Something Worth Celebrating

On Friday, I woke up before 8:00 am for the first time in probably over a year to set up the Great Lawn for Celebrate Brandeis. I think the approximately 300 Brandeisians who attended Celebrate Brandeis would also attest that waking up early was well worth sacrificing some sleep.

On December 3rd at 8:45 am the Westboro Baptist Church arrived in Waltham with a message of religious intolerance and extremism. Instead of fueling the fire with more antagonism, we responded by celebrating our values: tolerance, pluralism, social justice and love.

We ate, sang songs of peace, painted and danced in what was probably Brandeis’ largest Hora. The lawn was filled with undergraduates as well as graduate students, faculty, administrators, staff and Waltham community members. President Reinharz and President-elect Lawrence were present to support this student-led initiative, as well as all four of the Chaplains.

Throughout the rest of the day, the events in the SCC and the success of Hillel’s Harry Potter Shabbat further displayed Brandeis’ diversity and overarching commitment to pursuing a better world.

More significantly, we raised almost 4,000 dollars for Keshet, a Boston based Jewish GLBTQ organization. Over 1,400 individuals signed our “Commitment to Celebrate” statement:

Although Celebrate Brandeis may have originated as a productive and meaningful response to the “visit” from Westboro Baptist Church, in my opinion, it took on a life of its own; Brandeis, like many places, is oversaturated with groups, activities, and service projects. Students at Brandeis come from across the globe, representing a wide spectrum of faiths and political perspectives. However, on December 3rd, we stood completely united in supporting Hillel and the wider Brandeis community not in spite of our differences, but because of them.

Personally, I felt very empowered, humbled and overwhelmed by this positive response. Celebrate Brandeis originated from the minds of a couple passionate students sitting in Hillel Lounge on a Saturday night. It grew to include the voices of over 100 concerned students joining together in the Castle Commons for a shared purpose. The culmination included a massive cross section of campus with the support of the administration, staff, alumni, family, friends and the wider Boston community.

December 3rd has come and passed; but this does not mean we should forget this experience or stop being united through our diversity and pursuing social justice. Because at Brandeis, we know that we are better together. Westboro Baptist Church members have climbed into their van and taken their tour of hate elsewhere. However, I am confident that Brandeisians will continue working to build a world where screams of hate are drowned out by songs of pluralism.

To me, this is something truly worth celebrating.

The Schedule for Tomorrow

Here’s the full schedule.

The outline for Friday looks like this:

Kickoff: Great Lawn at 8:30-9:30 AM
Featuring speakers, performances, and other programming by a wide range of campus leaders and groups. More activities will occur through out the day.

Brandeis Peace Vigil 12:10-12:40pm
Every Friday the interfaith chaplaincy comes together to host a weekly peace vigil at the Peace Circle, from 12:10-12:40pm. This Friday we are placing a special focus on confronting bigotry peacefully. We welcome everyone to come join us, regardless of your religious (or non-religious) background! We’ll start with a few minutes of reflective silence, then we’ll share our thoughts, and we’ll close with a song.

More events throughout the day in the SCC including:

Community Lunch 1:30pm:
This is Celebrate Brandeis day, so let’s talk about something worth celebrating – Brandeis and Social Justice. We’re trying to show that Brandeis is a community – so let’s build that community by having staff, faculty, and students mix in an informal setting.

Teach-In on Community Organizing and Leadership Development – 3pm
Corey Hope Leaffer is a kickass Brandeis alum. She’s agreed to lead a workshop teaching us about leadership development, how to build a strong organization, and teambuilding. One thing worth celebrating about Brandeis is our commitment to Justice. Corey’s going to teach us about how to actually make change we want to see in the world.

Ending: Shabbat Dinner (theme: Harry Potter)
Sherman Function Hall at 6:30 PM. Featuring a surprise special guest.

The full schedule can be found here
Continue reading “The Schedule for Tomorrow”

Daily Phelps-a-thon Update: We’ve gone Viral

A dispatch from Chaya Bender
Today alone we raised $1041.25 with 31 pledges…
That brings the grand total to $3167.94! Un-fricken-believable!
I am so very proud to be a Brandeisian.

While we are raising these large sums of money, let us not forget to meditate on exactly who we are helping. Take a minute of your time and sign Keshet’s Pledge to Save Lives:

Text: Continue reading “Daily Phelps-a-thon Update: We’ve gone Viral”

Phelps-a-Thon update – Tufts edition

another dispatch from Chaya Bender
First off, the numbers: so far we’ve raised $2077.75 with 76 pledges to support Keshet!

Brandeis University’s Phelps-a-thon is doing so well but we can always do better!
Keep up the amazing work! Send the link to everyone you know and to that person’s dog walker!

There will still be tabling at meals throughout the week, so come by and donate or just to shmooze. We will be dorm storming on Thursday night, so get ready to rock’n’roll.

In other news, check out the Phelps-a-thon facebook page from Tuft’s Queer Straight Alliance. From their facebook page:

“The anti-LGBT “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church, led by Rev. Fred Phelps, is coming to Massachusetts on December 3rd and 4th to protest at the Brandeis University Hillel and Framingham High School’s production of The Laramie Project. We are encouraging people to make a pledge online, any amount you chose, for every minute WBC pickets the school. In a twist of poetic justice, the longer the Phelps clan protests, the more money they will raise for LGBT equality and awareness. During the picket at Brandeis, the funds raised will benefit Keshet, a local LGBT Jewish group. While protesting at Framingham High School, the clan will be raising funds to benefit the school’s Gay Straight Alliance. Please pledge today and help spread the link far and wide. Thank you!”

Daily Phelps-a-thon Update

From Chaya Bender, co-facilitator of fundraising:
Daily Phelps-a-thon Update:
$1545.25 and 53 pledges!

We will be tabling all week for lunch and dinner in Usdan and Sherman. Please stop by and donate at that time!
You will also be able to sign Keshet’s Pledge to save lives and our very own Pledge to Celebrate Brandeis.

Keep up the good work, team!

Also: Meeting tonight 7pm Castle Commons. It’s the second community meeting for all of Brandeis to plan our response, events for the day, should we all wear the same colors on Friday, etc.

How you can get involved

Megan Straughan was sent this out as facebookmail for the “Celebrate Brandeis committee” event. Everyone should have a chance to read this and learn how to get involved.

Thanks to everyone for their participation so far and the hard work coming up! Now is the time for everyone to put themselves into event planning for the response to the WBC protest of the Brandeis Hillel and community!

Quick updates first:
This morning we met with several administrators, including Ed Callahan (Director of Public Safety) and Andrew Gully (Senior Vice President Communications and External Affairs). While they voiced concerns, they were overwhelmingly supportive of the cause and of students. We discussed the safety and security of all Brandeis community members and our goal of focusing on celebrating Brandeis and refusing to give in to what WBC wants.

The following plans for the day have been reached:
-8:30-9:30: Celebrate Brandeis festival (Great Lawn)

-9:30-4: Campus-organized events in the SCC

-Hillel’s Shabbat Dinner will be open to the campus

-Daniel will work with Public safety to send a message to the campus about security measures and protocols for the event.

And now it’s time for all of us to create the evens of the day! We ask that over the break all of you work in your breakout groups, go back to your clubs, and start collaborating with peers to create events for the festival and for the period between the festival and the Shabbat dinner. After the break we’ll have another campus-wide meeting to check in on plans and logistics.

We would love to see groups collaborating! E-mail Mark Hajjar ( with ideas, and we will help with logistics and resources such as room reservations.

The point-people for each breakout group (established in the first community-wide meeting) are listed below. We would love to see new people joining them! If you’d like to create a different breakout group, send an e-mail to, and I’ll send your info out to the group to get things started.

Thanks so much for your passion and commitment! Have a wonderful break!

Megan Straughan

Safety: Daniel Achempong (

Fundraising: Morgan Gross (
Chaya Ariel Bender (

Media: Rachel Goldfarb (

First Hour/Festival: Erica Shaps (

Day of Events: Mark Hajjar (
Matt Zunitch (
Hannah Pollack (

Celebrate, Don’t React!

If our responses are celebratory instead of reactionary, productive instead of abrasive, we can accomplish so much more. Lets love and respect each other instead of hating them.

Hello Innermost Parts!

A little bit about myself: My name is Erica, I am a sophomore majoring in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies with a minor in Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Studies. I am a coordinator of the Brandeis Interfaith Group and on Hillel Board. I am really new at blogging and am exited to share my perspectives with you!

As I am sure everybody knows by this point, the Westboro Church is coming to Brandeis the morning of Friday, December 3rd , specifically targeting Hillel at Brandeis. As a Hillel member and Jewish Brandeisian who embraces diversity and pluralism, I feel personally hurt and violated. I know that I am not alone.

I also feel angry. There is a part of me who wants nothing more than to confront them, talk to them, do something ridiculous. WBC has the potential to bring out the worst in me, the worst in us.

When I really thought about both what they are out to accomplish, and our University’s values, I realized that direct, reactionary confrontation would not be the best response. WBC wants to prove that college students are irresponsible and immoral. They want us to cause a scene and get violent and react so they can sue us to further fuel their hatred. If we are not careful, we can easily end up being sued for assault and/ or indecent exposure. I am not saying that having fun or reacting is morally wrong- I am just saying that we would be giving them exactly what they want.

To be honest, even though Brandeis is a creative community, I do not think we could develop a response that they have not seen before. We would not be the first to start praying or kissing or drinking and we would not be more effective than anyone who has done this in the past. We are not going to be able to have a pleasant conversation with them, or make them change their minds. In my personal opinion, efforts to do so would be fruitless and counterproductive.

Instead, what if all of Brandeis united to create a response that was both meaningful and could work towards a larger goal?

It will be a much greater accomplishment if Brandeis took advantage of this moment and created a unified response, completely isolated from them, to support Hillel and our community by embracing and living our Brandeis values. We could also use this as a catalyst to fundraise for an organization that represents our concerns and interests.

If our responses are celebratory instead of reactionary, productive instead of abrasive, we can accomplish so much more. Lets love and respect each other instead of hating them.

Hillel, the Student Union and many other Student organizations are currently planning a festival to celebrate our diversity and campus culture of pluralism while showing support to our numerous friends who feel attacked and distressed. We are also going to be having a fundraiser over the course of the day for an organization working towards Brandeis ideals of social justice.

I am please to know that so many students have expressed the same sentiments and are energetic about developing a response for the morning that WBC is on campus. I look forward in working with all of you, sharing more details of our planned celebration, and showing ourselves and the world just how beautiful of a community we can be.