Veterans. Community. Stories. Our Stories. Our History.

Kara Krauze is a writer, a mother, and  a member of our community.  Recently she brought an idea to us here at the Y that we thought was pretty great.  When we asked her to blog about it for us and tell the story, she very generously said yes.  Please read on to learn more about our Veterans Writing workshop led by Kara and housed at the 14th Street Y!

Last September, I started teaching Voices from War here at the 14th Street Y, a writing workshop for veterans, with fellow writer and veteran, Jake Siegel, from Ditmas Park. If you had asked me the previous winter, in my youngest son’s final year of preschool at the 14th Street Y, if I thought I would be teaching a class here a year later, I probably would have looked puzzled. And I would have said no.

But the fantastic, warm community that I’ve so cherished for my children has embraced and nurtured Voices from War. What began as a need I saw for expanded opportunities for veterans to shape and tell their stories, has become a reality with support from people like our own Kiki Schaffer, Camille Diamond, and Wendy Seligson.

I don’t come from a military family—I have to reach pretty far to find a relative who is a veteran—but I have felt the isolating nature of silence, and seen how it damaged my father. He was a professor, born between the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II, and he took his own life at age fifty-nine. After my father’s suicide, in 1994, writing helped me to understand and integrate my experiences surrounding his death, his history and silences. By forming narratives, I turned memories that were jagged and fragmentary into more cohesive experiences. At the same time, writing pushed me into talking, and both of these acts helped me to find a vocabulary to speak about suicide and its related complexities. We have been slow learning similar lessons from the wars of the 20th century, including Vietnam, the shadow of which shaped the childhoods of those of us growing up in the 1970s.

It has been so gratifying, now, to listen and to seek out others’ stories. It is too easy to think that because only .5% of the population served in Iraq and Afghanistan that the past ten years of war don’t affect so many of us. But the whole country went to war, whether or not each citizen agrees with the decision, and all of us are impacted by its effects and after-effects—by the experiences of veterans, fellow citizens of a nation, of a shared humanity. Stories emerging from war, veteran stories, are part of our communal history. Their stories are necessary stories for all of us.

~  ~  ~

This event was funded in part by Poets & Writers, Inc. with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

~ This class is supported and sponsored by the 14th Street Y. ~

A Truly Trans-Cultural LABA Fellow

LABA Fellow Siona Benjamin
LABA Fellow Siona Benjamin

We spoke with artist Siona Benjamin, a LABA Fellow presenting  her new work, “The Four Mothers Who Entered Pardes,” at LABAlive presents MOTHER: Power on March 16th at the Theater at the 14th Street Y. The art installation includes four cathedral-scale mixed media panels exploring the journey of the four matriarchs as they enter the Pardes. The installation will also feature dancing by Bhavani Lee and music by Galeet Dardashit. Siona was humble enough to share her influences, process, and the effect being a LABA Fellow has had on her personally and artistically.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

Siona 6
Siona Benjamin

A: I am an artist originally from Bombay, India, of Bene Israel Jewish descent. My work reflects my background and the transition between my old and new worlds. Having grown up in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim society, having been educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, having been raised Jewish and now living in America, I have always had to reflect upon the cultural boundary zones in which I have lived.  In this trans-cultural America and world, I feel a strong need to make art that will speak to my audience of our similarities, not our differences as I feel I can contribute to a much-needed “repair” (Tikkun) through my art. I would like my audience to re-evaluate their notions and concepts about identity and race, thus understanding that such misconceptions could lead to racism, hate and war.

Q: You have so many influences. Can you describe your pieces and your process?

A: I use gouache and gold leaf on paper and wood. I am inspired by traditional styles of painting, like Indian/Persian miniatures, Byzantine icons and Jewish and Christian illuminated manuscripts, but I blend these ancient forms with pop cultural elements from our times to create a new vocabulary of my own. Using the rich colors of gouache I apply layers, literally with the paint, as well as metaphorically with the content.

My painting is my ritual, my celebration, my essence. My research and ideas flow simultaneously together and make up the fabric of my work. I use gouache paints and 22K gold leaf to form layers of jewel like color. My background in painting, enameling on metal and theater set design all influence my work. My characters are real as they act out contemporary situations and dilemmas, while also celebrating my womanhood, my abilities, my strengths and my ambitions. The ornateness of the culture from which I came once seemed difficult and unnecessary to apply in my work. Now I have found a way to use it, to be able to weave current issues and parts of my life in its intricacies, thus making this ornateness strong and meaningful. In this way, I attempt to create a dialogue between the ancient and the modern, forcing a confrontation of unresolved issues.

Q: To sum it all up, what is one word that describes your work?

Siona 5
Siona Benjamin

A: Trans-cultural

Q: How has being a LABA fellow informed your trans-cultural work?

A: The exciting process of learning midrash, collaboration, and meeting amazing new artists has influenced me. Also, the power of myth and recycling this mythology to make it relevant today is informing to my work.

See Siona’s installation, “The Four Mothers Who Entered Pardes,” at  LABAlive presents MOTHER: Power on March 16th at the Theater at the 14th Street Y. The evening will include a teaching with Ruby Namdar and two theater premiers by LABA Fellows Clemence Bouloque and Sigal Samuel. Tickets are $18. The evening will run 90 minutes with wine, snacks, and schmoozing to follow. Click Here for More Information and to Buy Tickets.

Y-Member Back on Stage after 20 years

Last fall, we asked Y members an intriguing question… Wanna be in a show?  Y member Josee Lavoie Falcone said “Yes!” and has joined an extraordinary group of people with the AfterWork Theater Project taking our stage over the next few weeks, some for the first time in a long time, and others, for the first time ever. AfterWork’s mission is to bring fun, community, and creative self-expression to anyone and everyone who wants to be a part of their productions, and over the next year, they will become the Y’s first Adult Theater Education partner.

Josee is taking the stage for the first time in 20 years in the moving play, The Laramie Project,  a breathtaking theatrical collage that explores the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights of compassion of which we are capable.  The Laramie Project is about a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, Matthew Shepard, who was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die, tied to a fence in the middle of the prairie outside Laramie, Wyoming because he was gay.

Learn more about Josee, her prior acting experience, and her time here at the 14th Street Y. Also, check her out in the Laramie Project with the AfterWork Theater Project at the 14th Street Y, Friday, January 31st through Sunday, February 2nd.


Q: Have you ever done theater before? If you have when was the last time? If you haven’t, why now?

I loved the theater as a child and read a lot of plays. I still know by heart the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet that I taught myself when I was 12.

As a teen, I was part of a group that earned a grant to write a play. We rented an apartment for the purpose and had many wintry get-togethers where we had a meeting of the minds, then all-out shout fests followed by resolution. Truly great.

I also was in a play, as a teen, by the Quebecois playwright Michel Tremblay. I played an outrageous, outspoken diva named Brigitte. Not Juliet, but wonderful, campy joy. The first man I ever loved was “the musician” in that play.

I haven’t done any theater since then, and that was 20 years ago, so when this opportunity came up, my husband urged me to be a part of it.

Q: How else have you been involved with the 14th Street Y?

I love the fitness classes and their wide array and have had a couple of personal training sessions. Thanks to Becky Skoff, we also got the chance to see the wonderful Jake Goodman in Kaddish. We plan on being much more active attendees of the events at the Y. We just weren’t aware of all that goes on here. And, of course, AWTP is a case in point.

Q: What is your favorite thing about being a part of Afterwork?

It’s more than a little clichéd but it remains true that it’s the people who make an endeavor more or less worthwhile. We have a great team for the Laramie project and I am very happy to have gotten to know them all a little bit. I love our team. Lee Kasper, our director, is very talented. He always makes the right call–really!–which is sometimes deep-nod inducing, sometimes a bit startling, like when a new way of seeing suddenly becomes manifest. It’s a bit of a thrill to watch!

It is also quite a learning experience to watch professionals put a show together. While we may be producing “amateur” productions, nothing about the process feels amateurish. Lee and Devan, our Stage Manager, are exacting and there is great passion on everyone’s part to put on the best piece we can. It’s most interesting to witness all of the little complexities and background noise that goes into putting something like this on its feet and before an audience. I’m also learning the lingo.

Q: What role/roles are you playing? How do you get into character?

One of my roles is a university professor. Aside from the usual mnemonics, I just have to imagine the fear and the outrage that she would feel, as a prominent lesbian in a town where a gay hate crime has just been committed, and her second-guessing her decision to come to this town, thereby potentially placing herself, her child and her partner at risk. My other role is more of a challenge: I have a few lines as a homophobic male rancher. It’s tough to get those lines out! I throw myself into the body of a cud chewing, tobacco spitting, er, limited person with the kinds of opportunities attendant to that. He’s a cliché too, but he’s real, literally and in the wider sense.

Q: What do you love about the 14th Street Y?

There is so much to love. The programs that keep growing, the arts opportunities, the sense of community, whether you are Jewish or not. To my great pleasure, the Y turns out to be a treasure trove that I did not rightfully explore until now.

Q: What are we going to see you performing in next?

My manager is currently negotiating that; I’m not at liberty to say. 😉


Check out Josee in the Laramie Project with the AfterWork Theater Project at the 14th Street Y, Friday, January 31st through Sunday, February 2nd.

Why I love Family Fit Day (This SUNDAY!)

1.  I was a fat kid.  

Actually, by today’s standards, I wasn’t really fat.  Childhood obesity and obesity in general has become such a national problem that my 12 year old 1980’s  version of fat, for which I was teased, is probably by today’s standards not even perceived as a problem, or out of the norm.  

Nevertheless, the issues that I had as a kid, feeling out of control, feeling that my body was my enemy, feeling that if I could only unzip my skin and step out of it a thinner person all of my problems would go away?

I can relate to childhood obesity.  I want to do my part to end it as a national problem. 


2.  I LOVED hanging out with my parents when I was young.

In fact, I still do.  My dad and I now always go to his gym together when I visit my parents.  I wish I had more memories of swimming, hiking and running around, together.  With them.  My best memories from childhood usually involve food, and I wish I had a lifetime association of movement and fitness with the joy that I had when I was hanging out with my parents.


3.  This:








And because Family Fit Day builds joy!  Family Fit Day gives this whole wonderful community of members, afterschool kids, summer camps, preschool, toddlers and babies AND their parents a chance to experience what a joy it can be to be together, move together, and GET FIT together.  

For more information or to get your Family Ticket, click here

Can’t wait to see everyone there.  

Family Fit Day is this Sunday, October 20th from 10AM-1PM, and features a family dance concert, rock wall climbing, sports and martial arts, yoga and zumba, healthy eats, and a Water to Go outdoor water fountain (we’ll provide the BPA free biodegradable bottles!)


Camille Diamond is the Director of Community Engagement and Communications at the 14th Street Y 

Have questions about Family Fit Day or Family Fitness at the 14th Street Y?  

Contact her at


Wanna be in a show?


My name is Becky Skoff, and I am the Managing Director of the Theater and Community Arts Initiatives here at the 14th Street Y.  And I have a confession to make…  I miss the stage. That might seem silly, since I am in the Theater every day, but I keep remembering high school and college, and those magical moments of performing in a  show. Those were some of the greatest moments of my life.  Since college ended and I became a working professional, however, there just hasn’t been a chance for me to act in a show again- just for fun… UNTIL NOW.

I just signed up to perform in a show with an amazing group of people, right here at the 14th Street Y.  And you can too- No Audition Required.

The 14th Street is partnering with the AfterWork Theater Project, an innovative recreational theater company.  This exciting relationship gives you, our adult Y members, an opportunity to perform in our Theater.

Participants in the Project pay a reasonable tuition fee in exchange for expert instruction, and an unforgettable experience.  No audition is necessary– everyone is welcome to be a part of the project.  Y Members receive a 20% discount from AfterWork’s regular tuition fees!  (Space is limited, don’t wait!)

I sat down with AfterWork Founder and Artistic Director Evan Greenberg to find out more…

Why should Y members sign up for AfterWork?

Y members should sign up for AfterWork Theater because the experience offers ridiculous amounts of fun while bonding tightly with cast mates throughout the incredible process of mounting a show.  This is a stress-free environment so whether you’re performing for the first time ever or you’re a seasoned veteran you can escape your everyday life through the sheer joy of being on stage.

You have an ambitious season coming up here at the 14th Street Y!  What led to adding all this programming?

Our commitment is to provide the opportunity for anyone who wants to participate in a show.   That said, different people want to participate in different types of shows.  We’re adding programs that satisfy the multitude of performance requests we’ve received since launching AWTP.

 Why is AfterWork partnering with the 14th Street Y?

The three qualities that AfterWork Theater is committed to fostering are fun, community, and creative self-expression.  We recognized that these qualities seemed abundant at the 14th Street Y so we were attracted to the idea of partnership.

What age are most of your company members?

Our members really run the gamut from 18-year-old recent high school graduates to a 72-year-old married couple that never set foot on stage before their participation in last seasons’ production of RENT.

So join me and fulfill a dream on our stage this winter.  Click here for more information and to register today

 Still Have Questions? Call Becky Skoff at 646-395-4322.  I can’t wait to talk to you!

Happy Earth Day!

“New York is the greenest community in the United States. The most devastating damage that humans have done to the environment has arisen from the burning of fossil fuels, a category in which New Yorkers are practically prehistoric by comparison with other Americans.”
David Owen, Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability                        

Let’s begin by owning that as a city we’re already doing a surprisingly good job of keeping our footprint low by simply living in NYC, driving less, living close by to where we want to go, and walking more.  Happy Earth Day!

Now–  let’s talk about garbage!

If you didn’t know already, garbage in NYC is transported to landfills outside of the state.  Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey all have landfills full of old clothes, packaging, paper, the contents of our last closet purge, and lots and lots of food waste.  This last one is the most unfortunate, because food was meant to compost back into the earth and enrich the soil for the next growing cycle.   If we can keep food out of landfill and find a way to send it back to the soil that grows our food, we’re giving our future food the opportunity to be at least as nutritious as the food that came before it.  It’s a simple concept.  However, when you live in New York City where backyard gardens and opportunities to compost are scarce it seems like the only option for our food waste is to throw it into the landfill with the rest of the garbage.

So here’s a happy story about what we’re doing here at the 14th Street Y, a Jewish community center in the East Village of New York City.  Most of the people who walk through our doors are small apartment urban dwellers.  Their days are full and they are busy, either with family life, crazy jobs or a combination of those.  The Y is a place that serves the community.  We’d been composting within the building for about a year (afterschool snacks and banana peels had a different place to go than the trash can) but this March we chose to begin a community composting pilot—an opportunity for our members and patrons to sign up and drop off their own food waste with us.

Like composting itself, the concept is simple.  After signing up with us, people were asked to save all their food waste; this includes the usual stuff like fruits, vegetables, peelings and cores, but also meat, bones, grains,  dairy, even wooden chopsticks and paper take out containers.  They bring their food waste in used milk cartons or paper bags, both of which are compostable, or in compostable bio bags. We used a waste hauling company, IESI to take the compostables to a plant where they would be processed into composting soil and made available to local farms.   We made a goal to divert 1 ton of food from landfill by Earth Day 2013, which we easily achieved.

It’s been amazing to see how many people would like to compost and will compost when there are sustainable ways of doing so. Would you like to compost with us?  Contact to sign up!

If you’re not currently a member or patron of the Y but want  to get into composting yourself, there are other options available.  Here’s a list of some of the best of them. Every composting program has a list of what they can and can’t take, so please make sure you double-check their lists before dropping off your compost.

  • NYC Greenmarkets have drop off programs for organic food waste, and it’s easy to remember to bring your food waste when you’re going to purchase more fresh, local food for your family.
  • There are experts in composting at Lower East Side Ecology center.  They can show you how to do your own composting…with worms!
  • Vokashi is a home composting service that lets you compost in your own kitchen with a special fermentation process in an odorless bucket.  Then…they pick it up!
  • You can get involved with your local schools by creating and registering a school garden!  Composting can be a great part of a garden like this, and an opportunity to compost and learn together!

Finally, if you would like to start a community composting project like we did at the 14th Street Y, Please let us know!  We’ll put you in touch with the right people and cheer you on from our downtown corner in the East Village.  For more about our program, just visit          


AfterWork Theater Project’s Premiere show, “Hair” at the 14th Street Y’s Theater

Remember the feeling of being in a high school show? Whether you are in the ensemble or receive a main part, everyone gets into the show.

After high school, this idea of being in a show for the experience and just for fun is hard to find. Especially in NYC, where theater is a huge part of the city’s culture, there are minimal opportunities to be a part of theater recreationally. Evan Greenberg, Artistic Director of the AfterWork Theater Project, created a company where non-actors – i.e. teachers, lawyers, college students – for a small fee, can enjoy the fun of theater that many of us remember fondly from our high school years. AfterWork Theater Project’s first show, the musical, HAIR is premiering at the theater at the 14th street Y and Evan has offered to tell us a little bit more about the company and the show to come!


So tell us a little bit more about the AfterWork Theater Project, How did it begin?

A year ago, I discovered a void in life after graduating high school drama. I realized there are few theater opportunities in the city that offer that sense of community. After sharing this thought with peers, I learned I was not alone in this realization. There is really no opportunity in NY to be in a cast just for the fun!

Once I decided to start my own recreational theater company, I created a youtube video to spread the word and it really got the ball rolling on this new idea. I began receiving emails and hearing from many people who had an interest in helping me with the company. At the time, I called my company the “Untitled Theatre Project.” Below is a link to the youtube video that started it all, but please be aware that the name is now changed to “AfterWork Theater Project.”

Getting ready to begin your premiere show as AfterWork Theater Project, how would you describe the company now and what it stands for?

Afterwork Theater Project creates theater to foster community and as recreational activity. It is a recreational theater company committed to providing everyday professionals opportunities to be in performances in NYC. Participants pay a tuition and are a part of the production. Parts are decided on what we call, “Launch Day”, a day in which the cast shares skills in order to see where individual’s strengths are. We ask for non-professional actors only and we see the program as simply for fun and make no claims to further the acting careers of our cast members.

The AfterWork Theater Project’s Mission is to foster fun, community, and creative self-expression.

Tell us a little bit more about your premiere show, Hair.

We chose Hair because we definitely wanted to choose an ensemble show and it was number 2 on our list. After focus groups and roundtable discussion, we decided on this play and got down to work. The cast consists of 35 members ranging from age 18 to 65, and consists of everything from a high school graduate to a senior level attorney. We have many teachers involved, lawyers, and college students. We try to keep it at a reasonable time commitment to work with the diversity of our cast’s schedules.

As for the production itself, the quality has far exceeded my expectations. I expected community theater but with the help of director/choreographer, Alex Perez, who has many credits directing off and off-off Broadway, and Musical Director, Julian Reeve, who has worked as a music director in London’s West End, we were able to set a really high standard for professionalism in our work.

We’ve been rehearsing this production for 2 and a half months. The cast has bonded together in a beautiful way and the whole process is sort of taking people back to their youth, not to mention helping release the stresses of their working lives. The spirit of hair is all about breaking down walls and freeing the human spirit and that’s what the project is all about.

Why did you decide to bring it to the Theater at the 14th street Y?

 It is easily the most beautiful theatre I visited. It was also important to me that the production was in downtown Manhattan. The facilities are absolutely beautiful and Becky Skoff’s been awesome.

I even could see in the future a partnership with Afterwork Theater and the Y because I feel our mission is so inline with theirs.

How can we learn more?

Visit the website at:

Also, we are currently open for enrollment for our next show RENT which you can learn about here.

For tickets to Hair, click here or call 1-800-838-3006

FAMILY FIT DAY This Sunday October 21st!

Why?  Because Families are busy, but still want to spend time together, build great habits, and model a healthy lifestyle for their kids. 

We’re celebrating our Family Fitness Initaitives with FAMILY FIT DAY  at the 14th Street Y.  Climb a rock wall, play silly sports, run fun relays (gunny sack races, anyone?) and play super soccer stars TOGETHER.  Sponsored by Beyond Sushi (YUM!), East Village Body Works (chair massage for adults!) Tu-Lu’s Bakery (also, YUM!) Gym Source, Web MD (thanks!) and our friends at the wonderful Ciao for Now.

11:00AM-2:00PM.  Hope to see you there!