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Helix transforms Jewish history—bringing students to the historical heartland of European Jewish life to explore its vibrancy and celebrate Yiddish culture.
Madeleine Cohen
Los Angeles, California
United States
2 Team Members

What is Helix? 

The Helix Project tells the story of the life, not the death, of the Jews of Eastern Europe. For too long, mainstream Jewish institutions have distilled the fascinating history of Jewish life to a handful of talking points: religion, Israel, Holocaust, and a vague emphasis on "maintaining Jewish identity." Helix wants to transform the way Jewish history is taught and perceived.

We bring a group of 12 university students to the historical heartland of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe for an expenses-paid three-week long immersion in cultural history to see 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.

We start in LA with an intensive crash course in the languages, history, and culture of Eastern European Jewish life. The trip then moves to Europe, where students follow in the footsteps of Yiddish poets in Belarus, visit centers of Jewish political activism in Poland, and make a literary pilgrimage to Vilnius, the "Jerusalem of Lithuania."

Helix students take the lead in sharing their skills and knowledge—academic, artistic, and social—with the group, learn to facilitate discussion and to navigate exploration of new sites. Helix takes students out of the classroom and into the streets of the places that were recently home to the majority of the world’s Jewish population.

Helix is organized by Yiddishkayt, the trend-setting non-profit which has promoted Yiddish language and culture, and especially the values of cultural openness and compassion embodied in that culture, for the past two decades.

Traces of Jewish Life in Vilnius

Why Helix is Unique

Over the past 60 years, the catastrophe of the Holocaust has understandably dominated our sense of how Jews lived in the world. University courses on Jewish culture focus overwhelmingly on despair and tragedy. 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 having students witness just how alive Jewish life once was, exploring the landscapes Jews called home and the cultural treasures produced there. Helix creates a fuller, more inclusive view of Jewish life and history.

Helix is open to students of all backgrounds and is committed to teaching Jewish culture in a world-historical context. 

Exploring Bialystok

Why Helix Needs Your Help

Helix believes in offering this life-changing educational experience to outstanding college students regardless of their financial situation. But three weeks of travel to and around Eastern Europe is expensive!

This year we are taking 12 students and need to cover all of their costs through fundraising. The cost for each student is approximately $6,000. Several universities, including UCLA, UC Berkeley, University of Wisconsin at Madison and the Johns Hopkins University, partially offset costs for five students traveling this summer. But we still need to fund several more and hope to raise money to pay for at least two students with this campaign. Your tax-deductible donations will go directly toward defraying on-the-ground travel costs for the Helixers.

We're looking to you, those who love Yiddish, value Eastern European history, and connect with Jewish culture, to help us give at least two incredible students an invaluable academic and personal experience. To thank you for supporting our trip we are offering a number of gifts. Check out our hip tote bags, coffee table book, and treasure trove of specialties from the countries we visit!

Thanks for considering supporting us with your tax-deductible contribution!
Even if we don’t meet our full goal, every dollar we raise directly helps us pay for the Helix. 

A Helixer explores her own heritage in Belars 

Helix is Already Making a Difference

Helix is devoted to training the next generation of scholars, community organizers, and artists.

Last year Helix launched its pilot with 6 students and you can hear one of those students, a prospective rabbinical student, talk about how her Helix experience changed her perspective in a video here. Another Helix participant, now applying to graduate programs in Jewish history, reported that before the trip his sense of Jewish identity had revolved around his relationship to the Holocaust and the breadth of his knowledge was dominated by the last 70 years of Jewish history. Helix, he said, revealed to him a previously unknown world of Jewish life. A world he was able to glimpse most personally and poignantly while visiting the Yiddish high school where his grandmother taught physics in the 1920s. And finally, you can hear a moving piece broadcast on Public Radio International's The World featuring a Helixer's experience visiting the village of her ancestors. 

Even if you can't support Helix financially, you can help by sharing our campaign with your friends and family.

Do you want to support Helix or know someone who would but can't donate online? Click here to request information and a way to donate by mail.





Find This Campaign On
raised by 105 people in 1 month
66% funded
No time left
Verified Nonprofit
$12,000 USD goal
Flexible Funding This campaign has ended and will receive all funds raised.
Campaign Closed
This campaign ended on June 21, 2013
Select a Perk
  • $10USD

    As a friend of the Helix, your name will be included on our list of project supporters, featured on our website and in our resplendent Helix coffee table book.

    5 claimed
  • $25USD

    A unique photographic print taken during our trip by Helix's artist-in-residence. Scroll to the bottom left of the homepage for more information.

    16 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2013
  • $50USD
    yidisher kop

    A classic mug for your coffee or tea, featuring our vintage City of Angels (malokhim-shtot) Yiddish star map.

    31 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2013
  • $75USD

    A stylish Yiddishkayt tote bag. See bottom left of the homepage for an image.

    8 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2013
  • $150USD

    A unique photographic print taken during our trip by Helix's artist-in-residence, our "Yiddish Soul" cd filled with wonderful Yiddish music, all delivered in the Yiddishkayt tote bag.

    7 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2013
  • $350USD

    A coffee table book, produced after the Helix trip, filled with photos taken by the students as part of their photo-documentary project (plus the bild-baytl-bintl).

    1 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2013
  • $750USD
    yasha burstyn collection

    That's yash (liquor) and burshtin (amber), plus more! Our Lithuanian treasure trove includes the Yiddishkayt tote bag, our Helix coffee table book and a sampling of regional specialties from the three nations we visit: embroidered linen from Belarus, Bison Grass vodka from Poland, and amber from Lithuania.

    0 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2013
  • $6,000USD
    holy shtitser

    For fully funding one Helixer, we'll create a scholarship in your name and the student will personally communicate with you about his or her experience — plus, you'll receive all of the above perks!

    0 claimed
    Estimated delivery: September 2013
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