Jewish Women Artists Emerge at Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Photographic Account

Given my last Lilith post, you might think the above image is of Barbie dolls. But, in fact, those are models — modeling fashions by up-and-coming and eccentric designer Levi Okunov at the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s 3rd annual Emerging Jewish Artists showcase, which featured several stand-out female artists.

Catie Lazarus with the evening’s prize,
a “schlep” bag containing a can of Meshugge-Nuts.

Co-sponsored by the Young Friends of the Museum and emceed by the very funny comic Catie Lazarus, the event was another in a long line of exciting programs being held at the museum, and a chance to see some talented artists — many of them women — before they hit it huge.

The evening opened with a great short set by the four-person “punk klezmer” ensemble Luminescent Orchestrii, including an original tune whose refrain went, “Who put the pudding in the punim?” You gotta love any band whose members came together “through their love of Balkan and Gypsy music.” But seriously, their eclectic mix of influences melded together well, and, at least as far as attire went, it was the bands’ female members, Sarah Alden and Rima Fand, who put the punk in punk-klezmer.


Eve Lederman telling a story, because
that’s what professional storytellers do.

But the real stars of the evening were emcee Lazarus and fabulous storyteller Eve Lederman, co-author of Letters From My Sister: On Life, Love and Hair Removal. Lazarus kept the show moving along and the audience laughing (along with her jokes, not at her). My favorite lines were when Lazarus referred to the New York Times wedding page as “the Jewish sports page,” and when, while discussing ridiculous-sounding Upper East Side names for children, she said, “Just name the child Visa, it sounds slightly ethnic.”
Next to Lazarus’s energetic comedy, Lederman’s demeanor was calm and quiet, perhaps a deliberate device to make the audience listen all the more closely. And with a perfectly-timed delivery and impeccable writing, her tale-telling was a real treat. Her first story was about her one-time, same-sex sexual encounter with her best friend (a blond bombshell who I witnessed being accosted, loudly, in the bathroom by an overzealous audience member — “Are you the one from the story? Can’t miss you, a tall blond in a roomful of Jews!” — Oy.) The second story was about the aging owner of the Orchard Corset Shop, an old-time Lower East Side bra shop, and her Hasidic son who helps run the store. Orchard Corset is also the subject of Lederman’s documentary “A Good Uplift.”

The work of another talented female storyteller, filmmaker Pearl Gluck (“Divan”), was showcased as part of the big finale, Okunov’s fashion show. An excerpt from Gluck’s in-progress film about the designer kicked off the Okunov part of the night. Gluck’s work has taken a special interest in formerly-Hasidic rebels like the 21-year-old Okunov, who, endearingly, still pronounces clothing as “cloything.”

As much as the evening was about celebrating emerging artists, it was clearly also an opportunity to showcase the Museum of Jewish Heritage and attract a wider audience than the usual Jewish-museum-goers. I, for one, think it worked, bringing together a variety of Jews and non-Jews.  Case in point: At the cocktail hour after the performances, one of Okunov’s African-American models, hobnobbing with the artsy Jewish crowd, suggested Okunov design a bra made of kippot. How strange and strangely satisfying it was to tell her that one already exists.

In real life, the models looked more like robots — or human hangers — than dolls. Not a little disturbing.–Rebecca Honig Friedman

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