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the helix project — making the past present

Yiddishkayt’s Groundbreaking Helix Project

The Helix Project, now the joint initiative of Yiddishkayt and the historic Workmen’s Circle, tells the story of the rich, diverse cultural life of the Jews of Eastern Europe. Since 2011, Helix has been transforming the way Jewish history is taught and perceived by bringing groups of university students to the historical heartlands of Jewish life in Europe. Here, they experience a three-week long immersion in cultural history, actively observing how European Jewish life, contrary to the dominant story, was not a successive chain of miseries — but a millennium filled with creativity, joy, and vitality. The Helix attempts to make this experience possible to the widest variety of students, regardless of financial status, and subsidizes each participant’s trip costs to the greatest extent possible.

The helix project creates young global ambassadors bringing a vision of culture that tells a fuller story of Jewish life — filled with joy, intercultural coexistence, and creative potential. Apply now!

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 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?

Click here to see some incredible images from the 2013 Helix Project.

Click here to see some incredible images from the 2013 Helix Project.

This year, the Helix will once again take students out of the classroom and into the streets of the places that were once home to the majority of the world’s Jewish population. Helix students take the lead in thoughtfully and creatively sharing their skills and knowledge — academic, artistic, and social — with the group: Helixers facilitate discussions and navigate exploration of sites. The project is organized by Yiddishkayt, the trend-setting non-profit that has promoted Yiddish language and culture, and especially the values of cultural openness and compassion embodied in that culture, for the past two decades.

The program starts in Los Angeles with intensive crash courses in the languages, history, and culture of Eastern European Jewish life. Students also spend several days at the Ojai Foundation, where Helix partners with the Center for Council Practice to become immersed in methods of compassionate and mindful listening and discussion. These practices are developed in daily Councils throughout the trip. Then the group flies to Europe to follow in the footsteps of Yiddish poets, visit centers of Jewish political activism, and make literary pilgrimages to the places writers and artists lived and created their masterpieces.

A Sneak Peak of the Helix Project

why the helix?

Over the past 60 years, the catastrophe of the Holocaust has understandably dominated our sense of how Jews lived in the world. The study of Jewish culture and history has become overwhelmingly focused on despair and tragedy to the point where Jews and catastrophe have become inextricably linked. The success of Holocaust education has highlighted a serious absence: Students know about loss, but not what was lost. When Jewish culture is taught from its endpoints, the Holocaust is allowed to triumph over the memory of the vibrancy of Jewish life.

Helix is the only program that seeks to fight against this erasure by helping students learn to see and investigate the diversity that once defined Jewish life, exploring the landscapes Jews called home and the cultural treasures produced there. Helix creates a fuller, more inclusive view of life and history.

Helix approaches Jewish culture as world culture — using Yiddish as a model of the creative possibilities that occur when cultures mix together and fuse. The Yiddish language is a living record of the cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic exchange that historically defined Jewish life and continues to characterize our increasingly diverse multicultural world.

who is the helix for?

Helix teaches that no culture or history can be understood without its local context. The creative coexistence of Jews with their neighbors demonstrates precisely this. Jewish culture is not examined as particular cultural property or as a way to turn inward, but rather as an opportunity to see how people of differing nationalities, languages, and religions can create together. Visiting these places where Jews once lived — but live no longer — also shows, in the most palpable way, the terrible dangers of insularity and intolerance.

Helix 2014 is open to all full-time students enrolled during the 2013–2014 academic year at an accredited degree-granting college or university. As part of the program’s commitment to teaching Jewish culture in a world-historical context, it is open to students of all backgrounds who wish to explore this culture in the most creative, direct, and personal way possible — and regardless of financial status.


who are the helixers?

The program is open to all full-time college and university 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 the field of Jewish culture. Undergraduate students must be enrolled full-time during the 2013–2014 year at an accredited college or university. Graduate students may also apply, although the number of graduate student positions will be limited.

Read what this year’s Helixers have to say about coming on the program!

who leads the helix project?

The Helix is led by today’s leading scholars of Jewish history, literature, and culture, alongside advanced graduate students in these fields. Helix alumni from previous years also join the trip as Resident Assistants.

how much does this cost?

A month of international travel can be financially daunting! One of our aims is to make this incredible experience available to all exceptional students who are passionate about this subject. To this end, we try to offer enough support to allow all students to participate including those who, without financial aid, may not be able to study abroad. Financial support ranges from scholarships of $1,800 to fellowships that cover nearly all trip expenses (exclusive of domestic and international airfare). This year’s tuition and fees (including all materials, ground transportation, insurance, lecturers and guides), fees, and room & board costs total $4,695 per student (not including air travel).

Find out more.


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