Discussion: Genes to Genesis

September 21, 2023 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Discussion: Genes to Genesis
  • Arts and Culture
  • Jewish Learning

As we celebrate the high holidays we look both backwards and forwards, thinking about where we have been and where we will go. How can this approach help us understand not just ourselves but our technologies? Bringing centuries of Jewish ethics on health, the body, and the self, this workshop will consider how biohacking and genomic editing change our understandings of genetics and inheritance and will introduce you to new ways in which this technology is being employed in science, health, and in the arts. In this public discussion, Genspace scientist and instructor Brendan Camellato, artist Lior Zalmanson, and Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman will address the history of Jewish ethics around health policy, genetics, rapidly changing scientific technology, and the origins of life in this season of the Jewish New Year.

Twenty years ago, when CRISPR-Cas9 genomic editing was first invented, the prospect sounded like science fiction: how can you open up and modify strands of DNA? Today this technology has become widespread – with applications in fields from medicine, to plant biology, to the visual arts. In the two decades since it was invented CRISPR has changed the field of biology, but it has also introduced a flurry of bioethical issues and questions – particularly around germline editing, altering the cells that pass genetic material from one generation to another.

At the Jewish High Holidays, as we welcome in the New Year and consider what we pass down from generation to generation, this two part workshop will provide an opportunity to both try your own hand at genomic editing with a hands-on (and totally accessible to beginners!) lesson in using CRISPR-Cas9 and introduce you to some of the cutting edge Jewish perspectives on the ethical issues and potentials of this technology. Bringing together scientists, scholars, and artists, Genes to Genesis explores how we embrace a new technology and what ancient Jewish wisdom can teach us about how to this technology can shape our future.

Genes to Genesis includes both a hands-on CRISPR workshop as well as this public discussion presented by The Neighborhood in collaboration with Genspace.


Brendan Camellato is a PhD candidate at NYU Langone Health. He was born and raised outside of Ottawa, Canada, and attended the University of Ottawa where he completed a BSc in Biomedical Sciences and an MSc in Cellular and Molecular Medicine. His PhD work focuses on techniques for large-scale genome engineering, and uses these techniques to study the function of non-coding regions of the genome, or “genomic dark matter”. Brendan has been leading the Genspace course “Genome Editing with CRISPR-Cas9” since 2021. He is very excited about the possibilities that biotechnology can bring to the world, and about helping others better understand these possibilities.

Karen Ingram is an artist and educator focused on emerging biotechnology. She runs a NY-based consultancy with clients ranging from education to startups to a water utility. She is a co-author of “BioBuilder: Synthetic Biology in the Lab,” recognized as a universal reference for synbio. Ingram is an Emerging Technology Fellow at Stanford’s d.school, and contributes to REP, a K-12 magazine whose mission is to drive equity in tech design. She’s an affiliate with Bio.Polis (Bio Policy & Leadership in Society, Stanford Department of Bioengineering), supporting projects that guide biological innovation in the public interest. Ingram was part of the founding team of the Empiricist League, described by FiveThirtyEight as “ad-hoc, small-scale TED Talks for scientists and the New Yorkers who adore them” and helped it grow into a recognized name. She is an educator in SVA’s MFA Interaction Design Program and is an instructor for Genspace’s bioart course “The Art of SynBio: Microbial Painting”.

Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman is the Founding Director of Sinai and Synapses, an organization that bridges the scientific and religious worlds. His writings about the intersection of religion and science have been published in the books Seven Days, Many Voices and A Life of Meaning (both published by the CCAR press) and These Truths We Hold (published by HUC Press) as well as on The Huffington Post, Nautilus, Orbiter, Science and Religion Today, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and My Jewish Learning. He has been an adjunct professor at both the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion and the Academy for Jewish Religion, and is an internationally sought-out teacher, presenter, and scholar-in-residence.

Lior Zalmanson is a writer, artist, and social scientist who uses film, theater, and digital technologies to explore digital culture, online behavior, and the information society. His works often involve hacking or reverse-engineering technologies that supposedly make the web more accessible and personalized. In 2011, he founded Print Screen Festival, Israel’s digital arts festival. His projects have been showcased at venues including the Tribeca Film Festival and The Jewish Museum in New York, NY. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Tel Aviv University, Israel and a visiting professor at Cornell Tech and NYU.

Genspace is the world’s first community biology lab — a place where people of all backgrounds and identities can learn, create, and grow with the life sciences. Since 2009, they have served the greater New York area by providing hands-on STEAM education programs for youth and adults, cultural and outreach events for the public, and a membership program to support New York’s community of creatives, researchers, and entrepreneurs. Their programs demystify scientific processes, provide a platform for innovation, and cultivate the next generation of life sciences leaders in emerging global technologies, such as biotechnology, neuroscience, epidemiology, genomics, and many more.