KALEIDOSCOPE – “What Does Jewish Look Like?”

We sat down with Israel Bitton, an actor in the upcoming show KALEIDOSCOPE taking place July 15-19 2015 in The Theater here at the 14th Street Y. Kaleidoscope asks and answers the question, What does Jewish look like? Effectively exploring and validating diversity with the Jewish community.
Actor Brian Britton
Actor Israel Bitton

How did you get involved in KALEIDOSCOPE? 

Several years back I stumbled upon HBO’s Def Jam Poetry when Vanessa Hidary appeared and so passionately delivered a great performance of her piece “The Hebrew Mamita.” It struck a chord. I was proud that she was ‘representin’ us, and at the same time it occurred to me that one day I’d love to do the same. Then I saw her post this project, and it was just an obvious and immediate entry point for me.
What has the creative process been like?
Challenging. Rewarding. Vanessa and Kendell, through the workshop portion of this project, have helped each cast member reach into our personal histories so that we can craft monologues that are both deeply personal and still entertaining for audiences.
How do you view and identify yourself?
The world would peg me as a Modern-Orthodox Sephardic American Jew, but I don’t believe nationality, culture or observance level to be an essential part of my identity. It’s only a flavoring, and therefore I simply identify myself as a Jew.
What would you say defines you as a Jewish identifying person?
My kippah. My name (Yisrael Barouch). My soul.
Can you tell us about what you will be performing at KALEIDOSCOPE?
I explore my journey from being one of the few Sephardic kids in an all-Ashkenazi school system, the trials and tribulations that come along with that experience, my attempt to invent a new identity for myself, to coming to terms with my name, and ultimately, accepting my full identity as a means for true personal growth.
What have you been most surprised about and/or learned the most about during this process?
Aside from the very practical enhancement to writing and performance skills, I’m most surprised by just how diverse our cast really is. As someone who has a unique backstory and perspective, I generally have a broad worldview that allows me to see people beyond the stereotypes. And still, I thought that there would be so many similarities between the cast members that some stories would be redundant. Not so. If you’ll see the first black Jewish cast member perform, and when the second comes up you’ll think you now know what to expect, well, you’ll be surprised at just how unique every individual is. The end lesson, even for me as a cast member, is that despite being told we’re too different, or not good enough, we’re all essentially one and the same. And though we share a common thread that essentially connects us, that connection doesn’t have to compromise our right to self-discovery and the assuming of our unique identities, backgrounds, stories and trajectories.
 In the end, people that watch these performances will certainly be challenged to broaden their conception of what constitutes the Jewish identity.

XpuKM2HM63vBbEctGntYKC1DL-k8M3xc4pKds5QGB5MThe 14th Street Y and The Hebrew Mamita Present:


Developed and Directed by Vanessa Hidary
July 15-19, 2015

Get tickets HERE.

Vivid Reflections. Boldly Diverse. Distinctly Jewish.

The World Premiere of Kaleidoscope, a multi-media project and monologue showcase sparked by a desire to highlight Jews of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and observance levels, will be presented at The Theater at the 14th Street Y, 344 E. 14th Street, on July 15th and 16th at 8pm, and on July 19 at 3pm.

Through extensively crafted, deeply personal stories, Kaleidoscope will delve into the ever-popular question “What does Jewish look like to you?” The diverse and talented cast includes performers of a wide range of ethnicities, including Moroccan, British, Jamaican, Ethiopian, Libyan, and Puerto Rican.

LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture proudly selected for SLINGSHOT 2014-2015

slingshot button
// // //

The 14th Street Y is incredibly proud that LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture has been named as one of North America’s top 82 innovative Jewish organizations in the tenth annual Slingshot Guide.  The Guide has become a go-to resource for volunteers, activists and donors looking for new opportunities and projects that, through their innovative nature, will ensure the Jewish community remains relevant and thriving.

Here’s what Slingshot says about why LABA was chosen for this year’s guide.


A laboratory for Jewish culture where classic Jewish texts inspire the creation of new art.

Why It’s In Slingshot

The Jewish community has a rich cultural tradition full of art, literature, theater, and dance inspired by Jewish text and history. Recognizing that some Jews experience their Jewish identities through cultural platforms rather than religious expression, LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture creates opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to engage with Jewish texts in creative, open-minded, and intellectually stimulating ways. LABA uses classic Jewish texts to inspire the creation of new artistic work, combining tradition with experimentation in ways that bring new energy to the experience of Jewish life and culture. Each year, LABA chooses a theme that serves as an organizing principle for its programming. LABA: House of Study then serves as an incubator for
10 to 15 artists who study classic Jewish texts on this theme and interpret them via their various art forms. LABAlive, an ongoing series of original events and performances, serves as a showcase for LABA artists and engages diverse members
of the community in text study, conversation, and Jewish culture. LABA’s continued success and expansion illustrates how supporting Jewish culture makers can transform a community and deepen engagement with communal life.

To learn more about Slingshot, click here.

To learn more about LABA and this year’s theme, TIME, visit www.Labajournal.com.


Shira Epstein BLOGS!

“I am looking for a ROYAL PARTNER!”

With these words, StorahtellingLab/Shul Maven and LABA Teaching Artist Shawn Shafner, as King Ahashverosh, drew      my children, along with scores of young children pulling their grown-ups along, to engage in the Purim story last Sunday morning in the bright lobby lounge of the 14th Street Y. He also seemed to catch the eye of Lab/Shul educator Jess-Ann Smith, aka, Queen Esther–who shared her snacks and her wisdom with the king, proving that a winning partner is one who was unselfish, kind, wise, and brave. 

For a peek at the fun, click here!purim - jessann and shawn

“And I am looking for a more permanent position as the King’s jester, so please laugh at my jokes,” stage-whispered a Leprechaun-green creature with glitter-dusted cheeks, a blue wig, and eyes that seemed to sparkle a lot like those of  Lab/Shul’s incomparable Naomi Less.

In the corner, 14th Street Y Senior Program DirectorShayna Kreisler was quickly motivating staff and volunteers to change over our mask-and-gragger-making tables to be filled with treats to make “Goody-Foodie-Bags.” All were invited to make one for family or friends, and another to deliver to patients and staff at Beth Israel Hospital who might not be able to celebrate Purim– fulfilling the mitzvot of “misloach manot,” sending gifts of food to people in need of some love.  My son’s favorite part of the morning was walking to the hospital and meeting with Chaplain Rabbi Sheldon Goldsmith, who explained that he helped patients, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to heal their souls while the doctors and nurses heal their bodies.

purim - spacemanpurim - bakerPartnership, levity, good works inspired by Jewish narrative, and relationship-building were all apparent as we brought together a diverse community in celebration of this Jewish holiday.  As a mom, I was delighted to see my family having fun with the friends we have made participating in Shabbat at Lab/Shul. As the new Executive Director of the 14th Street Y, I couldn’t have been happier to see Lab/Shul and Y community members and staff working to bring Lab/Shul regulars, Y members, and new friends together–some who sought out a Purim party, and others who had never heard of Purim but wanted to join in the fun.

In my first few weeks at the 14th Street Y, I have come to understand how this community center can work with our partners, like Lab/Shul. Together we can attract and create a diverse community of people who build relationships and seek meaning through engagement with Jewish celebration, stories, ideas, and values-inspired action.

 purim - shaking homemade groggersThere is a history of partnership between the 14th Street Y and the creators of Lab/Shul that long precedes my arrival on the scene. I look forward to continuing to build together and hopefully to extend that reach to include many other organizations and groups who are working to revitalize Jewish life downtown. (SPOILER: Stay tuned—we have great plans in store for Shavuot!)

It is through partnerships that are unselfish, brave, kind and wise that we will continue to build a vital, meaningful, and diverse community filled with levity, good works, and culture inspired by Jewish narrative and tradition.

Be a LABA Fellow at any age!

We love this article that just posted on ejewishphilanthropy for so many reasons. We like the point that one doesn’t stop being vital, interesting or worthy of cultivation after 30. After all, most people find themselves past 30 at some point. But we also LOVE that the author points to our LABA fellowship as something for which artist at any age can apply and contribute richly to Jewish Culture. We agree!

Beyond Birthright: How Fortysomethings Can Cultivate Jewish Connections

by Erika Dreifus

My 44-year-old eyes fastened on the title of Elicia Brown’s column for The Jewish Week: “This Is Forty(something),” the headline announced. And there was much that resonated within the text, from the mention of a recent Forbes magazine reference to our peer group as “the smaller and often forgotten Generation X” to the column’s main argument: that “the largest-scale, most innovative Jewish initiatives ignore us, instead concentrating on a much younger generation.”

That latter point is one that has troubled me, too, and it’s not merely a matter of the fact that I missed out on Birthright Israel because I turned 30 the year that its first subsidized trips (for those between 18 and 26) took place. I’ve written elsewhere of my frustration with the youth-centered focus of Israel advocacy programs. You can ask journalist Samuel G. Freedman how many times I’ve inquired regarding the possibility that his Writers’ Seminar on the Jewish People might one day welcome middle-aged applicants. As an avid consumer of and advocate for Jewish literature, I’ve even grumbled about being excluded from the Jewish Book Council’s “Raid the Shelves” events, when the JBC opens its doors to “offer all of its leftover books” to “any and all young Jews in their 20s and 30s” who are nimble enough to grab them. (It seems that the JBC has heard me: the latest “Raid the Shelves” announcement, for an October 2013 event, shows a commendable new openness to us older folks!)

Like Brown, I wish that Jewish organizations and funders as a group recognized the contributions that we middle-aged folks can offer. I wish that they made it easier (not to mention more affordable) for us to cultivate our Jewish knowledge, identities, and commitments. After all, many of us have been educated well beyond college. We’ve held jobs; we’ve had years to hone our work ethics and sharpen essential skills in communication and teamwork. We’ve matured. We Gen Xers are, in fact, primed and ready to benefit from opportunities that may, at times, be wasted on the young.

But, like others whom Brown quotes in her piece, I’m not simply sitting around waiting for a groundswell of activity in this direction. Instead, I work diligently to find the opportunities that are, in fact, open to Gen Xers (and sometimes, even older folks) on my own.

Last summer, for instance, I enrolled in a free “Hebrew Reading Crash Course” to re-familiarize myself with the aleph-bet. My weekly class at the JCC Manhattan was an evening one, convenient for those of us with 9-5 responsibilities and supervisors. Similar classes are held throughout North America, thanks to the National Jewish Outreach Program.

More recently, I discovered the multi-faceted offerings of the Tikvah Fund, including free courses like the one I enrolled in this past winter on Zionist Thought and Statesmanship. Again, I opted for an evening class, but most of the semester-long courses – like Dara Horn’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People: Divine Justice and Creativity in Jewish Literature” – were held during the day, which might work better for some. Recently, applications were invited for the Tikvah Advanced Institutes, which are described as aiming “to provide accomplished professionals from around the globe the opportunity to study big ideas, great texts, and current issues with some of the world’s leading thinkers and practitioners.” These seminars, slated for the fall, are better than free: they offer stipends.

For the writers and artists among us who find inspiration in Jewish texts and traditions, there are additional opportunities. LABA: House of Study, which describes itself as “a secular beit midrash and culture laboratory at the 14th Street Y in New York City,” annually selects 10 fellows “to partake in a yearlong study of classical Jewish texts centered around a theme”; the program is now taking applications for 2013-14, when the theme will be “Mother”. Earlier this spring, nearly 70 lucky individuals were chosen to participate in the Asylum International Jewish Artist Retreat (applications were permitted from artists and writers up to the ripe age of 45). And the newly-launched Posen Society of Fellows welcomes applications from doctoral students and emerging fiction writers, with no age limits indicated.

– See more at: http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/beyond-birthright-how-fortysomethings-can-cultivate-jewish-connections/#sthash.Yi7jxHNG.dpuf