In his mind's eye, Rob Adler Peckerar is sitting with his students on a doorstep in the bustling heart of Eastern Europe. They are in a town, perhaps in Lithuania, perhaps Ukraine. It is summer, and a warm breeze rustles the trees.
The students listen, spellbound, to a story written on this very spot a century or more ago in a language that is foreign and yet strangely familiar. And before them, the pre-Holocaust world of Eastern European Jews flickers for a moment to life -- rich, lusty, funny, sad and achingly poignant.
This is the idea behind the Helix project, which will begin in a very small way this summer when Adler Peckerar takes six students -- three from UCLA and three from UC Berkeley -- on an all-expenses-paid Jewish roots tour of Eastern Europe. Eventually, he would like to see it grow and become a viable alternative to the Birthright program that sends tens of thousands of Jewish college students annually to Israel, also free of charge.