Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

The HBI 2022 Internship: Research, Bonding and Wedding Bells

Aug. 5, 2022

By Amy Powell

Hossein and KatayounWhen 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 academi 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.

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