Around Campus

Cuban musician builds ties with Brandeis by playing her violinPosted: June 29, 2016
Photo/Caroline Cataldo

Paula Ochoa

Paula Maria Serrano Ochoa never thought she’d get to leave her home country – Cuba – much less set foot in the United States.

But with the help of Brandeis Professor of the Practice of Music Daniel Stepner, Ochoa did just that, bringing her violin with her for the trip of a lifetime.

“It’s very different here, in so many aspects,” said Ochoa, who met Stepner in January while he was visiting her hometown of Santiago de Cuba along with 20 other American artists and musicians.

“Everyone has a cell phone and there are cars – so many new cars – in Cuba all of the cars are old.”

Stepner attended a concert at Ochoa’s conservatory, Estavan Salas, and was immediately struck by the way she played her violin. Almost instantly, he wanted to extend an offer for Ochoa to visit Brandeis and attend his one-week Bach Unaccompanied Violin workshop from June 19 to 24 at the Slosberg Music Center.

“It wasn’t supposed to be a recruiting trip,” Stepner said. “But then I heard Paula, and the way she played was so dramatic. She has natural music talent and she enjoys performing.”

Ochoa, who is 18 years old, began playing the violin when she was five. She performs everything from Spanish flamenco music, to salsa, to classics like Bach as well as a Latin style called Betances.

To Stepner’s delight, Ochoa liked the prospect of coming to Brandeis, so he began to explore the daunting process of making her trip possible. The U.S. embargo with Cuba is more relaxed now than in it has been in recent years, but the logistics of arranging a trip between the two countries can still be a nightmare.

Stepner used a Brandeis scholarship as well as leftover funds from his January trip to Cuba – which was paid for, in part, through a GoFundMe page, to book Ochoa’s ticket to the U.S.

Ochoa was interviewed at the U.S. consulate in Havana to obtain her travel visa, then reserved her seat on a flight to New York with just two weeks to spare.

Both Stepner and the students at the summer string workshop were grateful to have Ochoa in their company.

She shared her experiences of living in Cuba and took in a slice of American college life.

“Paula has a delightful personality and is a joy to be around and I think everyone enjoyed having her here for this workshop,” Stepner said. “So, there was that interaction across borders. I’m also happy she’s had a chance to see one of the nicer parts of American society, the college campus.”

Ochoa is looking forward to taking what she’s been exposed to in the U.S. to further develop her career as a musician. She envisions becoming a soloist in the future, or maybe even joining Havana’s advanced music conservatory.

“In Cuba, hobbies don’t exist, so this is not a hobby,” she said, holding up her violin. “This is work, this is a career, this is the future, this is all.

“It’s my life, in all senses.”

Anat Hoffman visits Hadassah-Brandeis InstitutePosted: June 16, 2016

From left: Ellen Golub, HBI research associate; Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, HBI associate director; Anat Hoffman; Shulamit Reinharz, HBI founding director; Amy Powell, HBI communications director

Anat Hoffman, chair of the board of Women of the Wall and executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the civil and human rights organization addressing issues of religion and state, visited the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute last week. She shared her views on how the organization, slowly and steadily over 27 years, has scored important victories for women’s religious rights at the Western Wall. Their goal is to achieve the right to wear prayer shawls, pray and read Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.

At the same time, Hoffman acknowledged how much work lies in front of them. For example, on the day of her visit, Lesley Sachs, executive director of Women of the Wall, was arrested in Jerusalem for bringing a 1838 Torah scroll, donated from a Sacramento Calif., to the Kotel to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Sivan (new month). Women in the past have been detained or arrested, but these actions slowed in January when the Israeli government approved the creation of an upgraded egalitarian prayer space for non-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall. Now, they seem to be on the upswing as Orthodox leaders temporarily staged a takeover on the area of the Western Wall designated for egalitarian prayer and rivals began to stage provocations on both sides of the issue.

Hoffman, in taking a long view, noted that setbacks are part of the process. Each time a woman is arrested for peacefully reading from the Torah “the whole system is rocked,” Hoffman said. Overall, incidents of gender segregation in the public sphere are down in Israel and she sees that as important progress. Each year IRAC publishes a pamphlet titled, “Excluded, For God’s Sake: Gender Segregation and the Exclusion of Women in the Public Sphere in Israel,” but this year incidents were down so much they decided to publish every other year. For example, IRAC’S law suit against a radio station which refused to broadcast women’s voices has led to women’s inclusion in their programming. In addition, forced segregated seating on public buses has ended due to a series of successful lawsuits against bus drivers reminding them of their duty not to be complicit in discrimination.
Alumnus Len Asper '86 to speak at 2016 International Business School diploma ceremonyPosted: May 17, 2016

Brandeis University alumnus Len Asper ‘86 will receive the Dean’s Medal and deliver remarks at the Brandeis IBS diploma ceremony on Sunday, May 22. Asper is the current president and CEO of Anthem Sports and Entertainment Corporation.

Asper has remained an active member of the Brandeis University community since his graduation. He was a member of the board of trustees from 2007 to 2015, and he currently serves as a member of the board of overseers at Brandeis IBS. In 2014,

Asper was elected to the board of fellows, an honorary society that recognizes members of the University family who have made significant contributions of their and time and resources to Brandeis. He founded the Asper Center for Global Entrepreneurship in 2002 with the goal of encouraging entrepreneurial spirit and innovative thinking at the business school. The center serves as the business school’s platform for examining key trends affecting entrepreneurship across cultures and borders.

Prior to founding Anthem Sports and Entertainment Corporation, Asper spent more than a decade serving as the CEO of Canwest Global Communications Corporation, the largest media conglomerate in Canada at the time. At Anthem, he leads an entertainment network that owns and operates TV channels and digital assets such as Fight Network, FNTSY Sports Network, Pursuit Channel and SportsGrid.com.

"Len is the embodiment of World Ready given his impressive global business career, his personal involvement with Brandeis IBS and his passion for entrepreneurship,” said Brandeis IBS Dean Bruce Magid, P ’15. "He exemplifies doing well in business and good for society, and I know our graduates will find him inspiring."

Before the diploma ceremony and Brandeis University commencement, the Brandeis IBS Class of 2016 will participate in a series of graduation events:

Friday, May 20 - 11 a.m. - 
Commencement Rehearsal and BBQ Luncheon

Friday, May 20 - 4 p.m. - 
Dean’s Reception

Saturday, May 21 - 3 p.m.
 - Celebrating our Graduates Reception for Friends and Family

Sunday, May 22 - 8 a.m.
 - Brandeis IBS Diploma Ceremony

For more information about Brandeis University Commencement, click here.

Yehudah Mirsky’s book wins Choice Award, $25,000 prizePosted: April 13, 2016

Brandeis professor Yehudah Mirsky won the 2016 Choice Award and a $25,000 prize from the Jewish Book Council for “Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution.”

The book, (Yale University Press, 2014) depicts this seminal figure of 20th-century Judaism as a product of the zeitgeist in which he lived, full of revolution, the search for personal meaning, and serious attempts to improve and redeem mankind, according to the Jewish Book Council.

“Rav Kook was perhaps the greatest Jewish mystic of the 20th century,” said Mirsky, associate professor in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. “Indispensable though he is to understanding present-day Israel and modern Jewish thought, he’s little known and less understood in the English-speaking world. I’ve tried to change that at least a little, with this brief volume aimed at general and scholarly readers alike.

“This award is a sign of the interest his life and works have sparked thus far, and I hope others will be moved to study and write on him even more.”

Mirsky will be honored on May 18, 2016 at 7 p.m. at a public program sponsored by the Jewish Book Council at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

The HistoryMakers partners with Brandeis to modernize video archive of African-American experience Posted: April 11, 2016

Sixteen years ago, oral historian Julieanna Richardson '76 began recording first-person interviews with African Americans from all walks of life to create a one-of-a-kind archive of the African-American experience called The HistoryMakers. Since then, more than 2,700 oral histories totaling 9,000 hours have been recorded on video, making The HistoryMakers the single largest archival project of its kind in the world.

Gen. Colin Powell, children’s advocate Marian Wright Edelman, entertainer and civic activist Harry Belafonte, and President Barack Obama are represented in the archive, as are countless other less well known African Americans who have told their personal stories.

Now, with the support of a generous $725,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Brandeis University, Ms. Richardson’s alma mater, will work with The HistoryMakers to modernize the technological foundations of the digital archive. The one-year grant, which also funds the creation of a new client for the digital archive to be produced by Carnegie Mellon University, is a crucial first step toward enhancing online access to the collection for students and scholars across the country and around the world.

In addition, Brandeis is one of 11 elite universities to gain access to The HistoryMakers’ archive through a first-ever digital subscription partnership. The digital subscription partnership will give scholars and students unprecedented access to the most significant archive of African-American life.

“It means the world to me that my alma mater is leading the modernization of the archive and has joined as a digital subscriber. It’s all come full circle for me,” said Julieanna Richardson ’76, founder and executive director of the The HistoryMakers. “This important modernization of the digital archive will ensure the oral history of thousands of African Americans lives on for generations.”

Ms. Richardson first began to understand the power of oral history as a Brandeis sophomore when she interviewed African-American actors Thelma Butterfly McQueen and Leigh Whipper for a research project on the Harlem Renaissance. These personal narratives inspired her, and gave her the idea to establish The HistoryMakers many years later.

“We are honored that The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has selected Brandeis to modernize and secure the future of The HistoryMakers’ prized archive, with the goal of eventually making this singular collection available to scholars, students and the general public,” said Brandeis’ Interim President Lisa M. Lynch. “It is fitting that we will partner with Ms. Richardson, who has made a remarkable contribution to the rich chronicle of the African-American experience.”

Brandeis’ Library and Technology Services project team, in tandem with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, will implement improvements to the video collection’s web platform; establish a higher-education advisory board to develop a strategy for promoting use of the video archive by institutions of higher learning across the country; and identify a video-host provider that can deliver responsive video on a variety of platforms, including smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

“The nation is indebted to Julieanna Richardson for her tireless effort in establishing and building this extraordinary collection of the oral histories of contemporary African Americans,” said Donald J. Waters, senior program officer at the Mellon Foundation. “HistoryMakers needs to be more widely known and studied, and this collaboration among HistoryMakers, Brandeis and Carnegie Mellon promises to increase both the visibility and usability of the collection.”

John Unsworth, Brandeis University’s librarian, vice provost and chief information officer, is the project’s principal investigator.

“We are looking forward to working with The HistoryMakers to put this collection of oral histories on a sustainable technological platform,” Unsworth said. “This work will make it possible to improve The HistoryMakers’ website, and pave the way to make the archive available for generations to come to learn from and enjoy.”

Interviews with more than 200 of the nation’s leading African-American scientists are already publicly available at the Library of Congress, The HistoryMakers’ official repository.

Rosenstiel Award winner speaks on campusPosted: April 7, 2016

It’s not very often you hear this about a scientist visiting Brandeis — "He’s a rock star."

Anna Kazatskaya, a doctoral candidate in biology, was talking about Yoshinori Ohsumi, this year’s recipient of the Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research.

Ohsumi, a cell biologist at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, pioneered research into autophagy, an adaptive mechanism of cells where they rid themselves of certain parts either to rebuild strength, fight infection, or, on the downside, trigger disease.

Ohsumi’s work focuses on yeast, though it’s also broadly applicable to humans as well. His talk was entitled, "Lessons from yeast: Cellular recycling system, autophagy."

In introducing Ohsumi, James E. Haber, the director of the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center, said there’d been roughly 23,000 scientific papers written about autophagy. "It’s possible to trace their lineage back to a single person and that person is Professor Ohsumi," Haber said.

He said Ohsumi’s research tapped into the "awesome power of yeast genetics” to identify the 18 different proteins that direct the degradation of protein aggregates as well as huge organelles such as damaged mitochondria.  Having worked out the biochemical roles of each of the core autophagy components and how they are assembled into complex “machines,”  Ohsumi and his students went on to show that this apparatus is completely conserved in mammals and even plants.  Defects in autophagy have recently been associated with many human diseases including cancer.  

Ohsumi said in his talk that when he began researching autophagy, "not very many people were interested." It was assumed the cell dumped internal components into a "garbage can" full of junk. He took an interest in autophagy, he said, "because I’m not a very competitive person so I wanted to work in a field where not a lot of people were working."

Since the Rosenstiel Award was created in 1971, 34 recipients have later won the Nobel Prize. "It’s a great honor to be here," Ohsumi said in his speech. Perhaps he will soon be saying the same in Sweden.