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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:


Upcoming Events


Sunday, November 7, 4:00-5:30pm, In-Person

LABA East Bay, a laboratory for Jewish culture, is excited to announce our first COVID-safe LABAlive! The 2021 LABA East Bay fellows will present art, teachings, and live music inspired by ancient Jewish texts throughout the twilight-lit JCC East Bay courtyard, theater, and grounds. Come reconnect, re-engage, and be inspired alongside cutting-edge artists, with all of the pandemic-friendly protocols to keep everyone safe!



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 was Humor and the 2021 theme for LABA is Chose-n. Those themes are explored through writings from the Torah, Talmud, Mishan, and Zohar alongside select contemporary texts.  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.  Recently, LABA NY received a CANVAS grant, one of only a handful of organizations invited to apply. 


The 2021 Theme: CHOSE-N

Few of us have a healthy relationship with chosen-ness. How could we? The notion that we, as individuals, have something special, and that special-ness needs to be shared with the world just doesn’t sit right. Nevertheless, here we are, trying to shape hearts and change minds through our creative endeavors. Even more uncomfortable is the idea of communal chosen-ness, which just so happens to be a major plot point in ancient Jewish literature. Jews, so it goes, are the “chosen people.”

Doing the choosing ourselves can be equally fraught. When we pick one person, one life path, or one creative project over another, we are inevitably closing the door on many others. The ability to make these decisions is a gift and privilege, but also, sometimes a burden. Our capacity to choose is one of greatest powers, leading to deep joy as well as regret and shame.

This year at LABA East Bay we will explore the power of choice from all angles. What does it feel like to choose? What does it feel like to be chosen? And how do we know whether it is our time to do one or the other?

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) co-directed LABA in New York from 2012-2017, 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) 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.  

Jake Marmer (LABA East Bay Faculty) is a poet, performer, and educator. He is the author of three poetry collections: Cosmic Diaspora (2020), The Neighbor Out of Sound (2018) and Jazz Talmud (2012). He also released two klez-jazz-poetry records: Purple Tentacles of Thought and Desire (2020, with Cosmic Diaspora Trio), and Hermeneutic Stomp (2013). Jake is the poetry critic for Tablet Magazine. Jake is the poetry critic for Tablet Magazine and works as the Education and Programming Director of the Bronfman Fellowship.


2021 LABA East Bay Artist Fellows

Kyle Adler is a photographer specializing in travel, performing arts, and culture based on the San Francisco Peninsula. His work is unified by a passion for capturing the unique spirit of a place and its people. Kyle’s overarching goal as an artist, author, and educator is to tell stories visually that advocate for positive social change. He is a recent winner of the prestigious “Travel Photographer of the Year” competition, was shortlisted for the “National Geographic Travel Photography” competition, and was named by Digital Photo Pro Magazine as one of three emerging professional photographers worldwide. Kyle's work has been published in a variety of journals internationally including National Geographic Online, Digital Photo Pro Magazine, The Telegraph, The Atlantic, and Pointe Magazine. His images have been exhibited widely in the US and around the world. Having earned degrees from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, he worked for nearly 30 years in the technology industry prior to becoming a full-time professional photographer.

Israeli-born artist Hagit Cohen creates site specific installations that evoke a ritual experience in the viewer. Her large-scale images of seed pods and other overlooked natural objects give them a surprising agency, showing that even the most fragile elements in nature can take center stage and hold power in the campaign for the survival of life on the planet. Hagit holds an MFA in Imaging Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she taught fine art photography for years. Recently Hagit has been a visiting artist at Berkeley High School where she has supported students' environmental art projects in preparation for “Art/Act: Youth” at the David Brower Center, Berkeley. Hagit has exhibited her artwork in Tel Aviv, Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland. Her recent solo show at the Doug Adams Gallery in Berkeley, addressed issues of ecology and spirituality. Her 2020 show at the David Brower Center, Hazel Wolf Gallery, featured the work of four Bay Area artists, examining the importance of connecting people to wilderness as a vehicle for them to appreciate, understand, and ultimately protect the natural environment. Hagit lives in Berkeley, CA. 

Jessica Fechtor is a writer based in San Francisco. Her first play, Book of Hours, was developed by the Ground Floor at Berkeley Rep in 2019, was a finalist for the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, and will be workshopped at the Great Plains Theatre Conference in 2021. She is also the author of the bestselling memoir Stir (Penguin Random House). Jessica’s writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Tablet. She earned a B.A. in music from Columbia University, and has completed master’s degrees and doctoral work in modern Jewish literature at Oxford and Harvard universities.

Painting and video are Naomie Kremer’s primary mediums and while the two practices are distinct, they are also complementary and permeable. Her paintings, though largely abstract, incorporate figurative and architectural elements as well as references to nature. They serve as raw material for her video work, in which she overlays and manipulates source material until it’s transformed and no longer identifiable. Through detail, color, and scale, Naomie invites the viewer to enter this (literally or figuratively) moving world. Video is the medium for her installations and collaborations with live performance: opera, theatre, music, dance, and poetry. The fusion of video and painting occurs most concretely in her “hybrid paintings” in which a video is projected directly on the painting. The viewer is offered a jubilant visual experience which straddles the boundary between pictorial materiality and digital media. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in the United States and abroad, and she has created video-based sets for opera, theater and dance including the San Francisco Opera and Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. 

Avital Meshi is a New Media Artist. In her work she examines Artificial-Intelligence Technology through the perspective of Performance Art. Her aim is to find ways to reveal our own agency and empowerment when we are confronted with this pervasive technology. Meshi holds an MFA from the Digital Arts and New-Media Program at UC Santa Cruz and a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She was born and raised in Israel and currently lives and works in San Jose, California.

Jessica Kate Meyer, our LABA Teaching Fellow, serves as rabbi-hazzan at the Kitchen in San Francisco, and previously led as rabbi and music director at Romemu in Manhattan. She has studied sacred Jewish music and Jewish folklore with masters from Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions, and has performed as a vocalist and storyteller with ensembles in the US and Israel. In a previous life, Jessica pursued an MFA in acting in London, and appeared in film, theater, and television projects in Europe and the United States: most notably, as a principal role in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. Enjoy Jessica’s and The Kitchen’s Ocho Kandelikas

Ava Sayaka Rosen, our LABA Kids Fellow, is a multidisciplinary artist, poet, musician and educator living in Oakland on unceded Lisjan Ohlone land. Her work is firmly grounded in the belief that art can support healing and inspire stewardship of our more-than-human community. She is co-founder of Open Windows Cooperative, Jewish Arts Coordinator for Congregation Emanuel’s Youth and Family Education program, and Community Liaison for Artspan’s Art-in-Neighborhoods program. Ava sings and plays bass with Galore, whose debut album was released on the Rocks in Your Head label in June 2020.

Rebecca Roudman and Jason Eckl are a dynamic duo married in music! These two diverse bay area musicians work together on a crazy variety of projects, from fronting the San Francisco Yiddish Combo, a cutting edge Klezmer band, or touring the world with their band Dirty Cello, this couple loves music and all the adventures it brings. From the orchestral world to the hip hop world, Rebecca and Jason are all about an eclectic mishmash of musicianship.


2020 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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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