some, this was the first foray into a formal Shabbat ceremony. For others, the unexpected Russian lesson we received was a perplexing undertaking. But as we learned through the multitude of physical and mental team-building exercises we completed during the weekend, the most important thing was that we faced those challenges together.

The activities, discussion sessions, and ceremonies we participated in all provided us with the opportunity to consider each other’s perspectives and observe both the immense similarities in our backgrounds and upbringings, as well as the significant differences in our individual methods of adaptation to immersion in American culture. We explored the differences in our traditions and bonded through our mutual struggle to simultaneously distinguish the cultural and religious ingredients of our personalities and accept the product of those influences being blended together within each of us.

As a whole, our group can now look back upon this retreat as a great educational experience and an invaluable bonding opportunity. We learned that individually, each of us is an efficient leader, but together we are a strong support system for each other. By participating in this retreat, we developed a deep trust in one another and we all came together to embrace one of the core values of the Jewish religion: community. By partaking in this eye-opening, emotional experience, we all connected to form a new BGI family.