NOW WHAT? (part 2)

On Tuesday, May 15, Speakers’ Lab and the Forward will present a moderated town hall event called “Now What? The Future of New Jewish Culture” hosted by 14th Street Y. “Now What?” brings together ten experts from across the country, including Stephen Hazan Arnoff of LABA and the 14th Street Y and Jody Rosen, from Slate, (see yesterday’s blog)  to take a critical look at the last ten years of flourishing Jewish creativity in America and its precarious position today. Join us for the conversation. The event is free and open to the public. To register and for more information, including pre-event panelists’ statements, visit

 In preparation for the event, six emerging Jewish artists were interviewed about their work, and what they think is the future of new Jewish culture in America. One of those artists, is LABA fellow Tirtzah Bassel.

The 14th Street Y

Tirtzah Bassel, Visual Artist


Tirtzah Bassel is an Israeli artist currently living and working in New York. She works in oil, intaglio and digital sketching apps. Tirtzah studied drawing and painting at the Jerusalem Studio School in Israel and is a recent graduate of the Boston University MFA Program. Her work has been exhibited in Israel, the U.S. and Europe, and she is currently a resident artist at the Chashama Visual Arts Program in Brooklyn and a LABA Artist Fellow. For more information, please visit:

Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now? What was the inspiration for the project? I am working on a series of paintings titled TSA that explores the airport as a contemporary space of transit and transition. I’m focusing specifically on moments of physical intimacy that occur during security pat downs, or the way people hold their body when they are waiting in line.

A couple of years ago I was randomly selected for what turned out to be a particularly invasive body search at the airport in Beijing. I was struck by the gap between the intimate nature of the physical touch, and its utter banality within that context. I also realized that this moment of contact contains within it an entire constellation of relationship to power and space, that it is simultaneously formed by it as well as continuously shaping it. It induced a whole series of questions: Who occupies this space? Who can move within it? When does a movement become a provocation, an act of discrimination, a sign of communication, a form of resistance? These questions form the basis of this body of work.

In the next stage I am taking it one step further and designing the TSA Chapel, an intimate meditative space. The chapel juxtaposes the secular images of the airport with the structure of a sacred space, thus providing a place to view the paintings that is both critical and contemplative.

Can you tell us about your Jewish-inspired work? I’m thinking specifically of your work with LABA where the starting point is Jewish text. The theme for our study group at LABA this year has been Blueprint. In each session we explore different types of spaces such as mythological, domestic and wild spaces through the lens of Jewish texts. What was striking to me is how these spaces seem to simultaneously reflect particular places in our personal and cultural psyche w­hile at the same time they also shape our vision of the world. In many ways, an attic in the Bible is just like an attic today, Reb Chanina Ben Dossa’s kitchen feels a lot like my kitchen. But at times the location of these spaces in our psyche seems to change with the culture or time. For example fields, the wild space of the Bible, have been replaced in the American psyche by forests. I thought about the ritual spaces of past, the places where people went seeking transition, transformation and a connection with something bigger than themselves. It struck me that airports play this role in our contemporary psyche.

My starting point is quite literal. Airports are points of transportation that connect us to other places, they are where we go when we want to get from here to there. When I walk through the airport I think about the time in the location that I am in, but am aware of the time in my destination. I look at the travelers and wonder where each one of them will be in five or ten hours. There is the weight of too much luggage, the pressure of the security check, the frustration of waiting in line, of waiting in general, the uplifting feeling when the plane takes off. The paintings evoke these familiar images and cast them in the role of mythology, a symbolic investigation of our relationships to place, time and other people.

You’re originally from Israel. Do you notice a difference between the Jewish-themed visual art coming out of Israel and the Jewish-themed art coming out of America? Is there a big difference in the themes or way they approach the subject matter? I see a significant difference between the way Israeli Jews and American Jews relate to Judaism in their work. I think most Israeli artists make a conscious effort to stay away from overtly Jewish themes, and those who do, often approach it through filters of cynicism or dark humor. I am thinking of the work of Roee Rosen or the earlier works of Zoya Cherkassy. One reason for the use of these defenses is that in the past Jewish art was associated with kitsch or was not considered serious art, prompting Israeli artists to avoid at all costs having their work labeled ‘Jewish art’. A deeper reason is rooted in the unresolved relationship that Israelis have with Judaism in general, due to the historic break that Zionism had with tradition and its attempt to replace Jewish forms with Israeli ones. In addition, the lack of first hand access of many secular Israeli artists to traditional sources prevents them from perceiving them as potent material for their work.

In contrast, artists working in America today are part of a cultural climate that actively celebrates ethnic and cultural roots. One of the biggest challenges that artists face here is getting lost in homogenous oblivion, and many turn to their ethnic roots in the process of establishing a unique voice. The rise in popularity of Klezmer music in the United States over the past decade is a good example of this. Young musicians, both Jewish and not, have returned to this traditional form and through a process of revitalizing it have developed new and exciting materials. In the visual arts I see a strong trend to reexamine Jewish themes and symbols, including ritual objects, from a point of view that is both proud and inquisitive. Deborah Kass, Toby Kahn and Tobaron Waxman, each in their own way, bring Judaism to the forefront of a critical artistic discourse that speaks both to the contemporary art world and the Jewish community.

Do you feel there is enough financial support for emerging Jewish artists in America? I believe there is a real need to build more support for emerging Jewish artists in America who aren’t making ‘Jewish art’ per se, but are engaged in a robust artistic practice that is informed by their Judaism in a more open sense. In civilizations throughout the ages, artists have been a creative, critical and revitalizing force, impacting all layers of a culture over time. Structured societies tend to fear the full force of creative freedom, but only through this freedom can artists truly use their medium to engage critically with the symbols of their culture and to offer new ways of engaging with them. Jewish artists working in America today are situated at the meeting point between Jewish culture and the contemporary art world. Inevitably these worlds inform and confront each other in profound and unexpected ways through artistic practices. Beyond the belief in individual artists, support for artists at this critical point in their careers testifies to a belief in what Judaism can offer to artistic discourse, and in what art can offer to Judaism.


The 14th Street Y is proud to be the home of innovative Art and Culture through LABA, The National Laboratory for New Jewish Culture.  On May 15th, the Y will be hosting a town hall-style event called “Now What?  The Future of New Jewish Culture”.  We’re re posting this from THE FORWARD, which is posting interviews in preparation for this event.  Enjoy!

The 14th Street Y 

By Jody Rosen

On May 15, Speakers’ Lab and the Forward will present a moderated town  hall-style event called “Now What? The  Future of New Jewish Culture” at the 14th Street Y in downtown New York  City. In preparation for the event, each panelist was asked to respond to a  question related to his or her work. The Forward will publish one panelist’s  response every Tuesday leading up to the event, and a second panelist’s response  will be published on Speakers’ Lab’s website that same day.

This week Jody Rosen, music critic for Slate, writes about how and why  New Jewish Culture began 10 years ago. On Speakers’ Lab, Ari Roth, Artistic  Director of Theater J, writes  about how non-Jewish playwrights are addressing Jewish themes  today.

Speakers’ Lab: We’re wondering if you can help contextualize  New Jewish Culture as an American Jewish phenomenon. What happened 10 years ago  that spurred this groundswell of production? And second, is this culture, as it  claims, genuinely new? What is it saying about being Jewish in the late 20th or  early 21st century?

Jody Rosen: What you call “New Jewish Culture” is actually  pretty old. The impulses behind it, the desires driving it, the historical  forces compelling it — these aren’t new at all. New Jewish Culture is merely  another chapter in a saga that stretches back more than a century.

Every generation of American Jews has reframed Jewish identity, and recast  the Jewish historical narrative, according to its needs and whimsies.  Turn-of-the-century immigrants shook off their patrimony to remake themselves as  Jewish-Americans. The next generation fled to suburbs and created a new kind of  aggressively assimilated Jewish life. The children of the Jewish suburbs,  longing for lost authenticity, were convulsed by nostalgia for, of all things,  the piety and deprivations of the Old World, from Lower East Side to Pale of  Settlement. These are the Jews who embraced the shtetl-romanticism of “Life  is With People” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” I’m wildly oversimplifying a  complicated story, of course, but I think the broad outline holds.

New Jewish Culture is the latest twist in the story. Over the past decade or  so, young (and not so young) Jews have sought novel ways of talking about the  Jewish past and present, created innovative forms of Jewish ritual and religious  life, pursued different kinds of Jewish cultural expression. At its shallowest,  New Jewish Culture becomes a kind of kitsch-chic pop culture party game: check  out my dorky bar mitzvah photo album and my bubbe’s kreplach recipe! At its  best, it excavates the past in order to animate the present and future. I’m  especially excited by efforts — of everyone from tenured professors to  organizations like Reboot — to recover Jewish stories that have been suppressed  or ignored. This less defensive approach to Jewish history, replacing the old  apologist-heroic Jewish narratives with something more warts-and-all, makes me  more excited and proud to be Jewish, not less.

New Jewish Culture may be in part a reaction to the identity politics of the  1980s and ‘90s, to the increasing tribalism of American life generally. I think  it’s also a response to a Jewish-American culture that has staked too much on  Jewish experience elsewhere — that’s been dominated by the Holocaust and Israel.  The new Jewish-American culture puts the accent on American; it’s anti-Anatevka,  and to a degree, anti-Jerusalem. Historically speaking, Jews have never been  safer, more affluent, more powerful, more self-determining than they have in the  United States. Maybe the land flowing with milk and honey is the Upper West  Side, Park Slope, Cedarhurst, Brookline, Fairfax Avenue, Shaker Heights?

Read more:

GREENING at the 14th Street Y

On this ECO MONDAY post Earth Day, we’re reflecting on the work we’ve done over the last 3 years to become a greener, more sustainable building.  Today we’re sharing with you our greening timeline, which we hope will grow more and more as we find ways to be a more sustainable contribution to our neighborhood and community.


Jewish Greening Fellowship, a project of the Isabella Friedman Center, established by the United Jewish Agency

Associate Executive Director, Wendy Seligson, Facilities Manager Ann Marie Grace,  and LABA Artist David Tirosh selected as fellows to participate with 18 other professionals from NY Jewish Organizations

The Y embarks on an Energy Audit with funding from JGF

The Theater installs a new lighting grid utilizing reused lights and piping

256 compact, energy efficient lights are installed on the 1st floor

Low VOC paint is used to repaint the 3rd floor, which is then expanded to other floors in the building

Thermostats and controls are installed in the theater and on the fourth floors to control the use of the heating and cooling system in the building, saving energy

The bright yellow lobby chairs are installed, they are made from 100% recycled materials


The theater begins its wood recycling program using the wood from the dismantled stage to build a storage unit, provide wood to renters for the creation of their set pieces, and donates the rest of the wood to “Broadway Goes Green”, an initiative that uses donated wood from shows to create wood chips for city playgrounds.

The Y engages in the energy audit process to identify new ways of reducing energy in the pool, with heating and cooling systems and lighting throughout the building

A dishwasher is installed in the kitchen on the 4th floor

The Y discontinues the use of Styrofoam and other paper products in favor of cups and plates made of recycled materials

Facilities management begins using washable, reusable rags to clean windows and other surfaces

The Y switches the printing of its’ catalogues to 100% recycled FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper

Low VOC paint is used to repaint the 3rd floor, which is then expanded to other floors in the building

Non-toxic cleansers are introduced


We get funding for a GREEN ROOF for the roof above our Theater

The Preschool begins a unit of study on the environment, looking at natural materials

The Afterschool program begins using recycled paper for homework

The Afterschool program embarks on a study of the building for sustainable practices, including the electrical usage and the alternative of solar energy

New Country Day Camp learns about the environment on the Staten Island Campus

New Town Campers plant and tend to a garden on the roof

The Y staff Green Team begins meeting

A building-wide recycling program is started

A Wearable Collections bin in our lobby

The Y collaborates on our OPEN green HOUSE with organizations like Solar One, GrowNYC, and local, sustainable businesses.


-We begin composting in our building through IESI.

-The Afterschool program begins using compostable cups for snack

-We produce our “That’s Why I Go Green” song with a lyrics contest for kids.

-We’re a part of Ethikus “Shop Your Values Week

Let us know if you have ideas for a greener Y!

MARCH (in April)

Welcome 14th and 1st readers!  As you may know, on Thursdays we like to celebrate all things theater, arts and culture.  Today we’re posting an interview with Melanie Moyer-Williams, the Artistic Director of Red Fern Theatre company, who are producing the show MARCH in our 2nd floor 14th Street Y Theater. 


The Y:  Thanks for speaking with us today!  Tell us about your new show, MARCH?

MMW- First – I just want to say how excited we are to be back at the 14th Street Y for our third and final production in our 2011-2012 Season!  It has been such an amazing experience.  Prior to coming to the Y last season, we had been in many theaters throughout NYC and have never really been satisfied with either the space or the people who run the space.  Here at the 14th Street Y, we have found a wonderful home with both!!  Everyone including the person who mops our floor each night (a very important job given we have a number of actors who go barefoot!) have been amazing with whom to work.  And we look forward to many more productions here!

That being said – let’s talk about MARCH by Sharyn Rothstein, directed by Kel Haney.  MARCH is a funny, new drama about life on the edge of adulthood.  Two teens take on the real and imaginary monsters in their lives in this funny and compelling theatrical journey through the treacherous worlds of virtual battlefields and real-life adolescence. Though their backgrounds couldn’t be more different, Eva Lucia Perez, a 14 year-old from the Bronx, and Michael Meltzer, a 15 year-old kid growing up in the suburbs, are both dealing with complicated families when they meet as avatars in Eden, a fantasy realm in an online game. As they embark on a journey to a new level in the game, Eva Lucia and Michael become unexpected friends, and find in each other the escape they need to get to that place and time when you first realize that the world is bigger than your family.

The Y:  What audience will be most interested in this, do you think?

MMW-  I think Teens, their parents and their parent’s parents!  This show has something for all of these generations, and we have had a wonderful response from each of these groups.  Teens feel they relate to the two young characters in the play and especially have a connection in exploring the virtual world.  Parents and grandparents connect with the many issues they face in just being a parent, but also in their own relationships with one another.  One family deals with the issue of divorce while another one deals with mental illness in the family.  We can learn a lot from each of these families in which the teens search to find acceptance and love and a place where they can escape everyday life.  Both of the teens have been asked to act like a parent or an adult in the family.  We see this happening more and more in society where kids are asked to “grow up” much faster.  These two kids are able to escape reality and reinvent themselves in a virtual world.

The Y:  Interesting!  So how do you create this visual world on the stage?

 MMW-  We actually received a grant especially for the technology in this production. The Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Design Enhancement Fund, a program of the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York (A.R.T./New York), made it possible for us to bring this virtual world together.  Using three projectors and projection screens – we bring to life the virtual world of Eden and it looks like something right out of a video game.  It is really amazing to see the actors interact within this world.  It’s unlike anything we have done before and very different from other productions I have seen.  The show is worth the ticket price just to see this world.

The Y:  We really like working with Red Fern Theatre for a lot of reasons, especially your mission.  Can you speak a bit about that?

MMW- We  founded the company to produce issue based or socially conscious plays, but we take it one step further and bridge the gap between the issues we present our audience and the change we seek to create.  Instead of just exposing our audience to an issue facing our community, we also introduce them to someone who is trying to make a difference in that area.  For MARCH, our partnership hits home – The 14th Street Y Teen Theater Summer Institute Scholarship Fund for the Edgies Teen Center.  This summer the 14th Street Y will be offering their first TEEN THEATER SUMMER INSTITUTE (for which we will teach one of the classes!) and one Edgie will be receiving a scholarship for attendance. We are really happy to be able to give back to this community and the community on the lower east side.

The Y:  We do really like that.  Anything else we should know?

MMW– Come see the show!  You won’t be disappointed and will find at least one character with whom you connect.  It’s funny, yet it deals with difficult issues facing many families today.  The cast is truly amazing and the production teams has truly brought this world to life in such a vivid, real way.

Also, To say thank you for welcoming us to the 14th Street Y – we’d like to offer the community here a $5 discount.  When purchasing tickets on our website – enter the code 14StY at checkout to receive the discount.

The Y:  Well thanks!  We’ll pass it along to our community!  All the best for a great run of March. 

Strength with the BUFF BRIDE!


Christen is getting married in the fall, and is working out at the 14th Street Y towards the healthiest and most fit wedding day ever.  We’re posting her workouts (with personal trainer Jordan) so that you might benefit from everything she’s learning and doing.  We’ve included instructive links to those we thought might need a little more explanation. 

Try this one today! 

PT Jordan:  Christen’s objective the last two weeks has been strength development. We have reduced the balance, core and stability exercised, introduced a few power and agility exercises. We also increased the resistance of her main exercises and reduced the number of repetitions she performed. Here is that workout:

-5 Min warm up on elliptical or Concept 2 rowing machine

-Core Exercises:
1. Ball roll-out to plank hold
2. Ball scaption (belly on ball, arms extend in Y formation out and up)
3. Ball long lever arm curl-ups (lower back on ball, arms extend overhead. Crunch ribs towards hips, lifting shoulder blades off ball and then releasing back down into slight extension)
15-20 of each, holding final rep for 15-20 seconds.

A&B performed as super-set, which is back to back with 30-60 seconds rest between.
1. A. Box Jumps: 10-20
B. Toe Taps: 30 seconds
2. A. Medicine ball overhead Throw-Down
B. Medicine ball chest pass.

Strength Series:
8-12 repetitions of each exercise. Alternating days; one day performed multiple sets the next as a circuit.
1. Squat to press
2. Dumbbell Chest Press
3. Dumbbell Triceps Extension
4. Cable or Machine Row
5. Thera-Band Curl
6. Dumbbell Step-up on Bench

Alternating days; assisted stretching and various static stretches.

Christen’s next series will focus more on movement, balance and coordination. Stay tuned for the next workout!

Here Comes the Flood

At the 14th Street Y, we are so much more than a gym! We believe in engaging the whole person, your head, heart, body and hands. In addition to our well known fitness center, group exercise classes and basketball gym, the Y has a theater, a gallery, an artist fellowship program (LABA), and culture programming for all ages.

Sustainability is also an important value to us.  You have heard about fracking, and you know that we live on an island, but did you know that there are waterways that flow east to west under NYC connecting the Hudson and the East River? Did you know that New York City is one of the most water vulnerable cities in the US? One of our LABA artists, Anita Glesta  was inspired by water, our concern for it, and her study of the story of Noah to create ‘Watershed’, a beautiful and haunting public artwork.

“Watershed”aims to build awareness and educate community members in and around New York City about water ecology, which is of the utmost importance for a city surrounded by water. The artwork will be projected on 14th Street and in the building.

To see a video of the proposed project in action, click here:

If this is meaningful for you, there is opportunity to support the Y and LABA as we work with Anita to raise awareness and educate the community about the importance of caring for our waterways.

Donate now to the “Watershed” project through our community partner, In Our Backyards at, and join us May 17th-19th to see Anita’s incredibly beautiful and consciousness raising artwork at the LABA Blueprint Festival.  If you choose to donate to “Watershed” on Earth Day, April 22,  your donation will recieve an additional $22 match. (example: $50 donation +$22 match = $72 donation towards this project!)

To learn more about LABA, The National Laboratory for New Jewish Culture and our LABA House of Study, visit the Y website.

Shayna Kreisler is the 14th Street Y’s Senior Program Director, overseeing how all of our programming connects throughout the building. Questions? Email her at 


Nutrition with the BUFF BRIDE

In our interview with Christen, our BUFF BRIDE, we talked about nutrition and how she’s handling nutritious and sustainable eating while getting in her best shape ever.  Christen and her trainer, Jordan swear by the tracking website and app- “My Fitness Pal”.  It’s a simple way to track how much you’re taking in verses how much you’re burning off every day.  The end result is a better understanding of how much your body truly needs to have a great, energetic day and fuel the workouts that you’re doing.  

We reposted this very nice review and explanation of My Fitness Pal from , which tells you exactly what it offers, how it works, and it’s pros and cons.

Check it out yourself at

My Fitness Pal is a straightforward, simple diet and fitness tracking website perfect for the person who wants basic features without a lot of bells and whistles. The site offers a food diary, an exercise log, a few simple tools and a community forum for asking questions and getting advice. My favorite feature is the ‘Quick Tools’ option which allows you to quickly enter calories, previous meals or recent exercises and workouts. For exercisers who want the basics without much detailed analysis of diet and fitness goals, My Fitness Pal is a good choice.


Price: Free


  • A food diary and searchable nutrition database that includes thousands of common foods
  • A diet analysis that shows a breakdown of calories, carbs, fat and protein
  • A recipe builder that allows you to create your own recipes and even submit them to the My Fitness Pal database
  • An exercise log with a searchable activity database and the ability to add your own exercises
  • Quick Tools that allow you to easily enter calories or copy meals and workouts from previous days
  • Downloadable reports showing your nutrition and fitness progress
  • A variety of helpful tools including a smartphone app and BMR, heart rate and recipe nutrition facts calculator
  • A community forum to share experiences and get advice from other exercisers

The Basics

Food– The Food section includes your diary for the day, listing your meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Entering foods is as easy as clicking on a link and searching the database, which includes a wide variety of foods. The calories are immediately added to your chart, along with a breakdown of calories, carbs, protein and fat. The standout feature here is the Quick Tools option. In this menu, you can opt to add calories to your diary without having to enter other information, which is a godsend if you’re like me and wait until the end of the day to track meals without your labels handy. I also like the ability to remember meals or copy all your meals from the day before.

Exercise– The exercise section is a bit spare, showing your cardio and strength training workouts for the day. Adding exercises works the same way as in the food section. You click on the link, search the exercise database, enter the minutes you exercised and the activity is added to your list along with estimated calories burned. The set up here makes it easy to add strength exercises, which can get tedious if you have long workouts. Once you enter a strength exercise, it pops up on the screen the next time around, so you can easily add the moves you do frequently.

Tools– The tools section is also a bit spare, offering fitness calculators (BMI, BMR, heart rate and nutrition) and other things like weight loss tickers and badges for your website.

Community – My Fitness Pal offers several forums where you can post questions and answers about weight loss, success stories, motivation and more.

Pros and Cons


  • Easy to Use– My Fitness Pal is one of the easiest tracking sites I’ve tried. I love the ‘Quick Tools,’ which allow you to enter just the bare bones or copy meals and workouts without having to go through the databases.
  • Simple– I also loved the simplicity of My Fitness Pal. Plenty of fitness websites offer so many tracking and reporting options, it can get overwhelming. My Fitness Pal allows you to track the basics without a lot of extras.
  • Straightforward Tracking – My Fitness Pal is great for getting a broad view of how many calories you’re eating vs. how many calories you’re burning.


I don’t have many complaints about My Fitness Pal, but people looking for more detailed reports and analysis of diet and exercise goals may find it falls a bit short. There’s no real information about what exercises and workouts you should be doing, which may be a problem for people who need a bit more guidance. You also won’t see a breakdown of your diet – no details about fiber, vitamins and minerals, etc., although you do see calories, carbs, fat and protein.

Overall My Fitness Pal is one of the easiest diet and fitness tracking websites out there. It only took minutes to sign up, add a few meals and exercises and get a quick breakdown of my calories in vs. calories out for the day. For people who don’t want to spend a lot of time entering details or looking at reports, My Fitness Pal is a great choice.

Chloe and the T-Shirt Baseball

Chloe Markowitz is our Director of Youth Programs at the Y.  Besides being great to work with and amazing with our afterschool and youth sports kids, Chloe holds a masters degree in Clinical Mental Health, speaks Spanish as well as English, and is as well traveled as anyone we’ve ever met!  We’ve reposted a blog that she wrote for the blog ‘global circle’, about a service trip that she took to southern Nicaragua.  It’s a touching and interesting read, and tells you a lot about Chloe!



T-shirt Baseball Memory Making


Rutgers students travel to Nicaragua with AJWS Alternative Break program.

On a trip to India a few years ago, my sister, mom and I took a seven-hour drive to Agra to see one the great wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, and it was the biggest upset ever. No offense to the architects, as it is a masterpiece, but on our visit it was cloaked in a thick blanket of fog making visibility utterly impossible. Disappointed, feeling like we wasted our precious vacation time, we got back in the car and drove another seven hours back to Delhi.

Fast forward a few years, and I am standing in the heat of the midday sun, breaking from my worksite, playing a pick-up baseball game with some new friends. The players are from an American Jewish World Service Grantee organization, Servicios Medicos Comunales, located in Boca de la Montana of Southern Nicaragua. I am serving as the Group Leader for a week-long AJWS Alternative Break Program with 14 spirited Rutgers students, when I realize that this is my Taj Mahal.

Our task is to work on the construction of a vital Adult Literacy Center. Every day we wake up at 6:30 a.m., eat a breakfast of rice and beans, sing a working wake up song and go off to the worksite to mix cement, haul buckets of water, and hammer wooden beams together. On day two, I notice the workers ripping up an old t-shirt and crafting it into the shape of a ball. It seems that they are prepping for their lunchtime activity, the great Nicaraguan pastime, baseball. I ask Gyorgi, the boss, if we can play too, even the female participants, to which he replies, “Claro, es para todos!” Of course, it’s for everyone! And thus begins a new tradition. The first inning is Rutgers VS. Nica. We fumble with the homemade bat and the t-shirt ball (which turns out to be just as good as a regulation made ball), so I suggest that we mix up the teams because we are getting our tuchuses kicked. One by one we learn nicknames through play, Machillo, Wifi, Chantifla, Chato, Sin Sangre, and even the boss, Gyorgi, of Bulgarian origin, who is known as El Bulgaro, gets into the action. We are even bestowed with our own nicknames. I am affectionately called “La Flijey Flijey” after a girl they know who is always smiling.

Hence every day forward, we build wooden beams and we play baseball. (I mostly just watch in subsequent games as I am more of a cheerleader than an athlete.) One of our participants who does not speak Spanish, Zach, is so taken with their ingenuity and creativity of making a baseball from scratch that he learns the technique. He even decides to make a baseball for them as a parting gift, and a stand out of old wood scraps. It takes him two hours and many blisters to finish, but it’s beautiful and full of heart. He asks every participant what the plaque should say and we all sign it and present it to the workers on our last workday. The Sabbath rolls in and we all breathe a sigh, our first chance to rest.

Hand crafted bat signed by all the workers of Servicios Medicos Comunales

The men still work on Saturday and, at lunchtime, Chato comes to ask me to join them in the workshop as they want to say goodbye. Our site supervisor, Edgar, who has had the patience of a saint over the course of the week as we learn how to hammer, presents our group a meticulously carved and lacquered wooden plaque with two baseball bats intertwined. Each of the men has signed it. My eyes mist as they explain that the two bats signify our bond, intertwined and connected in our work and commitment to their community. There are no words, just hugs and the hopes that each one of us will return to see the center finished.

The great travel writer Paul Theroux once wrote, “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” This has become my travel mantra as I feel that truly great travel is serendipitous and cannot be measured by checking things off one’s list. We didn’t know at the outset that baseball would fill in the gaps where language could not, but it definitely made for one heck of an adventure.

Chloe Markowitz is a graduate of the Hunter College School of Social Work where she received a Masters in Clinical Mental Health. She currently works as the Director of Youth Programs at the 14th Street Y. Chloe is an alumni of the AJWS Volunteer Corps and is one of the founders of Global Circle where she serves as the Nominations Chair.

Interview with the BUFF BRIDE

 Have you met Christen?

Christen, one of our vibrant young members is getting married this autumn.  She’s been delightful in letting us blog about her workouts at the Y- aiming to be in the best shape of her life for her  wedding. I recently sat down with Christen to ask her how the BUFF BRIDE program is working for her.

The Y-  Hi Christen.  Thanks for speaking with us today

Buff Bride- Sure!

Y-So first let me ask you how you’re feeling so far?

BB- I’d say I’m feeling good about it.

Y- I’m glad to hear that.  How many times are you working out per week. Is it twice?

BB-Twice a week, yes.  Right now it’s Wednesday and Friday mornings.

Y- You know, one of the things I was most impressed with was the assessment.  I really- it’s been a long time since I’ve done personal training myself. But I was so impressed with Jordan‘s attention to what your body can do, that he wanted first to find out about it.  Where he could most help you be more balanced and fluid.  Had you experienced that before?

BB- I have had personal training before, yes.

Y-was it as much focused on balance and alignment before?

BB-Jordan is really good about really making sure I’m aligned and  balanced and stable.  It’s great.

Y-What changes have you noticed so far from the workouts? Anything different?

BB- I mostly feel better. My general mood is better.  Making a point to work out 3 or 4 times a week makes me feel, I don’t know, just better.  I don’t know how else to describe it, but I feel I’m in a groove and happier.

Y- Do you find that in your life it helps to have a discipline about something?

BB-Yes!  I work best when I’m in a routine.  This forces me to go to the gym at least twice per week, and then make a plan to go at least two more times a week on my own.  This really fits my life.

Y-Excellent.   Would you say that having the appointment, knowing that someone is waiting for you help your routine at all? I keep thinking that if I had a buddy at Yoga I’d show up more.

BB-Yes, definately…working out with my friends for Yoga at the Y  helps a lot.  We’ve actually been doing that for almost two years.  I find that I’m not nearly as motivated if my friends can’t go.

Y-which yoga classes do you go to now?

BB-We love the Monday and Wednesday night yoga classes with Laura.

Y- What do you like best about Laura’s  classes?

BB-Monday is definitely easier.  I like that it eases you into the week and is an hour.  It’s good on a Monday because you can relax and unwind after a busy start of the week.  Wednesday is more intense and a challenge on a day when you’re ready for that….and of course it’s longer too.

Y–Yeah, sure…I’d actually forgotten that!  But wait, aren’t you working out Monday morning and then doing yoga at night?

BB- (laughs) I haven’t actually done that yet.  Ideally I’d like to but it hasn’t worked out yet.

Y-I don’t know…that seems pretty intense to me, to do both.   It would be for me.

BB- yeah…I’m figuring how to get that 3rd  strength training in per week and still make it to yoga.  Last week I did the 3rd strength routine at night and skipped a yoga.

Y-It’s always a work in progress to figure how these things fit into a busy life.

BB-yeah, true.

Y- Are you reading the blog at all?

BB-I do!  And my friends always let me know when there’s a new one.  They love it.

Y-Good.  I actually tried your workout myself.  The circuits, the yoga warm up.  By the time I got to the elliptical my muscles were so wiped. I was tired!  How did you do that?

BB- We’ve been starting with the elliptical lately.  It helps wake you up. It also helps having Jordan there.  He pays attention to what’s happening so I don’t have to switch the levels myself.

Y-Hmm.  Maybe that was my problem.  I was NOT smooth.  But even two days after I was sore.  I work out fairly regularly and this was a challenge.  So one other thing, what’s the most challenging thing about this?  Is there something particularly difficult about the experience?

BB-The biggest challenge is waking up and getting into the routine of this.  It’s a change, the timing.  But I like the morning, once I’m up and on my way I really enjoy it.  I don’t have any excuses.

Y- would you say the best part is actually having that routine, having the lifestyle?

BB-Yes, I am a very disciplined person.  once I get comfortable with a routine I can function well within it.

Y- I think maybe that’s the best part about a sustainability, you know, not just for the earth but for your body and life.  It’s really about getting into a system that works for you.

BB- right

Y-I’m so glad it’s working for you, Christen.  I could have called and found out that you hated this.

BB- (laughs) No, it’s definitely good for me, I need someone there.  Having him there makes a big difference.  So glad I have the opportunity!

Y-We’re glad you’re doing it.  You know, there are times when I’m working out myself and I really want to get into shape, and the thing that trips me up is the eating part.  The nutrition part.


Y-I was reading a blog from a fitness queen with amazing abs, and she was saying that it’s so easy to eat well, just eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible, eat 6 small means, low fat when you can, and the rest falls into place!  I thought, is it really that simple?  Are you finding that to be so?

BB-(laughs)  Again, it’s about  routines that I find work for me.  I get used to my go to meals,  my banana and oatmeal in the morning, things like that.  Um, I don’t know.  I was on Jenny Craig for awhile and now I’m finding how it works on my own.  I’m doing ‘my fitness pal’, which has helped track what I’m eating.  But once I’m in a routine of bringing the right snacks from home, I find I’m in a pretty good place.  At least for the weekdays.

Y-What trips you up?  Is it weekends?

BB-Yes!  weekends and going out to dinner with my friends.

Y-Christen, I think that everyone who reads this will agree with you.  It’s the social aspect, the few drinks, the dinners with friends.

BB-Yes, even minimal social drinking.  I try to make it a point to only drink one day per week.  If I’m strict with that I can allow myself a splurge on the weekend.  I can afford the calories.

Y- So overall, do you think that this plan is sustainable?  Is it a marathon and not a sprint?

BB-It is.  Morning is the time I workout now.  I am making the time to do it, and it feels like something I can go forward with.

Y-I’m really glad to hear that.  One of the things we wanted to do with this was provide inspiration for our members by seeing someone make a plan and stick to it.  So on that note, can I come by and take pictures of your workouts sometime soon, and share them on the blog?

BB-Sure!  We workout at 6AM.

Y-6AM? Okay!  I’ll take the early shift and be there, and I promise not to hover!