Workshops & Presentations
History Alive is a 45 – 60 minute lecture that features the story of Bernice’s family’s escape from Nazi Germany in the early 1940’s, along with demonstration of artifacts and original music. This Holocaust Education presentation is designed for Junior and Senior High School, Colleges, and congregations. It combines historical facts with oral history and stresses the importance of discovering our family stories and all that we can learn from them.
Der Dank des Vaterlandes is Euch Gewiss
Roughly translated, the above statement says, “The thanks of the fatherland is your security.” This ironic pledge was on the medal awarded Lewis’ paternal grandfather after serving in the German army during WWI. The presentation begins by showing students this artifact, flanked by photos of both her father and grandfather in uniform. From there, we talk about Hitler’s rise to power in terms of day-to-day life in pre-war Germany. At age thirteen, Lewis’ father was sent to a Rothschild school outside of Paris, since it was believed that Hitler would not invade France…the story continues from there. This story is not morbid or sensationalist. There is a short power point presentation of pre-war photos and artifacts. It concludes with several of Lewis’ original compositions. Lewis’ song “Ways to Survive” won an award from the American Zionist Movement.
Since 2007, History Alive has been presented at Lenox Memorial Jr High School in Lenox, Ma, Thurston Middle School in Westwood, Ma, St Michael’s Episcopal Day School in Sacramento, Ca, Grand Canyon School in Grand Canyon AZ, East Woods School in Oyster Bay, NY, Mt Anthony Union High School in Bennington, VT and as part of an extended artist residency at Mt Greylock Regional High School in Williamstown, MA and through the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire. It has also been presented at Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, MA and Beth El in Bennington, VT.
Grants for this program have been awarded by the Y’Diyah Fund, The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and various private donors.
This presentation is appropriate for Grade 6 and up. It has also been offered as an artist’s residency in high schools, including a family history creative writing or art component.
Bernice Lewis has been a touring singer/songwriter and educator for over two decades. She has traveled the United States extensively, performing at coffeehouse venues, schools and folk festivals. She holds an M.Ed from The University of Massachusetts Amherst. Years of experience as a high school teacher makes her well suited for working with secondary students as well as college students. She currently teaches songwriting and performing at Williams College in Williamstown, Ma and Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO. She also teaches at retreat centers, song camps and conferences.
“Bernice Lewis brought history alive for my students in a way that rarely happens in the classroom. Her broad depth of knowledge in history, as well as her ability to tell stories intertwined with music, is exceptional. I am truly appreciative for what she accomplished in my classroom that day.”
- Matthew Knodler, Grade 7 Teacher, Lenox Memorial Junior High School, Lenox, MA
“This past April, Bernice Lewis came to our school and gave four presentations. She juggled many tasks at the same time: singing, talking, listening and answering questions. She used her vast teaching expertise and amazing skills in music to impart information about World War II to students who had never heard these types of stories. This presentation personalized the situation for all.”
- Barbara Morgenlender, Grade 8 Teacher, Thurston Middle School, Westwood, MA
“Our students are still talking about it!”
- Alex Carter, Assistant Headmaster, East Woods School, Oyster Bay, NY
“I enjoyed Mrs. Lewis’ speech and performance much more than any book or textbook because I could actually see the effects that the Holocaust could have on a whole family. I could imagine myself as her father on the subway in France and how horrible he must have felt without a family, money, or anyone to talk to. Thank you so much.”
- Jimmy Curtin, Grade 8, Thurston Middle School, Westwood, MA
“I really enjoyed listening to Mrs. Lewis speak and sing about the Holocaust. Her words made a huge impression on me. The story was fascinating, however what really hit home was what I, as a kid, could do for peace.”
- Matt Hurley, Grade 8, St Michael’s Episcopal Day School, Sacramento, CA
“Mrs. Lewis’ story made me understand the Holocaust in a clearer way. The Nazi era seems far more real to me than it did before. I now know that the Holocaust isn’t just in books. It was a real event that shaped the way the world sees discrimination. The old saying ‘Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt you’ proves to be untrue.”
- Nicole Lania, Grade 8, St Michael’s Episcopal Day School, Sacramento, CA
“Your voice caught me! When you started to sing it really seemed like you were there when it happened. I received really clear pictures in my mind.”
- Nicki Dailey, Grade 9, Grand Canyon School, AZ
Songwriting and Performing Residency
Appropriate for the general public, college, and secondary school level, and designed according to time allotted and interest, participants are coached in the basics of writing original material and presenting in a way that communicates successfully. This includes professional information and advice on vocalizing as well as accompaniment. Extended residencies often include producing a show in a local or on site venue. Bernice has been teaching annual credited courses on Songwriting and Performing at Williams college in Williamstown, Ma, and The Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO for over 15 years. Other places she has taught include Omega Institute, Esalen, Kripalu Center, Warren Wilson College, Universe of Song, Star Island Writer’s Retreat, and Lamb’s Retreat.
Previous to becoming a full time performer, Bernice made her living teaching English and Creative Writing at public and private high schools.
“Thanks to wonderful instruction, honest criticism, and a great format, I have so many of the necessary tools to become a better writer and to continue to learn and explore my own writing.”
- Harris Paseltiner (Darlingside), Williams College 2009
“This class has reaffirmed my long-standing conviction that creativity only happens in open and safe environments.”
- Thomas Calvo, Williams College 2011
“I found the atmosphere of our songwriting class to be unbelievably stimulating as an artist: I found myself writing not only songs but also stories and fragments of plays under the influence of my classmate’s work. We would all be lucky to live in a community of artists for a part of our lives.”
- Eva Flamm, 2010
“This course has been incredibly invaluable to me in that it forced me to step outside of my comfort zone in an area where I’ve always been constrained by my own fear. Even if I chose never to pick up my guitar or play the piano again, hypothetically speaking, I still feel that I have gained more from this course than many others I have taken at this college.”
- Fern Senior, Williams College 2004
“This class was designed perfectly to prepare us step by step for the day of the performance.”
- Danita Stewart, Colorado College 2005
Retreat and Specialty Offerings
Bernice has a long resume of working in retreat centers and alternative situations. She is a specialist in creating safe environments and combining skills to customize your retreat or classroom experience. She has a B.A. in English and Creative Writing, and an M.Ed. from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
For five summers, she was artist-in-resident and workshop instructor at the Omega Institute for Wholistic Studies in Rhinebeck, NY. Other retreat centers she has taught at include Kripalu Center (Lenox, MA), Esalen (Big Sur, CA), Warren Wilson College (Black Mountain, NC), Lamb’s Retreat (Harbor Springs, MI), Universe of Song (Loretto, PA), Star Island Writer’s Retreat (ME), and many nationally known song camps.
Finding Your Voice
You sing in the shower and in the car when you’re alone. Suddenly, when others are around, you can’t find a way to open your mouth and let it out. Everybody loves to sing once they get past the fear they experience when they hear the sound of their own voice, and very few of us are truly tone deaf. We use simple vocalizing techniques and the principles of Hatha Yoga to explore the voice.
Bernice Lewis has been a professional singer for more than ten years. She has studied vocal technique and improvisation with Bobby McFerrin, Rhiannon, Patty Andress, and Isaye Barnwell.
Journaling and Creative Writing
Journaling is one of the most important tools for an artist. Getting thoughts, ideas, and feelings on paper can stimulate creativity. We use timed writing techniques and share when appropriate. Bernice’s writings have been published in such diverse publications as Appalachian Trailway News, American Zionist Movement Songbook, Open Ear Journal, Shots, Dermanities, The Resource Exchange Quarterly, Berkshire Eagle, Raven Review/Phantom Ranch, North Adams Transcript, Bone & Flesh, Coos County Democrat
Custom designed retreat instruction that moves beyond the postures to integrate sounding, micromovement, stress management, emotional release, community building, and breathwork with the eventual goal of bringing the principles of yoga into daily life.
Bernice Lewis, R.Y.T. has practiced, studied, and taught Hatha Yoga since 1975. In addition to a thirty year old daily practice, she has studied with BKS Iyengar, Bikram Cloudhary, Amrit Desai, Emilie Conrad D’aoud (Continuum), and innumerable other masters. She was featured in October 2000 “Yoga Journal” for her work with Yoga and Sound. Some of the places she has taught yoga include The Omega Institute (Rhinebeck, NY), Kripalu Center (Lenox, MA), Williams College (Williamstown, MA), and at North Adams Regional Hospital (North Adams, MA) REACH program for breast cancer survivors
The Art of Spiritual Practice/The Spiritual Practice of Art
We explore the issues of creating and sustaining a practice… how to choose one, how and why to create commitment, problems, pitfalls and misconceptions.
“Through her songs and poems, Bernice wove her Jewish experience and commanded our attention and our hearts. Bernice’s involvement with our Shabbat Service moved us from routine to an event that we will certainly remember, and want to do again… and again.”
Herb Cooper-Levy, Reconstructionist Congregation, Alexandria, VA
Bernice Lewis is a songwriter, poet, and storyteller. Proud to be a first generation American, her stories and songs spring from a well of world and domestic travel, seen through the lens of a ‘nice Jewish girl from Boston.’ For the past three decades, she has toured the United States as a performer and educator. She has also explored the world… Europe, Africa, The Pacific, South America, and North America. Born to survivors, her writings pay homage to those lost as well as celebrate the joys and difficulties of being Jewish in the modern world. She has released six albums of original songs, and her writings have been published in places as diverse as Appalachian Trailway News, American Zionist Movement Songbook, Open Ear Journal, The Berkshire Eagle, N. Adams Transcript, Bone & Flesh, and Shots Magazine.
Since 2008, Lewis has been musician in residence at Congregation Beth Isreal in Bennington, VT, where she leads a monthly music Shabbat service with Rabbi Joshua Boettiger.
When Bernice performs in a Jewish setting, her set list includes “Born to Schmooze (a sing along about growing up Jewish in America),” “I Am (song for Israel),” “Mama’s Wine Glasses (a Pesach song),” and the AZM award winning “Ways to Survive,” a piece from her collection of songs written about the Holocaust. She can also perform traditional material and prayer.