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Bronstein Week celebrates former professor

By Emily Sorkin Smith

Section: Hoot Scoops

March 20, 2015

Students celebrated the Buzzfeed-themed Bronstein Week with activities that included painting, the third annual Mr. Brandeis Pageant and a performance by comedian Jay Black this past week. The spirit week commemorates professor Léo Bronstein, who served as a member of the Brandeis faculty from 1952-1967. Run by Student Events, the tradition began when students threw Professor Bronstein a farewell party at his final lecture in 1967. Past years’ themes included American Road Trip, Camped Out and, last year’s, Throwback Bronstein.

Bronstein Week, according to Student Events, is a time for the community to “celebrate life, happiness and support within and outside of the Brandeis campus.” Bronstein, born in what is now Poland, was fluent in Russian, Polish, English and several other languages. He was a prolific writer whose books ranged in subject from “Kabbalah and Art” to the relationship between metaphysics and art. During his time at Brandeis, he taught in the Fine Arts and Near Eastern Civilization departments. He is remembered as a passionate instructor who inspired his students to appreciate life.

Bronstein Week has changed in many ways since its inception in 1967. Emily Mostow (GRAD), director of Student Events’ social department, talked about some of these changes in an email with The Brandeis Hoot. “It used to be a Bronstein tradition to end the week with a ‘Screw Your Roommate’ dance, where everyone sets up their roommate with a date. One way or another, they end up screwed,” Mostow wrote.

This year’s Bronstein Week began with a Wake ’n Shake outside of Usdan, where Student Events volunteers passed out free coffee and donuts, as well as Bronstein-themed shot glasses and tumblers. Later that evening, comedian Jay Black performed in Usdan’s International Lounge.

On Wednesday night, Student Events and Relay for Life cohosted the Mr. Brandeis Pageant, now in its third year. Jonathan Schlussel ’15 was named Mr. Brandeis, with Jonathan Greengarden ’15 winning Mr. Congeniality. Nine contestants competed in the Pageant, which raised $840 this year.

In organizing Bronstein week, volunteers had to consider the schedules of Brandeis students. Mostow explained that many students are too busy to attend the events planned throughout the week. “We combat that with events like Wake ’n Shakes and stress busters that provide a nice little surprise for students who are passing by, along with events like Paint Nite and Live Band Karaoke that are so enticing that they make it into our students’ planners,” Mostow wrote.

Student Events has hosted many events this year that aim to bring the campus together and provide opportunities for students to relax and have fun. Louis Louis Week, held this past November, featured many of the same events. In addition to a Wake ’n Shake and Paint Nite, there was a comedy performance and a bar night, just like during Bronstein week. Mostow explained the similarities, stating, “There’s no functional difference to what kind of events would happen, because we always try to think outside the box.” She added that Bronstein Week is different only in that it is themed and happens in the spring.

The original celebration of Professor Bronstein might not have borne much resemblance to the one Brandeis students know today. Peter Gould ’67 wrote in letter to The Justice in 1987, the 20th anniversary of Bronstein Day, in which he describes Bronstein as a humble pacifist, a professor who inspired his students.

Gould wrote that at the first celebration for Bronstein, students burned draft cards in a movie theater, ending the night with multiple arrests. Gould, in his letter, describes students’ plans for the celebration, saying, “Let’s hold a medieval pageant for Léo. Let’s do it in the Castle courtyard. Let’s serve wine from giant goat skins; let’s roast an ox on a spit.”

Whether Bronstein Week in fact began as the wild, debaucherous celebration Gould describes, it is clear that the tradition has always united the Brandeis community.

Though there are many challenges that go with planning a week of events, there is one that stands out most. “The biggest challenge in staffing the week, though, is definitely being mauled by students who are trying to get free shirts,” Mostow said.

Bronstein Week will end on Friday with an event in the SCC titled “6 Ways to Bust your Stress.” The event will provide mugs for students to decorate, free red velvet cake and other relaxing activities.

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