LABA East Bay 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 Jewishness, in that open-minded, freewheeling LABA-style setting. This was particularly true in the East Bay, which includes cities like Oakland and Berkeley, where many culture-makers were moving as they were priced out of San Francisco. Also, ⅓ of Bay Area Jews live in the East Bay. Jews in the Bay Area wrestle with their Jewishness more than in other large urban areas like Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Chicago. LABA gives them 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.
When Sarah Wolfman-Robichaud took over as program director of the JCC East Bay, Elissa knew she had found her partner, and her home, for LABA. The JCC East Bay is in a historic building in Berkeley–not far from Alice Water’s groundbreaking Chez Panisse–and LABA events are often held in the stucco courtyard under pink-and-purple California skies. The JCC East Bay currently has plans to move to a bigger, newer building sometime in the next decade, and LABA East Bay looks forward to making full-use of the theater and gallery walls that will be built.
LABA East Bay launched in January 2020, naive of the pandemic that would take them out of the JCC East Bay and onto Zoom for over a year. Despite these limitations, a rich and loving community has already been built through LABA, both among the fellows as well as the wider East Bay community. Elissa and Sarah look forward to finally exploring what LABA East Bay looks like post-pandemic.
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 East 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 “Why We Should Care,” will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2023. www.elissastrauss.com
Sarah Wolfman-Robichaud, Program Director Sarah comes with an extensive background in theater and music performance, as well as lecturing/leading workshops on arts education and arts for social 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.
2022 LABA East Bay LABA FELLOWS
Meg Adler is a Jewish educator and illustrator born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds a BA from UCLA in creating writing: poetry and a Masters in Religion from Yale Divinity School. She founded her illustration company Letters, Aligned, in 2014, starting with very simple lettering projects and since then, it has morphed into the mission-led community it is today! Currently, she works as an educator for Camp Tawonga, Temple Sinai in Oakland, and Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, along with maintaining her private tutoring and art practice.
Lauren Ari is an artist and educator based in Richmond, California. She holds a Masters in Fine Arts from U.C. Davis after undergraduate study at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her primary focus is on drawing and sculpture. Her work has been shown and collected widely including by the Legion of Honor Achenbach Foundation.
Committed to shifting the boundaries of harp performance, Jennifer Ellis thoroughly enjoys using the harp in unexpected ways. She embraces firsts; she premiered over 100 works and was the first harpist to be a U.S. State Department One Beat Fellow and the first harpist to attend Bang on a Can, Fresh Inc., and Splice summer festivals. She teaches at Mills College and San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Sari Gilman is a filmmaker with 25 years of experience. Her debut film, Kings Point, was nominated for an Oscar in 2012. Sari’s career as an editor includes documentaries that have screened at festivals worldwide, aired on HBO, PBS, Netflix, and others. She received a Primetime Emmy nomination for her work on Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Risa Jaroslow‘s dance-making process begins with questions. I explore the questions through movement with other dancers. We take the answers and stretch them, turn them into daring partnering, whirl them through space and arrange them across many bodies. I include both the incredible virtuosity of highly trained dancers and the unique and deeply human contributions of non-trained movers. By combining them, I create a rich, complex picture that is resonant with all kinds of audiences. I am currently working on Talking Circle, a work for a diverse cast of six dancers ages 25-78 that asks: What is the freedom each of us longs for and what will we risk to achieve it? It will premiere at CounterPulse in SF in May. I created and continue to direct the Elders Project at Destiny Arts Center in Oakland.
David Bar Katz
Musician and performance artist David Israel Katz works with the verbal and nonverbal texts of Jewish ritual.
David studied Composition and Improvisation at Mills College, and Art and Social Change at CIIS. Ha’aretz described him as “an uber-performer,” and his art-ritual, THRESH, was praised by Jewish Currents as “an intense game you can lose yourself in.”
Leah Koransky is an artist and graphic designer working with photography, collage, printmaking, and painting. She uses light, color, and form to explore the relationship between place and self. She received her BFA from California College of the Arts in San Francisco, CA and her BA from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. Her work has been featured in group and solo shows throughout the United States and in 2020 she co-founded Deep Time Press︎︎︎, an independent publishing imprint that focuses on concepts of time and place. She lives and works in Berkeley.
Michael David Lukas
Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey, a night-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, a student at the American University of Cairo, and a waiter at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont. Translated into more than a dozen languages, his first novel The Oracle of Stamboul was a finalist for the California Book Award, the NCIBA Book of the Year Award, and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize. His second novel, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo, won the Sami Rohr Prize, the National Jewish Book Award, the Prix Interallié for Foreign Fiction, and the ALA’s Sophie Brody Medal. A graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, he is a recipient of several scholarships. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Slate, National Geographic Traveler, and Georgia Review. He lives in Oakland and teaches at San Francisco State University.
Jeff Raz has performed in circuses, such as Cirque du Soleil and the Pickle Family Circus, and in theaters from Berkeley Rep to Broadway. He has directed dozens of circus, dance, puppet and theater productions and written 18 plays and three books about clowns and the circus.
Ken Paul Rosenthal
Ken Paul Rosenthal makes documentaries that explore the intersection of art, madness, and the spectrum of difference. Ken’s work has screened widely at national and international film festivals and venues. He is the recipient of numerous festival awards, a University Film & Video Association Award, and a Kodak Cinematography Award. His mental health themed documentaries circulate in over 350 libraries and have been presented in person at hundreds of universities, symposiums, and community events worldwide.