The Brandeis-Bardin Campus is as much a feeling as it is a place. Committed to the artistic, cultural, intellectual, and environmental pursuits of the Jewish people, individuals from across the globe have delighted in our nurturing environment for almost seven decades. We strive to "touch and to teach" all who come down Peppertree Lane.
Known today as the Marilyn and Sigi Ziering Brandeis Collegiate Institute, BCI is an intensive experience in Jewish learning, culture and community offered to young adults from around the world, ages 18 to 26. It combines programmatic concepts adapted from the Danish Folk High School (expressing one's identity and culture through the creative arts) and the Israeli Kibbutz (the dignity of physical labor and sharing responsibility for the community) set in the context of the American recreational summer camp. Justice Brandeis referred to it as "a laboratory for living Judaism." BCI is a 26-day exploration of self and Judaism within a safe, pluralistic community, bringing together young Jews from all over the world with some of our people's most compelling, talented scholars and artists to experience the multifaceted aspects of Jewish life and culture.
Founding of BCI
Originally founded by Dr. Shlomo Bardin in 1941 as Brandeis Camp Institute (BCI), it was named to honor our nation's first Jewish United States Supreme Court Justice, Louis D. Brandeis, who was instrumental as the visionary and primary funder of Dr. Bardin's initial programmatic endeavor. BCI was located for brief periods of time in Amherst, NH, Winterdale, PA, and Hendersonville, NC.
The Brandeis-Bardin Campus is as much a feeling as it is a place.
In 1947, Brandeis Camp Institute purchased 2,200 acres of land in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains outside Simi Valley, CA. To Dr. Bardin, the rolling hills were reminiscent of the Judean Hills outside Jerusalem. Brandeis Camp Institute of the West was incorporated in 1947; by 1950 all camp operations were consolidated into the Southern California location in order to channel all efforts into a single year-round site.
Dr. Bardin organized the first adult weekend retreats in 1950. These weekends became a model for Jewish adult education across the country. Today hundreds of institutions offer scholar-in-residence weekends, modeled upon the pioneering efforts developed here.
In 1953, Dr. Bardin established Camp Alonim (Hebrew for ‘oak trees') as a residential summer camp for children, ages 8 to 16. Camp Alonim provides a non-denominational, Jewish experience brought to life through sports, the arts, nature, and learning in a safe and embracing community. At Alonim, every activity is designed to be a gateway to exploring some aspect of Judaism as well as a vehicle for trying new things, building skills, boosting confidence, growing self-esteem, and independence.
In 1958 the Board of Supervisors of Ventura County approved the use of "Brandeis, California" to designate our land. In 1961, Brandeis, CA was granted its own zip code, and in 1964 the Brandeis Mutual Water Company was established. With the expansion of the programs beyond BCI, including significant Jewish experiences for children and adults, the Institute's name was changed to "The Brandeis Institute".
Impressed and inspired by Dr. Bardin's vision and educational philosophy, neighbor James Arness (star of "Gunsmoke," one of the longest-running cowboy westerns in early television history) gifted his entire ranch to the Institute in 1972, increasing our acreage by 40%. The Arness gift is believed to be the largest single gift of land to a Jewish institution in the history of California, and perhaps the entire country.
The 1970s witnessed an expansion of our youth programs, including the introduction of weekend retreats for high school students. The name of the Institute was changed again in 1977 to "The Brandeis-Bardin Institute" to honor the memory of its founder, Dr. Shlomo Bardin.
In the 1980s the Institute experiences unprecedented growth of its adult retreat and Shabbat afternoon programming, including the introduction of weekend retreats for young Jewish single adults, families, and grandparents and grandchildren.
Notoriety and Adventure
Gan Alonim Day Camp was established in 1991. At Gan Alonim, confidence and teamwork are built through our extensive outdoor education program, while creativity and ruach (spirit) are fostered through an exploration of the cultural arts. Elderhostel programs for seniors and weekend retreats for newly married couples were introduced in the 1990's.
Since the early 1990's, Brandeis-Bardin has been a favorite location for production of feature films, television series, reality shows, and commercials. The extensive list of productions includes Jurassic Park, Man on the Moon, Power Rangers, Spartan, Star Trek VI, Celebrity Fit Club, Diagnosis Murder, Melrose Place, Bones, House, Ghost Whisperer, Got Milk, Big Love, and 24.
As the 21st century began, we inaugurated our Outdoor Adventure Course, began to focus on experiential and environmental programming, and initiated programmatic partnerships with a variety of institutions in Southern California and across North America. Our outdoor and experiential and environmental program brings alive our campus's 2,600-acre natural classroom. Hiking, gardening, and star-gazing provide the avenue for individuals to examine their connection to the land and its significance to the Jewish tradition. The Outdoor Adventure Course provides opportunities for teams and individuals to take relationships and ideas to new heights, challenging participants physically, emotionally, and socially. Our talented professional staff creates and executes exceptional experiences for our programmatic partners, building upon all of the natural resources of Brandeis-Bardin.
American Jewish University
On May 1, 2007 the Brandeis-Bardin Institute merged with the University of Judaism in a landmark merger, to become the American Jewish University. Known today as the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of the American Jewish University, it is believed to be the largest parcel of land owned by a Jewish institution outside the State of Israel.
In the summer of 2009 BCI was endowed by the Marilyn and Sigi Ziering family to become the Marilyn and Sigi Ziering Brandeis Collegiate Institute.
- Compiled and written by Ken Hailpern