LABA BAY AREA came about as a result of the LABA-shaped hole in her heart Elissa Strauss had after moving from New York to the Bay Area. Elissa, who from 2010-2017 co-directed LABA NY with Ronit Muszkabllit, wanted to bring LABA to the Bay Area for herself–she missed the community, conversation, text and art. Though she also saw that there was a need in the Bay Area for a home for culture-makers to come together and explore Jewish texts and ideas, in that open-minded, freewheeling LABA-style setting. LABA provides a space and context to do this wrestling, and find new pathways of meaning and connection to the Jewish tradition and other Jewish and Jew-ish like-minded seekers.
LABA BAY AREA began as LABA East Bay, a program of the JCC East Bay in Berkeley from 2019-2022, made possible with generous funding from Anne Germanacos’s Firehouse Fund: Cultivating Sparks. After three years of successful incubation, and the guidance of JCC EB program director Sarah Wolfman-Robichaud, LABA BAY AREA expanded into a Bay Area-wide program in 2023.
Today, the program’s home is the Firehouse, in San Francisco. The Firehouse is a real place located in San Francisco. It’s also a place for the imagination, where artists, activists and educators are invited to be in conversation with one another and the world. In person, online and through their creations and activities, residents embody varieties of creative community.
Elissa Strauss * Artistic Director
From 2012-2017, Elissa co-directed LABA in New York alongside LABA Global director Ronit Muszkatblit. In 2019 she helped launch LABA Bay, and in 2021 she became director of strategy and communications for the global LABA network. In addition to her work with LABA, Elissa is also a writer whose work explores gender, and relationships. 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. Her first book “When You Care,” comes out April 2024 from Simon & Schuster. www.elissastrauss.com
Anne Germanacos * Advisor
Anne is a writer, visual artist, activist and educator living in San Francisco. She contributes time and other resources to a wide variety of individuals and organizations through Firehouse Fund: Cultivating Sparks. She invites individuals to form creative communities through the Firehouse—a real place in Cole Valley as well as a concept, a style and a method!
Deena Aranoff is the Faculty Director of the Richard S. Dinner Center for Jewish studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. She teaches rabbinic literature, medieval patterns of Jewish thought, and the broader question of continuity and change in Jewish history. Her recent publications engage with the subject of childcare, maternity, and the making of Jewish culture.
Sam Shonkoff is the Taube Family Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at the Graduate Theological Union. His scholarship focuses on themes of embodiment, revelation, and interpretation in modern Jewish spirituality.
He is the author of a bunch of journal articles and book chapters, as well as co-editor (with Ariel Mayse) of Hasidism: Writings on Devotion, Community, and Life in the Modern World and editor of Martin Buber: His Intellectual and Scholarly Legacy. He is currently completing a book on Buber’s interpretations of Hasidic sources. Sam taught formerly at Oberlin College and holds a PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School.
THE 2024 THEME FOR LABA IS NIGHT.
What only comes out at NIGHT.
NIGHT, in the Jewish imagination, is both a matter of time and a state of mind.
Our days begin at night, the arrival of three stars is our first sign of tomorrow. Our calendar is lunar, our months and years obsessively coordinated with the waxing and waning of the moon. Our festivals are backlit by the orb at its fullest.
Night is more than a time marker, however. It is also a paradoxical psychological state, when urges too messy, too irrational, and too wild for the day emerge, whether through dreams or behaviors or habits or the thoughts that only voice themselves at 3 am. Night is obscurity, but it is also clarity. Night is freedom, but it is also sometimes cruelty. Only in darkness can some truths be revealed. The cosmos began with night, and from night the very atoms humming our bodies came. We can never know ourselves fully, as a person or a people, without a deep understanding of night.
This year at LABA we will explore the theme of NIGHT in the ancient Jewish canon. We will look at how and why NIGHT anchors us, liberates us, terrifies us through a study of evocative stories from the Torah, Talmud, Mishnah, Zohar and more. We will study how the separation of day and night marks the beginning of the world, the way dreams inform reality, what night does to the mind and soul, and epic, history-changing nights in Jewish cultural history. We will also consider the role of NIGHT in the life of culture-makers, and the ways in which culture-makers are the “NIGHTS” of people — truth-tellers, tricksters, beauty-makers, and deep sea subconscious divers. 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: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture.
We invite you to point your flashlight towards uncharted territories–places you might cherish, wish to destroy, or both– and propose new work inspired by what night brings up in you. All mediums accepted, and the strange and unconventional are always welcome.
"Advanced Camouflage Techniques for the Built Environment" by Danielle Freiman
"Everything is at least three things: the one you see, the one you think you know and the one you remember" by Amy Trachtenberg
Congratulations to the 2023 LABA BAY AREA fellows for their sold-out TABOO exhibition and showcase.
For program info click here. And for images from the weekend click here and here.
Hillary Goidell is a photo-based artist whose work considers process, movement and ways of witnessing. She collaborates with choreographers to document their dance-making, and extends her practice to explorations of illness and end of life, calling on images to imprint embodied states. Her co-created interactive installations have been featured in Europe at the Centre Georges Pompidou, ZKM Institute, Muffathalle and Admont Abbey. She has shown photography in Paris at the Mois de la Photo off and, since moving to the Bay Area in 2013, at ODC Theater, The Laundry SF, Delancey Street Theater and 836M.
Yael Goldstein-Love is the author of the novels The Possibilities (Random House) and The Passion of Tasha Darsky (Doubleday). Also a practicing psychotherapist, she has started describing her genre-bending style as Psychoanalytic Speculative. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, and Slate, among other places. A graduate of Harvard University and The Wright Institute, she lives with her son in Berkeley, CA.
Julia Goodman works at the intersection of papermaking, textiles, sculpture, and painting. She transforms bedsheets and t-shirts – fabrics that lie close to bodies day and night – to forefront invisible layers of support, and she looks to the night sky in search of more generous increments of time. Her recent exhibitions include National Museum of Women in the Arts, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Jose Museum of Art, DePaul Art Museum, Poetry Foundation, Berkeley Art Center, and Euqinom Gallery. Her work is included in the collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and DePaul Art Museum.
Nina Otis Haft (she/her) is Artistic Director of Nina Haft & Company, a Bay Area-based contemporary dance ensemble exploring the nature of space and place. Her work comments on gender, culture, landscapes and natural disasters, and is also known for site-specific performances in dockyards, synagogues, bars, parking lots, regional parks, cemeteries and other liminal spaces. Nina’s choreography has been presented in Boston, Los Angeles, NYC, Portland, San Diego, Novosibirsk, Amman, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah. She is a professor at Cal State University, East Bay.
Talia Kirsh is an artist and body-based energy practitioner working in printmaking, painting, textiles, ceramics, video and installation. She utilizes abstraction to transmit patterns and forces that arise through embodied practices and creates visual lexicons of energy systems. Much of the work takes the form of abstracted landscapes or symbols that signify changing states as an ode to the seasons of existence and healing. Kirsh is a 2024 MFA candidate at CCA and currently lives and works in the Bay Area as a Qigong teacher and an aquatic energy work and Aquatherics practitioner.
Olallie Lackler is a queer, non-binary experimental dancer, creator, and educator based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their work explores the universes between contact improvisation and contemporary/experimental dance. Frequent themes of exploration include relationships, queerness, the realms of the inner cosmos, and power.
Rivkah Beth Medow makes lush films that deepen connections and build community. She’s known for Holding Moses, Ahead of the Curve, and Sons of a Gun. Rivkah is a Sundance x WIF and Film Independent fellow who co-founded Frankly Speaking Films to tell mesmerizing stories about strong queer women and non-binary people.
Bonny Nahmias is an interdisciplinary artist, who comes from a matrilineality of Sephardic Jewish Brushas (“witches” in Ladino). Her work is an expression of the spell they casted on her. She was born and raised in Israel and moved to the United States in 2006. Nahmias first lived in Brooklyn, NY, where she explored performance art, and later moved to San Francisco, where she received a BFA from California College of the Arts. She now lives among the owls in the woods with her husband and daughter.
Jesse Nathan’s first book of poems, Eggtooth, was published in September, and has just been named a finalist for the Golden Poppy Award. His poems appear in the New York Review of Books and the Paris Review, and his prose in the Threepenny Review and the New York Times. He’s been a recipient of fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ashbery Home School, the Arts Research Center, and the Kansas Arts Commission. Nathan teaches literature at UC Berkeley, and lives in Oakland.
Amy Tobin created the cabaret opera “The Esther Show” and has released two albums: “A Little Friction: When Sparks Fly” and “4 Choices.” She coaches spiritual and communal leaders and has served as CEO at the JCC East Bay, founding Executive Director at the David Brower Center, and founding Artistic Director of The Hub at the JCCSF.
Faryn Borella is a rabbi & activist who has dabbled in photography, performance art, dance, writing, curation and more. Her rabbinic ordination is through the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, where her culminating Personal Theology focused on the experience of the Divine Encounter as an experience of yearning, and yearning as the essential both human and spiritual experience. She is now the rabbi at Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco, where she sees building thriving spiritual communities as its own creative and artistic practice. She believes spiritual care is an art form. Activism is an art form. Community building is an art form.
Cliff Mayotte is an award-winning educator, writer, and director. He is the lead teacher for The Nation Fund’s Fellowship for the Future of Journalism. From 2010 to 2022, he served as the Education Program Director for the human rights nonprofit, Voice of Witness. Cliff is also a former Education Director for the Tony award-winning Berkeley Repertory Theatre.