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LABA East Bay

LABA East Bay: A Laboratory for New Jewish Culture launches at the JCC East Bay in JAN 2020. 

LABA is a non-religious, Jewish house of study and culture laboratory which uses classic Jewish texts to inspire the creation of art, dialogue, and study. The program began in New York City in 2007 at the 14th Street Y, and expanded to Buenos Aires in 2015. Read about LABA East Bay in the j.Weekly.

Sign up for the LABA East Bay mailing list.

The House of Study

Every year, LABA selects a group of 8-10 artist fellows, a mix of visual artists, writers, dancers, musicians, actors, and other culture-makers, to study classic Jewish texts in a non-religious, open-minded, and accessible setting. The yearly curriculum is centered around a theme, and previous ones include Beauty, Paradise, Eat, Mother, and Time. The 2020 theme for LABA will be Humor, and will be explored through writings from the Torah, Talmud, Mishan, and Zohar alongside select contemporary texts.

We are now accepting applications for 2020 LABA East Bay artist fellows. Applications are due by SEP 30, 2019.

LABAlive Events

LABA East Bay fellows create new work in response to these texts, which will be read, exhibited, and performed at the JCC East Bay as part of our LABAlive series. Each of these events will combine culture with a text teaching, along with a nosh and some wine, and will be open to the public. 

LABA East Bay’s goal is to present Judaism’s rich literary and intellectual tradition in a free and creative setting, so that these stories and ideas spark new thought and art. The creative output from our House of Study pushes the boundaries of what Jewish art can be and what Jewish texts can teach. In 2014, LABA was named one of the most innovative Jewish organizations in North America by the Slingshot Guide, and also received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.

The Theme: Humor

Humor’s busy. It can yield joyful communion, and existential dread. It can be a weapon or defense, and a sign of despair. It can create tension, and relief. It can give us a sense of belonging, and the feeling that, when it really comes down to it, we are destined to be alone. The best part? It does all this at once.

Jews, well, we’re known to be funny. This year at LABA East Bay, we will trace our instinct for the wry one-liner, the “tight-five,” and the legions of High Holiday pulpit jokes back to the very beginning. Ancient Jewish texts contain lots of humor in a variety of flavors. There’s satire, wit, double-speak, and vulgarity. We will look at how this humor functions, how it’s colored our self-perception, and why we can’t quit it.

Please note, the work created during the humor year does not need to be funny! However, we do hope that you will be inspired by the messiness, contradictions, and humanity that lie at the heart of humor.

Most importantly, we’ll have a great time talking, eating, drinking, learning, and laughing in the lush, fertile, free-flowing, romantic, super-serious, and endlessly playful environment of LABA East Bay: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture.

LABA East Bay Team

Elissa Strauss - Artistic Director
From 2012-2017, Elissa co-directed LABA in New York alongside Ronit Muszkatblit. She is a writer who covers culture, gender, and parenthood. Currently a columnist for, her essays, op-eds, and reported pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Glamour, ELLE, the Forward, and elsewhere. 


Sarah Wolfman-Robichaud - Program Director
Sarah comes with an extensive background in theater and music performance, as well as lecturing/leading workshops on arts education and arts for social justice in academic, educational, and community settings.  Sarah most recently managed the programming department at Arts Umbrella, the largest arts education organization in Canada.  When not singing lullabies to her children, Sarah is the JCC East Bay’s Director of Public Programs.  

Rabbi Joshua Ladon - Lead Teacher
Josh is the West Coast Director of Education for Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. He received a BA from Washington University in St. Louis and subsequently lived in Jerusalem for seven years, completing an MA in Jewish Thought at Tel Aviv University. He received rabbinic ordination from the Shalom Hartman Institute. He is currently a Doctoral student in Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Previously, he was the Dean of Student Life and Jewish Life at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay.

FAQ for LABA East Bay Artist Fellow Applicants

Who can apply to LABA East Bay?
Anyone who is curious about classic Jewish texts; is willing to study them in a non-religious, non-moralistic, and non-academic manner; and has a desire to use ancient Jewish texts to enrich their creative endeavors. Maybe you're a rabbi, or maybe you've never read a single page of the Torah in your whole life. It doesn't matter. Everyone will be welcome as long as they are up to approaching texts in this fashion.

Also, LABA East Bay defines culture-makers very broadly. This includes artists, dancers, actors, musicians, composers, writers, dancers, directors, as well as chefs, landscape architects, video-game designers and more.

What kind of time obligation is LABA East Bay?
Fellows will meet every 3-4 weeks throughout the year for a three-hour study session, held in the evening. (Likely from 6-9 PM.) There will be 10-12 study sessions in total, beginning in January and ending in December, with a short break over the summer months. Fellows will also be expected to work on a LABA East Bay project, which they will present at one of the LABAlive events. There is no expectation for these projects to be finished in full.

Do LABA East Bay projects have to be about Jewish texts or Jewish themes?
Not necessarily. The goal of LABA East Bay is for the ideas, feelings, and contradictions of Jewish texts to inspire new work. Sometimes this yields work that is identifiably Jewish, other times it is not.

Is LABA East Bay a paid fellowship?
Yes! LABA East Bay fellows will receive an $800 study stipend, to attend the study sessions. There will be additional production support for fellows' projects performed or exhibited at LABAlive events.

What happens at a LABAlive event?
There will be approximately four LABAlive events during 2020. These events will feature a presentation of LABA projects from 3-4 LABA East Bay artist fellows, alongside short teachings by a LABA scholar of the texts that inspired the work. They will always be open to the public, and will include a wine and a nosh.

Interested in being a LABA East Bay artist fellow?

Applications are due by SEP 30, 2019 to be considered for the LABA East Bay 2020 cohort. Artists selected for the 2020 cohort will be informed by NOV 1, 2019 of their acceptance.

Want a taste?

Join us for DRUNK, LABA East Bay’s launch event, on November 23, 2019.

“There is wine and there is wine, so also there is a cup and there is a cup, and all is, this for good and this for evil.” Zohar II:246b

You’ve had wine paired with food, now try wine paired with texts. Join LABA artists, ancient text scholars, and a local sommelier as they explore the complexities and contradictions of inebriation through teachings, tastings, and performances.

DRUNK originated at LABA in New York, where it has been a sold-event for five years and running.

Read more about DRUNK in New York.

"Four Wise Men Entered Paradise" by Mirta Kupferminc, Director of LABA Buenos Aires. Etched Aquatint. 2005.