The Other Side of the World

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein

There on the other side of the world, I was instantly reminded of our community here in downtown Manhattan. Familiarity, warmth, energy, and connection, just like my experience at the 14th Street Y, was right in front of me at the Nikitskaya Jewish Community Center in Moscow, Russia.

Laughing, smiling, learning; children and adults of all ages joined in conversation and activities that inspired thought and expression. From Reggio–Emilia programming in the dual language Russian/Hebrew early childhood center to the harmonious silence of artists molding clay to the rhythmic movement of dancers in class, one thing was clear; I felt at home.

What I truly admired, and reflect upon now as I write this, was the common thread that bound the children and adults together through experiences. Both community centers take pride in the Jewish sensibility of Brit, or partnership— meaningfully connecting ourselves to others by agreeing to shared commitments. The Nikitskaya JCC has thrived as it is built on member and patron’s shared interests and goals.  At the 14th Street Y, we too are made up of people of all ages building relationships together around our shared interests and goals.

I encourage you to share your interests and goals with your 14th Street Y community. As the sun begins to peek through the clouds and bring the warmth of springtime, let’s continue this journey together. I can’t wait to hear about the ambitious goals you set out to do.

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Executive Director
14th Street Y


Faith and traditional wisdom help shape our lives and our legacies

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein

I have been lucky to attend a lot of milestone birthday parties recently. It seems that it is moments of round numbers when many of us look back and look forward and ask ourselves the deeper questions of meaning and purpose. Is my life what I hoped that it would be? As I count my years, and start to recognize the urgency of living life in a meaningful way, what gives my life meaning, and a sense of purpose?

One of the reasons that I fell in love with Jewish tradition and culture is the sensibility of “Z’chut Avot”–the memory of our ancestors.  Like many ancient traditions, Judaism prizes the remembering and retelling stories of those who came before us, and adding our own stories, insights, and sensibilities to the narrative as we pass it on to the next generation. This treasure trove of remembered and recorded wisdom is open to all of us to mine for learning, and also can serve as framing stories that help us locate ourselves.

Whether or not we are Jewish, we can all find meaning in unpacking, retelling, interpreting, and remembering the wisdom and sensibilities of stories of previous generations.

In my ELI talks, which I will share in honor and memory of my father, Rabbi Norman Koch, z”l, I had a chance to share a few of my stories of meeting people who had deep wisdom to share on what gave them a lasting sense of purpose–and some ideas of how re-enacting and remembering Jewish narrative as a living story is the best kind of Jewish education.

What ancestor stories or traditional wisdom help give your life meaning and help you find your purpose? What do you find meaningful in Jewish narrative or in other traditions that you apply to your own life? As a diverse community, I bet that among us we have many faith and wisdom traditions that help shape our lives and our legacies. I would love to hear your thoughts and responses–don’t hesitate to stop by my office, to comment below, on YouTube, or to send me an email.

Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Executive Director
14th Street Y

Are YOU in my video?

Dear Friends,

The 14th Street is a community that our whole neighborhood counts on!

I decided to take to the streets to find out what our community was thinking about around the winter holidays, and learned that people have a LOT of questions about Chanukah.* Check it out:

*You can find some of my favorite Chanukah resources here: Chanukah 101 : Resources and Links

I met people of our community who are spending this season celebrating Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Mawlid-al-Nabi, other festivals, or none. For most of our community, as the days grow shorter and darker, and the news cycle dampens our hope, we are seeking opportunities to share light, hope, and generosity as a part of a caring community.

For many of us, our winter celebrations include giving to others. In my family, we dedicate one night of Chanukah to a family conversation about where we will give back, and invest in our values. We decide together, and then we make donations. I hope that you will join me in giving this year to the 14th Street Y.

Over the coming weeks you will hear from some of our supporters about what makes the 14th Street Y so much more than a Community Center. Please consider joining them, as well as my family, in donating this holiday season.

Your gift of $50, $100, $500 or $5,000 will have a real, tangible impact in the coming year. It will make the Y a community we all can count on.  


Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein
Executive Director
14th Street Y

of bones || hollye bynum

of bones || hollye Bynum starts their residency at the Theater at the 14th Street Y this Saturday! Check out the full list of events happening at the Y:

December 12: Dance Film Production Workshop at PAUSE/PLAY

December 16:  Master Class 12-2pm (Inter.- Advanced dancers)

December 17-19: RELEASE performances

December 19: Master Class 10-12pm  (Inter.- Advanced dancers)

December 20: International Dance Film Screening @2PM

RELEASE maite Promo Image

RELEASE is the first production from ​of bones || hollye Bynum to include both filmed and staged contemporary dance in one full evening­length performance. RELEASE explores the nature of letting go and moving forward. Artistic Director, Hollye Bynum, draws from her personal experiences to create raw, honest, accessible inquiries of the human experience through movement. Her choreography transmits an emotionally charged quality, which seamlessly provokes audience members to feel, to inhabit their bodies with greater depth, and to open their senses to living in the immediate present. In collaboration with Brooklyn­based fashion magazine and production company, Beautiful Savage, as well as cinematographer Kyle Crichton, RELEASE integrates six new dance films and eight stage pieces with original music composition by Pedi Hashemian. Master Classes taught by company members will complement the three performances.​ The International Dance Film Screening​, which features films by local and international artists, ​will culminate ​of bones’ residency.




Giving Tuesday: How the Y Community Gives… and Gives Back.

In our big, anonymous city, the 14th Street Y is much more than a community center. We are a true community, where we become friends with neighbors, celebrate together and help each other out in tough times.
We see the spirit of giving every day at the Y. Here are a few examples of how your support made a difference this year: 
  • You supported your neighbors during their time of need. After an explosion leveled multiple buildings in the East Village, we offered six months of membership to every affected neighbor and invited them to enroll in select classes and programs at no cost. Thanks to your generosity, we also helped two Y families defray the costs of rebuilding their lives.
  • You gave our children and community a new play roofWith more than $125,000 in donations, we built an innovative play structure that will inspire active and imaginative play while making community gatherings, movie screenings, rooftop yoga and live performances all the more exciting.
  • You provided scholarships for families in our neighborhoodAt the Y Parents Association’s annual fall fundraiser, 118 parents came together and raised over $22,000, giving more families the opportunity to experience the spirit of giving that we at the Y strive to share every day.
To all of you who give and encourage others to do the same, thank you. Your generosity is what makes the 14th Street Y a community we all can count on.
Make #GivingTuesday count. Make your gift today.

Wallpaper: Flashbacks of memories and home


Mike Esperanza, Artistic Director of BARE Dance Company, premiers his new work for the company, WALLPAPER, at the Theater at the 14th St Y December 4-6, 2015 at 8pm. WALLPAPER is an immersive choreographic work that honors the foundations we create with the energy, scratches, scents and sounds experienced as we live in our homes.

“I want the audience to feel like they are having flashbacks to their own memories and experiences from home,”  says Choreographer, Mike Esperanza. “With the immersive, gallery-like performance each audience member will get to have his or her own unique visual experience.”



Esperanza will make use of the Y’s flexible black box space to create an abstracted model home-like environment with set pieces and a special light installation for audience members to take a walkthrough tour during performances. Fourteen dancers will create a series of vignettes and abstracted moments for audiences to move through. BARE’s performances will showcase their signature style of urban athletic contemporary technique blended in a theatrical setting.

Buy Tickets Here

Meet the Fellows: Gal Beckerman & Shanti Grumbine




“What kind of art can inspire outrage and change? Could that art also be beautiful or does its aesthetics undermine its political impact?”

galbeckerman13_17_flat_bl-150x150LABA PROJECT: I’m in the beginning stages of working on a book about the New York Photo League. This was a group of young photographers — almost all the children of Jewish immigrants who grew up poor on the Lower East Side — who in the 1930s took up their cameras as a form of social protest. They began photographing the Depression-era America they saw around them, both in their native city and out in the rest of the United States. The book will focus on Sid Grossman, who was the main teacher and guide of the Photo League, a charismatic figure and a politically engaged artist…

Continued Here




“Beauty has been a bad word in the field of visual arts for quite some time and yet it is still present and it still functions as an aesthetic, if sometimes unspoken, goal.”


Why do you want to study beauty?

In much postmodern theory, to banish beauty in art is to turn away from commodification and create a critique of commercialism, capitalism and corporate culture. It seems that Beauty remains acceptable only in mass media, entertainment and advertising, where it is used as a blatant tool for profit. And yet, I’d like to entertain the idea that for art to be democratic, there ought to be an element of beauty, something that is accessible to everyone regardless of class, gender, education or political standing. I believe that there is something courageous in making work that is generous and accessible to most anyone through aesthetic formal beauty and craft….

Continued Here

Meet the Fellows: Lital & Kendell



lital-dotan-cu1LABA PROJECT:

One of the major projects I am currently working on is a translation of a performance piece into a full length play. Designed as a tragic comedy, the play is based on a performance I did during a residency at the Marina Abramovic Institute in San Francisco in 2010, which went tremendously wrong, causing me severe injuries by a participant. In the play I am focusing not on the personal traumatic aspect of the piece but rather on its social aspects. So far I have translated this performance into a draft for a play, and I hope to be able to develop and discuss it during the fellowship this year.

Read More Here



kendell-pinkneyWhat drew you to apply to LABA?

LABA’s premise of studying classical Jewish texts and using them as an impetus for creation is unique among arts fellowships. As someone who straddles the worlds of theatre and Jewish life/education, it is nice to be part of a program that encourages me to bring all of my interests to the table.

Why do you want to study beauty?

Beauty interests me because of its relation to aesthetic correctness, perfection, and virtue. Beauty terrifies me for all the same reasons, because each of the above attributes implies its opposite: aesthetic incorrectness, imperfection, and vice. This, in turn, raises the more troubling issues of who gets to decide what is beautiful and what is ugly, and why should someone/some group have that power? To me, these questions carry a good deal of heft, because beautiful things affect how we relate the world, and the consequences of being beautiful, or possessing beauty, are tangible in how the world relates to us.


Voice of Change: Other Israel Film Festival

Sunday, November 8th, 2015 at 5PM
wine & cheese reception to follow
Now more than ever, the Other Israel Film Festival calls on the unheard voices of Israel.   In this panel, these five women will shares clips of their work, discuss their artistry, and the ways that Israel has affected both the subject matter and production of their work.  In anticipation of Sunday, we asked three of the panelist,  Tamara Erde, Adi Ezroni and Iris Zaki (trailer for her film WOMEN IN SINK featured above) a few questions to get some background on their work.


What and when was the first movie you made?

Iris: The first movie I made was a short documentary: My Kosher Shifts, about a Kosher hotel in London. In 2009 I moved to London to study documentary filmmaking. In order to pay the rent I found a job as a receptionist at a Jewish hotel in North London. As a secular Israeli who has never before interacted with Orthodox Jews, I was rather excited when I started to have intimate conversations with my guests: religious Jews from different countries, sects and backgrounds, and realized that I should turn it into a film. The film basically shows my conversations with several guests, where we exchange our thoughts and opinions about religion and life. I had filmed it in a very minimal, guerrilla way, so that the filming process wouldn’t change the nature of the conversations too much. I called this technique the ‘Abandoned Camera’. The film which I’m showing now: Women in Sink, is actually following the same technique, of capturing my conversations with individuals from a closed community, while I’m serving them. I’m also exploring this method through a practice based PhD research.

Tamara: Rober- A documentary about my father whom I never knew.

Adi: First movie I produced was a three film project about child trafficking and prostitution including a documentary and feature film. I’m still slightly post traumatic about it, being held in Cambodia against my will, and touring the country with the movie.  The First movie I acted in was when I was 12. All I remember is wardrobe stuffing the bra with cotton balls to create cleavage I still don’t have.


Is there a sentence or scene you can recount that has stuck in your mind during the making of the movie (even if its not in the final edit)?

Tamara: “It’s a perfect perfect educational success. You have wanting not to know, and wanting not to teach. And this is how the narrative goes on”. (Prof. Nurit Peled Elhanan)

Iris: One of my characters (that did not make it into the final film) was a very young Christian Arab woman, almost half of my age, who came to do her hair before her wedding. She told me that she had kept herself for her soon to be husband and that tomorrow is going to be her first time. It was an intimate and emotional moment we both shared – of a connection between two women at entirely different stages. While I was washing her hair she expressed her fears and excitement; I told her about my first time, that it was rather meaningless and not at all special. We realized how different our societies are when it comes to sex and modesty, and it made wonder about my own choices and about the idea of freedom. I used to think that my liberal life-style is so exciting and fun, but seeing the spark in her eyes made me rethink all that. Well, at least for a few minutes.


What is your dream project?

Tamara:  A documentary series of films, exploring human feelings, each concentrated on a feeling, shot all over the world, amongst different cultures and people.

Iris: My dream project would be a journey documentary with my father in Egypt, to search for my Muslim side of the family.  My father, Moshe Zaki, was born in Cairo. His mother, Souad Zaki, who was a famous actress and singer in Egypt, fell in love with a Muslim Qanun player, Mohammed Elakkad, who hailed from a great Egyptian musical family. They married and had my father, but after a few years they ended their relationship. When it was unbearable for her to stay in Egypt due to anti-semitism, my grandmother left to Israel, with my father, and my grandfather to New York. After a few years my grandfather asked her to join him in New York, and they remarried. They later moved to Israel together, where they lived until they died. My father, my brother and myself, had all been raised as Jews, though I am very much tempted to explore my Muslim roots and try and find my Muslim family in Cairo.

Adi: I’ve been developing a film for years about a poet. That’s why it’s taken years. I would say it’s now more a nightmare than a dream— just kidding.  My dream project would be one that I write and act in or direct.



Come see the Voice of Change, five women filmmakers discussing their artistry, heated themes and life in the Middle East. How do you call to action through film?  Conversation, wine & cheese to follow the panel.

Fitness Spotlight: Tim Haft, Personal Trainer

fitnessAs the 14th Street Y’s newest personal trainer, fitness expert Tim Haft brings decades of innovative fitness experience, as well as deep roots at the Y, to our personal training team.

Since 2005, Haft has devoted his time to improving the lives of our members through two innovative programs he created: Beastanetics, a high intensity interval training workout that utilizes a wide variety of bodyweight exercises, and Punk Rope, a fun, energetic workout that blends rope jumping and creative conditioning drills which has helped Y members shed the weight in just a few weeks.

“Seeing a member meet a short term goal, seeing them internalize that accomplishment, is a tremendous feeling,” says Haft.

With professional experience in career counseling and a deep knowledge of fitness, Haft feels that personal training and group instructing is the best way to utilize his strengths to help people reach their fitness goals. He’s been involved with fitness initiatives for over 20 years and is ready to motivate more Y members than ever before through his new role as a trainer here.

When asked what one piece of advice he would give someone who is ready to incorporate fitness into their lives, Haft responded, “be good to yourself, set realistic bars, and give yourself a little slack. Being gentle with yourself and surrounding yourself with positive encouragement will help you follow through with your goals.”

Come by for a workout with Tim!

Did you know? 14th Street Y membership includes one Welcome Workout with a personal trainer. Contact John Li to learn more about our personal training program:

Interested in Punk Rope, Beastanetics or other specialty fitness classes at the Y?  Stop by the service desk or visit to learn more!

For more information about Tim Haft and his credentials, visit