LABA East Bay
LABA East Bay: A Laboratory for New Jewish Culture launched at the JCC East Bay in January 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.
Learn more about LABA East Bay on the program's website: www.labaeastbay.org
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 is Humor, and will be explored through writings from the Torah, Talmud, Mishan, and Zohar alongside select contemporary texts.
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 CNN.com, 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 forsocial 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.
LABA East Bay Artist Fellows
Rachel Berger is a designer in Oakland, and associate professor and chair of Graphic Design at California College of the Arts. Her practice investigates the relationship between design and culture through self-initiated creative projects; writing on contemporary culture, design, and education; and freelance work with non-profit and mission-driven organizations. Previously, Rachel worked at SYPartners in San Francisco and at Pentagram Design in New York. She holds an MFA in Graphic Design and a BA in American Studies, both from Yale University. http://rachelberger.info/
Bruce Bierman first wed his versatile theater skills (acting, dance, playwriting and directing) with his own cultural tradition when he adapted the short story, Gimpel the Fool, into a klezmer musical for his senior thesis at U.C. Santa Cruz. Now, he co- directs the Yiddish Theatre Ensemble in Berkeley where he has staged The Megillah of Itzik Manger and several cutting edge Yiddish cabarets. He is a celebrated Jewish dance master throughout California and served as the dance dramaturg for two productions of Paula Vogal's 'Indecent' at the Arena Stage and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He currently serves on the teaching faculty of the Stagebridge Theater Company in Oakland. http://www.stagebridge.org/instructors
Marika Brussel is a contemporary ballet choreographer based in San Francisco. Her work has been commissioned by companies around the country, including ARC Dance, Columbia Repertory Ballet, and Emote Dance Theater. She has been part of Doug Varone's Devices, ODC's Pilot program, and was a 2019 Choreographic Fellow at UNCSA. Grants include 2 Fleishhacker Opportunity Grants and a grant from the Classical Girl. https://www.marikabrussel.com/
Sara Felder is a solo theatre artist whose work juggles personal narrative, social justice and circus shtik. Felder’s topics include Yiddish culture (Shtik!,) Abraham Lincoln’s depression (Melancholy, A Comedy,) the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (Out of Sight,) grief (A Queer Divine Dissatisfaction,) and a traditional Jewish lesbian wedding (June Bride). As a juggler, Felder has toured with San Francisco's Pickle Family Circus, Joel Grey's Borscht Capades and the Klezmatics' Totem and Taboo. Her work has been honored by the Headlands Foundation, the Creative Work Fund, the California Arts Council, the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Leeway Foundation. Felder currently teaches Theatre and English at San Francisco State University. http://www.sarafelder.com/
Artist Miriam Dym is a self-taught systems thinker with a practice rooted in performance and drawing. She uses strategies from design, engineering, and business to run years’- long systems experiments which address something that bedevils her, such as "why do we make so much trash?" or "how does an irregular pattern behave?". Dym’s live performances incorporate labor or micro-manufacturing (sorting trash, logo removal, diagramming human relationships) with tangible by-products such as schematics and plans; quasi-functional objects and tools; and unfinished ("raw") materials. Dym has shown or performed at spaces including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Oakland Museum of California, SFMOMA (which collected her work), the Contemporary Jewish Museum, YBCA, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, PØST, and Pierogi. http://miriamdym.com/
Caroline Kessler is a poet, editor, and facilitator currently living in Oakland. The author of Ritual In Blue (Sutra Press, 2018), her work has appeared in The McNeese Review, Sundog Lit, The Susquehanna Review, and elsewhere. She is the co-creator of Index/Fist, a zine-making collective, and holds an MFA in poetry from Washington University in St. Louis. carokess.com.
Kiki Lipsett is a musician, educator, and performer. Her work meets at the intersection of social justice and music. Kiki runs and teaches in an arts program for youth experiencing homelessness in San Francisco. As a trained vocalist, pianist, and guitarist, she uses her music background to support youth in developing their vocal confidence, writing their own music, and expressing themselves fully. Kiki writes music, sings with various Bay Area groups, and for the past several years has written, directed, and performed in an original feminist, political, comedic, musical retelling of the Purim story. https://www.kikilipsett.com/
Jake Marmer is a poet, performer, and educator. His poetry collection, The Neighbor Out of Sound was published by the Sheep Meadow Press in 2018. He is also the author of Jazz Talmud (Sheep Meadow 2012), and his klez-jazz-poetry record Hermeneutic Stomp was released by the Blue Fringe Music. In the Bay Area, Jake performs with the Cosmic Diaspora Trio. Jake is the poetry critic for Tablet Magazine and works as the Education and Programming Director of the Bronfman Fellowship. https://jakemarmer.com/
Dan Schifrin has taught creative writing at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State, served as writer-in-residence at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and co-curated the exhibition “Beyond Belief: 100 years of the Spiritual in Modern Art” for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He is the author, among other things, of the play Sweet and Sour, and a forthcoming memoir about fatherhood and science fiction. A former columnist for both New York Jewish Week and the J, he is the winner of the 2016 Wilner Award for Short Fiction from San Francisco State University. http://www.danschifrin.com/
Sarah Stone has written for and taught on Korean television, reported on human rights in Burundi, and looked after orphan chimpanzees at the Jane Goodall Institute. She teaches for Stanford CS and is the author or co-author of three books, including her new novel Hungry Ghost Theater. The book, a finalist for the 38th Northern California Book Award in fiction, is a family story about addiction and mental illness that brings together experimental dance theater, Jewish history, Abu Ghraib, Dante’s Inferno, the neuroscience of empathy, world hunger, and the colliding mythologies of six different hells. http://www.sarahstoneauthor.com/
"Four Wise Men Entered Paradise" by Mirta Kupferminc, Director of LABA Buenos Aires. Etched Aquatint. 2005.
The JCC East Bay is in partnership with Shalom Hartman Institute to offer LABA East Bay.