Author Archives: Eleanor J. Bader

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August 2, 2017 by

Meet Bryna Wasserman: The Award-Winning Director Revitalizing Yiddish Theatre

Photo credit: Joan Roth

Photo credit: Joan Roth

When award-winning theatre director Bryna Wasserman—her accolades include the 2000 Montreal English Critics Circle Award of Distinction, the 2010 Mlotek Prize for Yiddish and Yiddish Culture, and the 2011 Quebec Drama Federation Award “in recognition of immense contributions to and support of the development of theatre in Quebec”— took the helm of the New York City-based National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF) in 2011, she had three goals.

The first was to find NYTF a permanent home. “We’d been wandering Jews for a century, going from one theatre to another,” she says. “There was an urgent need to change this.” The second goal was financial: to put the non-profit NYTF on solid footing. Lastly, she wanted the company’s 2015 centennial to foster a contemporary appreciation of Yiddishkeit.

All of this, of course, had to be done while making sure that the theatre staged at least one annual production and brought performances to diverse communities throughout, and beyond, the five boroughs of New York City.

Wasserman sat down with Eleanor J. Bader to discuss the overall state of Yiddish theatre and the ups-and-downs of running the NYTF. Along the way, the conversation touched on the plight of immigrants under Trump and the challenges facing all non-profit theatres.

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July 4, 2017 by

The Anthology Giving Voice to the Labor of Caregivers

clift cover v6b- approved cover.inddThe numbers are mind-boggling: According to a 2015 report issued by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 39.8 million Americans—the lion’s share of them female—are providing unpaid care for someone aged 50 or older. Another two million people—again, most of them women—work as paid in-home health aides, administering medication, cooking, shopping, and providing oversight and companionship for adults needing assistance.

Writer Elayne Clift’s latest anthology, Take Care: tales, tips and love from women caregivers (June 2017, braughlerbooks.com) provides a forum for caregivers to address what it means for them—as daughters, daughters-in-law, nieces, friends, wives, or grandchildren—to tend to elders and the sick. For most, it’s a labor of love, and as they outline both the joys and hardships of providing care, they are, for the most part, the epitome of grace under pressure. But that’s not to say that the job is easy.

Take Care is a slim volume—28 brief essays and poems—and while it touches numerous aspects of caregiving, it is not comprehensive. Instead, it movingly zeroes in on what it means to be there for someone else, whether for the long haul or for a shorter stint. Harvard professor Paula J. Caplan, calls the collection “a sorely needed jewel that helps and heals.”

Clift spoke to Eleanor J. Bader by telephone a few weeks ago, from her Vermont home.

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June 15, 2017 by

Creating Art for Our “Dire Times”

Dusk, Railroad - 2008 - 30 x 48 - Oil: Canvas

Dusk, Railroad – 2008 – 30 x 48 – Oil: Canvas

Like many of us, artist Marcia Annenberg is worried. First, there’s climate change. Then there’s the growing erosion of U.S. democracy—including the loss of many long-held civil liberties—and the tendency of mainstream media to replace hard news with entertainment and fluff.

“We’re in dire times,” the Manhattan-based Annenberg begins. “It’s frightening. The only consolation is that the American system of government was developed to protect us from efforts to subvert our institutions in negative ways.”

Annenberg’s work—color-driven abstracts and installations and paintings meant to jolt the viewer’s political awareness—are in numerous permanent collections: The London Jewish Museum; the Vad Yashem Art Museum in Jerusalem; the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum in Lithuania; and the Florida Holocaust Museum, among them. In New York City, she is represented by the Flomenhaft Gallery, one of Chelsea’s most respected women-owned exhibition spaces.

Annenberg sat down with Eleanor J. Bader on a blisteringly hot June morning. Surprisingly, despite the heavy subject matter, the pair found a great deal to laugh about as they discussed what it means to call oneself a progressive, humanist, activist-artist at this particular moment.

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June 2, 2017 by

How This Jewish Glass Artist Juggles Work and Family

legos
The first thing I notice about artist Dena Pengas is her asymmetrical, bold, and multi-colored jewelry. At first glance, it appears as if her necklace is made of Lego pieces, but as I get closer I realize that each rectangle is, in fact, glass. The overall effect is elegant, whimsical, and wonderfully cheerful. Later, when we talk, she tells me that she hopes that this piece—one of many that she has created—will “spark nostalgia is the wearer and viewer.”

The 38-year-old Brooklyn-based Pengas recently spoke to me about her work. As the conversation moved from topic to topic, we touched upon parenthood, marriage, work-family balance, and what it means to be socially responsible in a time of backlash and retrenchment.

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May 25, 2017 by

A Philanthropy Office That’s a Performance Space, Too

Puffin Foundation, Ltd. Executive Director Gladys Miller-Rosenstein and President Perry Rosenstein during renaming of E. Oakdene Ave. to Puffin Way by the Town Council of Teaneck

Puffin Foundation, Ltd. Executive Director Gladys Miller-Rosenstein and President Perry Rosenstein during renaming of E. Oakdene Ave. to Puffin Way by the Town Council of Teaneck.

Once upon a time, the orange-beaked puffin—native to the waters of the Northern United States—was on the verge of extinction. But after concerted efforts by a slew of determined people, the puffin population is again flourishing.

The founders of the Teaneck, New Jersey-based Puffin Foundation see the bird’s resurgence as a metaphor and they have made it their mission to support movements that might otherwise falter. As their website explains, the Foundation strives to “open doors of artistic expression by providing grants to artists and arts organizations that are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender or social philosophy.”

In practical terms, the 37-year-old philanthropy has supported a wide array of visual artists, writers, filmmakers, poets, musicians, journalists, and photographers. Among them are names that are likely familiar to Lilith readers, including Agnes Adler, Alice Matzkin, and Lilly Rivlin. Groups—and media—have also benefitted from the fund’s largesse: The Nation, In These Times, Jewish Currents, Mother Jones, Salon, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice have received grants.

The Puffin Foundation’s Executive Director, Gladys Miller-Rosenstein, met with Lilith reporter Eleanor J. Bader in mid-May in the group’s spacious award-and-art-filled office. 

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April 3, 2017 by

Making Murals in the Public Interest

La-Lucha-Continua_promo5x7-v2Thirty-two years ago, 34 artists came together and painted a series of 24 murals on the walls of four buildings surrounding La Plaza Cultural Community Garden in Manhattan’s East Village. By that point the lot was filled with rubble, having been neglected for many years. But Artmakers Inc., an organization formed in 1983 to create public art that addresses community concerns, saw this as a challenge rather than as an impediment.

In fact, participants in the mural project recognized that the garden, on the corner of East 9th Street and Avenue C, was in a rapidly changing neighborhood and they were determined that the paintings would address some of the most burning issues of the 1980s: feminism, gentrification, immigration, and police brutality. They also wanted to convey their opposition to South African apartheid and U.S. intervention in Central America.

These were not unusual subjects for the Artmakers. Indeed, virtually every Artmaker installation tackles political issues, with titles such as “We Shall Overcome,” “When Women Pursue Justice,” and “We’re Still Waiting.”

Artmakers was founded by Eva Cockcroft (1937-1999), a Vienna-born activist artist whose family came to the U.S. after Hitler came to power. Since its founding 34 years ago, the group has created more than 50 murals, most of them in the five boroughs of New York City. Sadly, many no longer exist—some buildings have been torn down, walls have been whitewashed, and weather has taken its toll.

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March 3, 2017 by

Meet the Publication Taking on Anti-Choice Propaganda

Jodi Jacobson is Rewire's Editor in Chief. Photo Credit: Greg Schaler.

Jodi Jacobson is Rewire’s Editor in Chief. Photo © Greg Schaler.

The site is called Rewire and its goal is to “rewire the way we think about the news, especially when it comes to reproductive and sexual health, rights, and justice.” It’s obviously a huge mission.

Five days a week, 51 weeks a year (staff take a break in late December) the site publishes original news stories, analyses, cultural critiques, plus podcasts and interviews. On a recent Tuesday, for example, Rewire covered racial disparities in abortion access; the mistreatment of immigrants and refugees who have experienced domestic abuse; Title IX protections for transgender teens; a renewed Republican-led crusade against pornography; the links between the Trump administration and the private prison industry; and a review of Joyce Carol Oates’ latest novel, A Book of American Martyrs.

This is intersectional feminism writ large.

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January 31, 2017 by

“Not too long ago, some of the people who broke U.S. law to come into the country were Jews.”

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 11.13.46 AMAs Donald Trump moves forward with plans to build a racist barrier between the U.S. and Mexico, signs Executive Orders barring most refugees from entering the country, and temporarily halts the issuance of visas for people from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, many of us are angry and ashamed.

Historian Libby Garland, a professor at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY, shares these sentiments. At the same time, as a longtime researcher specializing in immigration policy, she is able to put today’s conservative momentum into a broader political context.

Her first book, After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965 [University of Chicago Press, 2014] looks at the impetus behind two exclusionary quota laws passed by Congress in 1921 and 1924 that were meant to limit the number of newcomers entering the United States.  “The quota laws grew out of a widespread belief that some kinds of foreigners could be kept out of the nation, and out of a certainty that these groups could be recognized, counted and stopped from entering,” she writes. 

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January 10, 2017 by

The Transformative Work of JFREJ’s Jews of Color Caucus

Seven members of the Jews of Color Caucus were arrested on a sit-in, blocking traffic in front of the NYPD 6th Precinct in the West Village to mark  the culmination of the Jews4BlackLives month of action. As the Jewish community in NYC approached Tisha b’Av, JFREJ — led by the Jews of Color Caucus — along with hundreds of neighbors and advocacy groups, held an action and vigil in support of Black Lives Matter to demand an end to police violence against People of Color and the passage of the Right To Know Act in the New York City Council. Photo credit: Erik McGregor.

Photo credit: Erik McGregor.

“I identify as a Black, multi-race, Jewish woman of color,” 31-year-old social worker-teacher-activist Shoshana Brown says by way of introduction.  Now active in the Jews of Color Caucus of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice [JFREJ], Bronx-born Brown has many questions about how best to oppose racism and white supremacy. Indeed, Brown’s queries address strategic and tactical concerns that are important for all progressive social justice efforts—religious and secular, Jewish and non—as we enter the uncharted terrain of Trumplandia.

Brown spoke to Lilith reporter Eleanor J. Bader about the Caucus’ ongoing work in late December.

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December 6, 2016 by

Holocaust Survivor Helena Weinrauch on Trauma and the Joy of Dancing

helena

Helena Weinrauch. Photo courtesy of Karen Goldfarb.

When Helena Weinrauch was 88 years old, she found a promotional flyer from the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in her mailbox. The leaflet promised a free lesson followed by a party.

Four years later, Weinrauch has become a Dancing Angel, a title given to her by the Manhattan Ballroom Society, and currently spends five hours a week doing the Fox Trot, Merengue, Samba and Tango.  

“When I dance I forget everything that bothers me,” she told Lilith reporter Eleanor J. Bader. “My fear disappears. There was never time in my life for dancing before this. There were always more important things to do, but before I say goodbye to this world I want to do something I always dreamed of doing. I think I’ve earned it.”

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