Days of Awe

On the first day of Rosh HaShanah, the community known as Beit Midrash Ohr HaChaim in the Bay Area was treated to the following words written by Rabbi Chanan Feld, which his wife, Jody, read to the congregation because her husband is fighting a serious illness. More on that below…

Thoughts on Rosh HaShana
By Rabbi Chanan Feld

Chanan Feld teachingWe’re asked to be expansive. Peer and project far
beyond for another 365 days.
Another cycle of limudim, moadim, parshiot, life cycle
events.
Posture of hope, confidence…our tshuva wil be
accepted….This is just the beginning!

The polar extreme of being consumed by the moment,
the focus on each breath, sometimes every mili-second.
Sometimes those moments on the other side of
our time and space.

Is it the dreamer’s imagination, flying unfettered
over the days to come
Or the mindful one mining the moment of now,
who experiences the true pulse?

Truth:
Rosh HaShannah is the head of a circle
No beginning, no end
From “briat HaOlam” to the “geulah shleimah,” one
continuous flow

Eternity in each present, a year in each day,
the entire universe in each second.

What will be our year to come?

Take a moment….Gaze on a loved one.
Appreciate your community,
Your surroundings, the kedushah of Shabbat
and Yom Tov.

Take a moment and feel my love for each and everyone
whose help, tehillim, tefillot, concern allowed me to
write this. One whose humbled spirit feels utterly
grateful to all

That’s what our year will be, the eternally
present love of HaShem.
That’s the moment of your now and year to come.

Shana Tova Umetukah.
May Our Righteous Redeemer usher in Redemption
for Klal B’nei Yisroel

B’ahavah! (with love)

Chanan

Thoughts on Rabbi Chanan Feld

HaRav Chanan Velvel Simcha ben Bryna is fighting an aggressive case of oral cancer. For decades, Rabbi Feld, his wife and their three children have been as astounding resource for Jews both living in and passing through the region. The Feld home, has been one of only relatively few “go-to homes” in the San Francisco area for uplifting, fun, warm and welcoming Shabbos meals for huge crowds of all kinds of Jews–unaffiliated, religious, formerly frum, becoming frum, Israeli, foreign, exploring…you name it (!!!) all across the spectrum.

Because so many guests, “repeat customers” and virtual strangers have passed through their doors, the Felds have had an immeasurable positive influence on Jews literally throughout the world. Both Chanan and Jody are co-founders of Beit Midrash Ohr HaChaim, a beloved center for tefillot, community, meals and learning that I have been blessed to be affiliated with since its origin 10 years ago. For all this time and more, the Felds have been my dear friends who are much more like family than friends. I can’t even count how many Shabbatot and holidays I’ve spent with them: innumerable Shabbos dinners, lunches, third meals, sedarim, Sukkot meals… my own spirituality has grown so much because of their example, inspiration, teachings and friendship.

But what’s truly amazing is that this story is not only mine. It is shared by hundreds, if not thousands of Jews who have spent time in their company. That’s because the Felds are gifted Torah teachers and examples of Jewish values; a meal at their home means feeling not only welcome, but guided, taught, uplifted and loved. Today, there are Yidden of all stripes — chasidic, modern, Litvish, Skver, Carlebachian, etc… — that they have informed and inspired who are now living throughout California, Israel and around the world. In short, they are paragons of chesed, Torah and Ahavat Yisrael – love for their fellow Jews. There really aren’t enough words to describe the difference they make in the Jewish world.

Rabbi Feld has performed bris-es throughout the Pacific, from Anchorage to Alaska, for more than 20 years. And many friends and others who have benefited from the Felds legendary open door policy, hospitality and friendship.

Because his health is in such serious condition, time is of the essence. Any help you could lend would be a great chesed. If you’d like to contribute to the Feld Fund in any way, with words of encouragement, prayers, financial contributions… please visit the community site: http://www.lotsahelpinghands.com/c/617304/.

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Spiritual Tools

Becoming You
By David Sacks

On Rosh Hashana, we pledge not to remain a cheap imitation of our ‘old self.

There is a fascinating dialectic contained within Rosh Hashana. On one hand, it’s the beginning of the new year. And yet Rosh Hashana actually occurs in the seventh month, (Nissan, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, is the first month — see Exodus 12:2.) This means that Rosh Hashana actually falls out in the middle of the year!

There is a deep secret contained in this. People reach the middle of their lives and think that meaningful change is impossible. Therefore, the Almighty put Rosh Hashana in the middle of the year to teach us that it’s never too late to begin again.

In the most obvious sense, Rosh Hashana is all about making God our king, for whom we have awesome respect and commit to following His instructions.

But there’s an even more primary step. The Kotzker Rebbe once observed that some people come to him in search of assistance to reach God. But their efforts are for naught, for “[God’s] glory fills all the earth” (Isaiah 6:3). Rather, the Kotzker taught, for whom must people search? For themselves.

The Midrash (Kohelet Rabba 1:3) comments that “one who grows old is like an ape.” The KotzkerRebbe explains that the nature of an ape is to imitate. “Just as it is the way of an ape to imitate humans, so too, a person, when he has become old, imitates himself, and does what was his manner previously.” In other words, most of us, at some point in life, either consciously or not, become satisfied with who we are and what we’ve become. As such, we cease to strive toward attaining greater spiritual heights. We are content to live out our remaining days as a mere imitation of ourselves!

From this we see that the Torah perspective on “growing old” is not a function of age, but rather on whether we remain committed to spiritual growth.

Therefore, the question we all must ask is: Have I become an imitation of myself? And if so, when did it happen and what factors are to blame? Is it malaise, a crisis in belief, anger at God, or simply laziness? Unless we find the root of the problem, how can we hope to uproot it?

But there’s another, perhaps bigger, question: Who do I want to be? As Hillel says, “If not for me, then who?” (Avot 1:14) In other words, if I recognize the need to go beyond the “me,” because I am no longer content with who I am now, then “who” exactly would I like to become?

Rosh Hashana is the most ideal time to contemplate this. Because on Rosh Hashana the DNA for the year is being formed, and God looks to us as partners in its creation.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz gives the following example: Imagine you’re an architect sitting in front of a blueprint. Think about how much easier it is to change the position of the windows before you construct the building than it is after the house has been built!

Rosh Hashana is the time when we make the blueprint for our new selves. The power to envision what we want to become is exponentially greater now, than it is once the year has already been built.

Using this as a framework, let’s go deeper. Every situation, or “scene” we find ourselves in life — whether as seemingly trivial as standing on line in the supermarket, or deciding whether or not to lose our temper — is a uniquely designed opportunity for us to grow spiritually, to become more “God-like.” On some level, we are like actors and God is the Ultimate Playwright.

Now imagine the author is about write the next act, but before he does so he gives you the opportunity to discuss who you’d like to be, and what role you’d like to play in the new production. This is what the prayers of Rosh Hashanah are all about. The Almighty is about to create the new year, but before He does, in the ultimate sign of love and respect, He looks to us for input.

Take the time to dream the greatest dream of yourself, and then chart the course to realizing it. Ask yourself: Am I constantly striving to be a better parent/spouse? Am I making an effort to learn Hebrew and observe Shabbos? Do I empathize with the plight of Jews around the world, and the devastating terror in Israel? Do I have a fixed time for Torah study every day?

Now structure a timetable for achieving your goals. For some reason, we never think in terms of deadlines when it comes to spirituality. But why not? As Hillel concludes, “If not now, when?” “Now” that I have envisioned the new me, “when” will I bring it into being?

Great days are coming. Let’s use them to make a big breakthrough, for ourselves and our world.

David Sacks is an Emmy-winning Hollywood screen writer. Each week, he shares a Torah teaching at www.torahonitunes.com

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Jewish Diversity Rocks

What do a rapper, a dancer, a comedian and a handful of Sefardic, Ashkenazi and Hasidic performers have in common? They’re all sharing the stage this Sunday in a show that celebrates Jewish diversity.

After an amazing year of events across North America, we’re celebrating the first anniversary of the publication of my book with a blow-out concert in New York City this Sunday. The Cool Jews Every Member of the Tribe Artist Showcase features an amazing cast of multicultural Jews. And it’s free! And, in an online giveaway we’re running in conjunction with this event, one lucky winner will receive a prize package valued at almost $300 packed with their innovative creations. It’s free, too!

Rosh Hashanah Giveaway

The Cool Jews Every Member of the Tribe Artists Showcase is slated for 5 pm, Sept. 13th at the JCC of Manhattan. Our diverse group of multicultural Jewish artists will hit the stage with their greatest hits. Performers include:
Sarah Aroeste,
Ladino chanteuse
Yisrael Campbell, comedian/Jew by choice
Eprhyme, Ashkenazi rapper Eden Pearlstein (on the Shemspeed label)
Elie Massias, Gibraltar-born Sephardic guitarist/solo artist
Adam McKinney, classically trained African-American Jewish dancer who has performed with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and other acclaimed companies, filmmaker and arts educator
Rachel Ravitz & Matti Brown, married singer/songwriter folk duo; Rachel is a storyteller in the tradition of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Matti is a cantor and Jew by choice
Rav Shmuel, hasidic rabbi and rock n’ roller

In conjunction with the Cool Jews Every Member of the Tribe Artists Showcase, we’ve created the Cool Jew New You Giveaway in partnership with http://ModernTribe.com. This innovative website shares Cool Jew‘s approach to celebrating Jewish culture. Together, we have invited the Showcase Artists and several other Jewish mensches — friends and colleagues, artists, writers, performers and entrepreneurs — to donate prizes to the Cool Jew New You Giveaway in honor of the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah, which falls on September 18th.

To enter to win the Cool Jew New You Giveaway, visit http://tinyurl.com/coolyou and submit your answer to this question: “In what ways are you “casting off” and starting new this year?'” You can also click through to purchase elements of the Giveaway. (No purchase is required to win. This contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.)

The Cool Jew New You Giveaway winner will be chosen from all submissions and announced on Sept. 17th at the ModernTribe.com blog.

The Cool Jew New You Giveaway contains prizes valued at approximately $300. One lucky mensch will receive:

* Ladino chanteuse Sarah Aroeste’s Puertas CD ($15)
* Stand-up comedian Yisrael Campbell’s Circumcise Me DVD ($20)
* Eprhyme’s debut CD WAYWORDWONDERWILL ($15) and 7-inch vinyl single, Punklezmerap, on K Records as part of its International Pop Underground Series ($5)
* Jewcy.com’s “Table Topics: Spirit Box” discussion cards ($25)
* Author Lisa Alcalay Klug’s book Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe ($13)
* Living Tree Community Foods’ organic Snugglespoon honey, raw almond butter and raw tahini ($47 total)
* Rachel and Matti’s CD sampler Your Kindness ($5)
* Jennie Rivlin Roberts’ “No Limit Texas Dreidel” game from ModernTribe.com ($20)
* Jean Roth’s Rotem Gear What Would Maimonides Do? t-shirt ($24)
* Author Matthue Roth’s books, Never Mind the Goldbergs ($8) and Yom Kippur A Go-Go ($15)
* Musician/composer Elie Massias’ Brooklyn Days CD ($10)
* Singer/Songwriter Rav Shmuel’s “Protocols” and “B’yameinu” music CDs ($18 each) and two t-shirts ($15 each)

Meet the folks behind the giveaway:

Inspired by her Sephardic roots from Spain and Greece, Ladino chanteuse Sarah Aroeste fuses Judeo-Spanish folk songs from her unique background with rock, funk, jazz and blues. Her exotic blend of flamenco melodies, Middle Eastern rhythms and modern soul presents a fresh take on Sephardic sounds. saraharoeste.com

American-born Yisrael Campbell performs stand-up comedy throughout the English-speaking world and Israel, his adopted home. Yisrael is currently creating a production of his one-man show, “Circumcise Me,” to open off-Broadway in November, 2009. He trained for the stage at Circle in the Square. yisraelcampbell.com

Incorporating Kabbalah, psychology and politics, Eprhyme (aka Eden Pearlstein) spits rhymes intertwined with elements of jazz, funk, klezmer and Middle Eastern music. A kaleidoscopic counter-cultural exchange for mystics, punks and b-boys, his raps are a powerful, poetic plea for peace, justice, joy and unity. Ephryme.com, http://tinyurl.com/eprhymevid

Jewcy.com is an entertainment and media company devoted to helping Jews (and anyone else) find, use, share, and expand meaning and community. Jewcy operates an online site, theatrical productions, and a steady diet of exciting events for progressive free-thinkers. jewcy.com

Award-winning journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe, a 2008 National Jewish Book Awards Finalist. A contributor to the New York Times, Forward and many other publications, Lisa also edits the multicultural blog, Tolerant Nation. cooljewbook.com tolerantnation.wordpress.com

Living Tree Community Foods is a pioneering natural foods company distributing kosher creations from its base in Berkeley, California throughout the world. Living Tree products are alive, organic and certified kosher. livingtreecommunity.com

Gibraltar native Elie Massias sings and plays acoustic and electric guitar, soprano saxophone and cajon and, using a boomerang sampler, creates loops in real-time, integrating the beautiful intricacies of Flamenco Guitar, Jazz, Middle Eastern and Sephardic music. Billboard Magazine named Elie among the top 10 acts of the U.S. North East at the Independent Music World Series 2007. eliemassias.com

Rachel Ravitz & Matthew Brown met while exploring the world’s various religions and married soon after their first musical collaboration. Fifteen years later, they continue to harmonize, compose and perform new Jewish melodies. Rachel is a singer and storyteller in the Chasidic tradition of Reb Shlomo Carlebach. Matthew, a Jew by choice, is a composer and cantor for several congregations in New York City. Rachel and Matti are currently recording their first CD of original Jewish music. rachelandmatti.com

Jennie Rivlin Roberts is the founder of ModernTribe.com (this website!), an online Judaica and Jewish gifts store for progressive minds, spirits, and style, and the co-inventor of No Limit Texas Dreidel (NLTD), which crosses dreidel with Texas Hold’em poker. NLTD has received national recognition in media outlets such as NPR and Newsweek. TexasDreidel.com

Designer R. Jean Roth embraces diversity daily at her graphic design studio and through her apparel designs at Rotem Gear. Having lived in the US, Israel and Japan, she brings her multi-hued background into her designs, along with a dose of American pop culture and quirky humor. Rotem Gear has been featured in fashion magazines, Jewish publications and the Cool Jew book! RotemGear.com

Matthue Roth is the author of three novels, Losers, Never Mind the Goldbergs, and Candy in Action, as well as a memoir, Yom Kippur a Go-Go. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter, and he keeps a secret diary at matthue.com

Rav Shmuel is a hasidic rabbi who hangs out in Greenwich Village and plays original compositions on his guitar. Billboard described his acclaimed debut CD as “immediately likeable… good humored anti-folk.” Views of his animated video, “Protocols,” have surpassed 125,000 on YouTube. ravshmuel.com

Take a moment for fun and enter to win the Cool Jew New You Giveaway!

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Rebuilding and Being Built

Soul Journey
By Neshama Carlebach

neshama carlebach
From the moment I was old enough to know I was alive, I knew I wanted to perform. I trained as a singer and actor from when I was five years old, and began singing with my father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, when I was fifteen. Never in my lifetime did I imagine that I was developing the strength, knowledge and skill to follow in his footsteps.

I began my singing career three weeks after I lost my father, my best friend. At first I felt compelled to sing, knowing in my heart he would have wanted me to. The beginning was a time of great sorrow, as I traveled around the world singing for thousands of people, all of us unable to accept the fact that we would never again be in his holy presence.

My sweetest father gave me lessons in life that have empowered me since I was a little girl. He said we need to love every person in the world at least as much as we love ourselves and those closest to us. He said when we see someone is suffering, it’s because we have been blessed with the opportunity to save a life. He said when we reach out to G-d with all our strength, that G-d rejoices in that connection and will absolutely answer our deepest prayers. He said when we open our hearts, we learn we are never alone. These words (all his teachings, really…) run through my head all day long, I know his influence has made me who I am. In this spirit and with great joy that I write this letter to you now, to share the beginning of a new and exciting life change for me.

Please G-d, over the next weeks, I will be solidifying the foundation of my new company,
souljourneylogo
Created as a response to the darkness of this time of economic crisis and spiritual uncertainty, Soul Journey will provide an avenue for people of all ages and faiths to find the hope, inspiration and empowerment that is needed now more than ever. My goal is to create the pathway for my shows and workshops to not only raise spirits (as we have been doing for all these years) but also raise capital for those in need. When words fail us all, it’s music that allows us to express our innermost longings, work through our fears and feel joy even in times of darkness. This is more important now than it’s ever been. In this endeavor, I draw inspiration from my father, who was essentially a one-man non-profit organization. He gave and gave of himself, running across the globe only to hug and comfort one lonely person. I pray that this structure will give me the opportunity freely and wholeheartedly to do the same.

Even though I’m still in the process of establishing Soul Journey, because I know it’s absolutely the right thing to be doing, I’ve taken on my first two events: a Shabbaton and concert for Selichot on Sept. 11-12 in Harrisburg, PA and a very important event and Fundraising (and Awareness) Campaign in New Orleans on Oct. 15. Please click here to read about Soul Journey and these two events that have come to mean so very much to me. I hope that you will join us in our Campaign and help us to Rebuild.

I look forward to sharing more about our upcoming work with you. I’m so elated to have this opportunity to use my father’s and my music to bring Tikkun Olam to all of us, to heal the world just one day faster.

With love,
Neshama

neshama5

Singer/songwriter Neshama Carlebach is continuing the legacy established by her father Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. His deep spirituality and his love of all humanity, filled every song he wrote and touched every person he encountered as he changed the face of Jewish music.

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Step Aside Marvel Comics

These heroes don’t wear tights or capes. They hardly need leotards to reveal how super they really are.

If you somehow haven’t yet heard, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein is a Jewish Community Hero. And by association–as well as kedushin, children and an inspiring partnership–so is his wife, Rachel.

Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein

Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein

If you haven’t met the Booksteins, this description might sound like an exaggeration. So don’t trust my word alone. For proof of their ability to leap tall hurdles in a single bound, just look to the leaderboard in the Jewish Community Heroes contest. Team Bookstein is currently holding No. 1, with a staggering lead of almost 10 grand. Sure the site only names Rabbi Yonah, but those who have witnessed Rachel in action know the Booksteins thrive working in tandem.

An astounding number of votes have been cast on behalf of this dynamic duo: 17,258 at the time of this posting at the UJC site, JewishCommunityHeroes.org. And thanks to their many friends and supporters, they netted more than 2,000 votes alone in the last 24 hours. What makes these mere mortals so super? Check out this nomination written by one of their students. The Booksteins are “…one of the reasons that thousands of Jews in over ten countries, most recently on college campuses Southern California, are proud to be Jewish, whether it be religiously, culturally, or politically.” The Booksteins founded Jewlicious Festival, “the largest Jewish college student weekend gathering in the country. Jewlicious brings together over 1,000 students from the USA, Canada, and Israel.” They worked for years at Long Beach Hillel until recently relocating to lead JConnectLA. Previously, Rabbi Yonah and Rachel led a remarkable effort helping revitalize the Jewish community in Poland.

I personally have been among the many who have benefited from their heartfelt efforts. I first met the Booksteins while they were running a Warsaw summer camp, where they welcomed my father and me for a Shabbat. I’ll always remember the beautiful respite the Booksteins gave us in the midst of a terribly painful exploration of my family’s roots in Eastern Europe. My father, a survivor of Buchenwald, hadn’t been in Poland since his childhood–when his parents and two of his siblings were murdered and he was enslaved in forced labor by the Nazis. After tefillot, my father told Rachel, “I never thought I would one day stand in Poland leading davening for a group of Jewish children.” Those children, some of them exploring what it means to be Jewish for the first time, were there solely because of the Booksteins and the generosity of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which funded their efforts.

Once they returned to the states, the Booksteins continued working to unite Jews of every stripe. They created “a place where they could come together – Jewlicious Festival. Jewish of all shapes and sizes, from bikinis to black hats, no matter their background, level of observance or affiliation, gather annually for three days of music, innovation, inspiration, connections and creativity. From jocks to hipsters, Ashkenazi to Sephardic Persians, Jews from all walks of life can network and connect with others who have also traversed continents and oceans for the Jewlicious Festival pilgrimage. Because he uniquely bridges the gap between modern and traditional paradigms, Rabbi Yonah has connected himself with Jews from every background, all of which who see him as “their” rabbi. Because he does not have his own synagogue, he is available to anyone and everyone, anytime, anywhere. In doing, so he has energized, inspired and empowered an entire generation of young Jewish leaders.”

Yesterday, in connection with the Heroes nomination, Rabbi Yonah expressed his desire to to continue the work that he and Rachel believe in. That’s because the single winner of the Jewish Community Heroes will receive $25,000 to support their projects. Here’s how he put it:

Dear Friends,

I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and well!

A few weeks ago, I was nominated by my former students for the UJC Community Hero Award.

Thanks to amazing grassroots support – we are in first place.

Because of daily voting, caring and persuasive emails to friends and family, Tweets, Retweets and Facebook status posts and shares, we are leading the pack of over 150 candidates in the contest.

But the race is far from over, and I need a moment of your time today to capture 1000 votes in the next 12 hours. With your help we can really secure a steady lead.

Winning this award will build support for Jewlicious Festival and JconnectLA and some of our causes: Jewish unity, connectedness, and innovation.

I hope that you will have a chance to bookmark the following link and use it every day until Oct 6. http://www.jewishcommunityheroes.org/nominees/profile/yonah-bookstein/

Feel free to forward this email on, vote well, and vote often!
Peace and blessings,

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Executive Rabbi, JconnectLA
Director, Jewlicious Festival

Without the Booksteins, this blog, our festival and quite frankly–because of their support of so many artists and Jewlicious presenters like myself–our shared experience of contemporary Jewish life, wouldn’t be the same. So please keep clicking, spread the word and vote here every 12 hours.

P.S. There are a lot of wonderful folks in this competition. And since you can vote for as many heroes as you like, I’d be doing myself a disservice if I also didn’t ask for your support. I don’t want to detract from their crowning moment, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to have more than two women leading the Top Ten. Please share the ‘voting love’ with yours truly here.

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When Fashion Meets Frumkeit

What to Wear
By Mayim Bialik

Copyright 2009 Mayim Bialik / Photographer

Copyright 2009 Mayim Bialik / Photographer


Earlier this year, producers from the TLC make-over show What Not to Wear chose me to “fix.” It was eight months after I had given birth to my second son (my first was three years old ), and I had just completed a doctorate in neuroscience.

I had been wearing slouchy clothes since long before I had kids. I favored men’s oversized garments that hung loosely from my body and had never much cared for fashion or trends. For the most part, I spent little to no time on my appearance. From the time I was 19 until I turned 32, I devoted my time to studying, writing a thesis, and starting a family. But the acting itch never completely abated and I had decided to pursue it again rather than stay in academia. The actor’s life I want to pursue gives me more time to raise my children, rather than hand them over to a nanny. Getting a makeover seemed like a great opportunity to put together a new look that I could use on future auditions.

The WNTW producers asked if I have any clothing restrictions. Deep breath. “I don’t wear pants,” I told them. “I prefer skirts.” You see, I am what I guess you’d call a Conservadox Jew. I started embracing certain aspects of Jewish modesty, or tzniut, before my second son was born, and although I know many Orthodox women who don’t observe tzniut, the boundaries and framework of privacy it provides appealed to me.

I was raised in a traditional Reform household, the grand-daughter of poor Orthodox immigrants from Eastern Europe. For them, success in America came at the seemingly small price of relative assimilation. Growing up, I lived a pretty normal life; I had my own prime-time network TV show from the ages of 14 to 19, which meant my physical appearance and clothing choices were dissected on a weekly basis in gossip magazines and on television. I was pretty impervious to media critiques of my style. I had no real sense of my own physicality and took for granted the feminist idea that I should be able to walk around naked without harassment. But I soon learned that not everyone was a feminist. (more)

Mayim Bialik starred in NBC’s Blossom from 1990 to 1994. More recently she has appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Saving Grace and, this fall, will have a recurring role on The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

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Belonging Everywhere

Classically trained dancer Adam McKinney is an African American, Native American, Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jew.

Adam_McKinney_Biography_Headshot_2

Reared in the Midwest, Adam did not often see Jews represented in books, newspapers, or films who looked like him. It was only during his visit to the Jewish community in Ghana–while teaching at the University of Ghana, Legon, that he understood how different his own life and the life of Jewish communities worldwide, would have been had he known about this and other non-European, Diasporic Jewish communities around the world.

The project Adam co-directs and co-founded with Daniel Banks, DNAWORKS, was funded by the U.S. Embassy in Ghana to lead an oral history project with the Jewish community, some 200 strong, in Sefwi Wiawso in the Western Region of Ghana about 120 miles from Accra. Adam and Daniel spent Purim with the community, their first celebration of this holiday, led a Purim spiel, and taught songs. They also spent Passover with the community and three Shabbatot. Adam is currently editing a film about this community; their experiences serve as a jumping-off point for DNAWORKS’ on-going dialogue and creative work about Jews of color and of African heritage.

In his film, “We Are All One: The Jews of Sefwi Wiawso,” Jewish men living in Sefwi Wiawso, Ghana recount stories of the House of Israel community and its return to ancestral Judaic beliefs and practices.

You can view a clip of this fascinating film here:
http://www.dnaworks.org/We-Are-All-One-The-Jews-of-Sefwi-Wiawso-trailer.php

We-are-All-One-Jews-of-Sefwi-Wiawso

Adam has performed with a number of acclaimed companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Switzerland’s Béjart Ballet Lausanne, and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, Adam’s commissioned production, “Pathways,” opened November, 2008 in Jakarta, Indonesia to rave reviews.

Adam has served as a US Embassy Culture Connect Envoy to South Africa and artist-in-residence at the South African Ballet Theatre, and has taught master dance classes around the world, including the University of Ghana and University of Johannesburg. He has also organized programs on social justice and the Arts with a long list of organizational partners, including Ghana’s National School for the Deaf, Ghana State Mental Hospital, City Ballet Theater, and Agulhas Theatre Works, a South African mixed abilities contemporary dance company.

Adam’s awards include the 2008 Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant, the Gallatin (NYU) Jewish Arts grant for work with Ethiopian-Israeli communities in Haifa, Israel, and the Bronfman Jewish Artist Fellowship for his genealogical dance and film work “HaMapah.” Named one of the most influential African-Americans in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA by St. Vincent DePaul of Milwaukee in 2000, Adam currently leads youth programming for the Jewish Multiracial Network’s summer retreats and sits on the board of United with In Motion.

This material is excerpted from DNAWorks. For more information, visit www.dnaworks.com.

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