LABA is a Jewish house of study and culture laboratory which uses classic Jewish texts to inspire the creation of art, culture, conversation, and community. The program began at the 14th Street Y in 2007, and now has hubs in Buenos Aires, LABA BA, the Bay Area, LABA EB, and Berlin, LABA BE.
LABA presents Judaism’s rich literary and intellectual tradition in a free and creative setting, so that these fertile stories and ideas spark new thought and creative work. The output from our laboratory hubs push the boundaries of what Jewish culture can be and what Jewish texts can teach.
Every year, the global LABA team works with the hubs to pick a theme. Previous themes include: Humor, Mother, Eros, Paradise, Eat, and Chose-n. The 2022 theme is Broken.
After the theme is determined, the hubs put out a call-for-applicants in their cities. Professional culture-makers from a variety of disciplines, including visual artists, writers, dancers, musicians, actors and more, apply to their local LABA hub with a project idea connected to the yearly theme.
Each hub chooses 8-10 of these culture-makers to join them for a yearlong fellowship. Anyone who is curious about Jewish texts and would like an opportunity to study them in a non-theological, non-moralistic, non-academic, freewheeling and raw manner can apply. Maybe they’re a rabbi, or maybe they’ve never read a single page of the Torah in your whole life. It doesn’t matter. The goal is not to sway religious beliefs in one direction or another, but rather use the treasure-filled, wild, often fantastic, sometimes perverse, Jewish canon to seed this generation of culture-makers. We enter ancient texts as if they were new, seeking out the timeless and radical elements within.
Part One: At the heart of the LABA is the house of study. Each hub brings together their fellows for roughly 10-12 study sessions, where they study classic Jewish texts from the Torah, Talmud, Mishnah, and Zohar with local text scholars. The yearly curriculum is created with advice from the global LABA team, but each hub has the freedom to create a course of learning that best serves them.
Part Two: Each fellow applies with a project connected to the yearly theme that they work on during the year. Fellows get time off following the period of intense study to work on their projects. This process gives the fellows structure, including a deadline, in which to create their work. This allows them to start something they go on to further develop, or provide the inspiration to figure out what is missing from a longstanding project. LABA is often the secret sauce that helps culture-makers transition concepts and ideas into fully realized work.
Towards the end of the fellowship, each hub has a showcase or series of showcases where the public can experience the work alongside teachings from the LABA staff. These events are community-building, and leave plenty of time for conversation and connection among the attendees.
The art and culture that comes from LABA need not be identifiably Jewish. Instead, the goal of LABA is for the ideas, feelings, and contradictions of Jewish texts to inspire contemporary culture-makers with new ideas and approaches.
The Global Connection: In addition to output from the individual hubs, LABA also encourages and produces conversation collaborations between the hubs and fellows from different hubs. Every year we hold a series of LABA global teachings, where fellows from around the world get together online and study texts and share art. We also commission global LABA collaborative projects from time to time that are for the public.
Also, the global team helps hubs with their curriculum and methodology, as well as leadership in their community and hosting institutions.
LABA aims to inspire culture-makers, community and Jewish communal organizations.
Culture-makers: We seed this generation of culture-makers with ancient sparks of wisdom and creativity from the Jewish textual tradition. The immersion in Torah, Talmud, Mishnah and Zohar enriches their artistic practice and creates new pathways of identity and meaning-making in their lives.
Community: LABA uses art to build community among culture-makers and strengthens a sense of Jewish peoplehood as it engages a diverse group of culture-makers in Jewish meaning-making. Alumni stay engaged with the program through attendance at study sessions as well as at LABA live events. Also, community is built through the global network of LABA artists, as we connect online and in-person when possible.
LABA also builds community among non-fellows in the cities where the hubs are located. LABA events mix quality arts and culture with a warm and inviting atmosphere. There is time to talk and connect over the culture and the teachings. LABA hubs host events for a mix of communities, including children, the old, families, and young adults.
Jewish Communal Organization: LABA hubs are located in Jewish community centers where they inspire the whole staff to think outside the box and come up with creative approaches to solving problems. Also, as the staff engages in text study, they form bonds with the Jewish tradition and one another. Overall, LABA infuses the whole building with an energy that encourages growth.
CONTACT: labalabglobal AT gmail DOT com
LABA GLOBAL TEAM
Ronit Muszkatblit, Global LABA Director, Senior Director of 14th Street Y Arts + Culture
Ronit Muszkatblit was born in Germany and raised in Israel. She is a theater director and has filled senior artistic and managerial positions and overseen the development and growth of LABA and the Arts + Culture Dept. at the 14th street Y. Ronit curates and directs in various capacities with a focus on opera, theater and multi disciplinary events. Her most recent directing credits include LABALive events, the children’s play ”The Magic Letter” (Haifa Theater festival – best play), “ Name Game” by Yehuda Hyman and Sara Felder (Zoom Theater Play), Hanna and the Moonlit Dress (Theater Row NYC). Ronit received her MFA in directing from the Actors Studio Drama School, trained at La Mama Umbria (Italy) and with Siti Company.
Elissa Strauss, Director of Strategy and Communications
From 2012-2017, Elissa co-directed LABA in New York alongside Ronit Muszkatblit. In 2019, she helped launch LABA East Bay at the JCC East Bay in Berkeley, California that serves the San Francisco Bay Area. She is currently the artistic director of LABA EB.
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.
Ruby Namdar, Senior Faculty Director
Ruby Namdar is an Israeli-American author born and raised in Jerusalem to a family of Iranian-Jewish heritage. His latest novel “The Ruined House” (2013) won the Sapir Prize, Israel’s most prestigious literary award. The English edition of “The Ruined House” (translated by Hillel Halkin) was published in the US by Harper Collins in November 2017. The French edition of the novel (translated by Sarah Tardy) was published in September 2018 by Belfond, and was nominated for the Prix du premier roman étranger 2018. He currently lives in NYC with his wife and two daughters, and teaches Jewish literature, focusing on Biblical and Talmudic narrative.
As senior faculty director, Ruby advises on curricula and pedagogy for all the LABA hubs, and gives frequent virtual teachings to LABA fellows, alumni and staff around the world.
LABA began at the 14th Street Y, which is part of the Educational Alliance, in New York City in 2007. Created by the then incoming executive director Stephen Arnoff, artist Anat Litwin, and theater director and educator Basmat Hazan, LABA was meant to use art and ancient texts to create energy and meaning throughout the whole community center. LABA means “lava” in Hebrew; lava, like the culture and thought that comes out of LABA, spills over, creating rich, fertile soil in which communities can grow. In 2010, former fellows Ronit Muszkatblit and Elissa Strauss became co-artistic directors of LABA NY.
In 2015, Argentinian artist Mirta Kumperminc became a long-distance fellow, during the LABA year of mother. The following year, she launched LABA in Buenos Aires.
In 2019, former LABA New York co-director Elissa Strauss launched LABA East Bay, at the JCC East Bay in Berkeley, California. That same year Laura Newmark took over the directorship of LABA NY, and Ronit began her work as executive director of the global network of LABAs. In 2021, Dekel Peretz launched a LABA BE at Jewish Center Fraenkelufer Synagogue in Berlin, Germany. LABAs in Tel Aviv and Toronto are in the works.
LABA TEACHING STYLE
At LABA, we view ancient Jewish text as a source of inspiration for our contemporary artistic journey. We delve into this amazing pool of ideas, images and archetypes with no theological or ideological strings attached, relishing the friction between their foreign fabric and our generation’s sensibilities. We do not try to explain this friction away, bridge over it or pile apologetics on it – instead we allow it to trigger, seduce and activate us, trusting that artistic and intellectual growth will ensue from this raw encounter.
“Her Roots are Tangled in Folk Dance and Israel” by Siobhan Burke in The New York Times, 2/6/2018
“To Really Dig the Talmud, Try Reading It Drunk” by Gordon Haber in Tablet Magazine, 11/10/2017
“Want to Make Judaism Great Again? Get Drunk.” by Laura E. Adkins in The Forward, 2/3/2017
“Mystical Feet Performs A Family Drama” by Susan Reimer-Torn in The Jewish Week, 11/23/2016
“After Surviving a Suicide Bomb, Israeli Artists OMTA Turned Shrapnel Into Art,” by Batya Ungar-Sargon in VICE, 3/28/2015.
“What If?: Playwright tells the sort-of-familiar story of the four matriarchs in the garden,” in The New Jersey Jewish Standard, 9/19/14.
“Yona Verwer Talks to Mirta Kupferminc,” in ZEEK, 5/31/14.
“Sitting in the Mother of All Chairs,” by Batya Ungar-Sargon in Tablet Magazine, 5/21/2014.
“Mixed Media and Mothers at LABA” by Susan Reimer Torn in the Jewish Week, 1/30/2014.
“Fracturing the Jewish Mom Stereotype,” by Naomi Zeveloff in the Forward, 11/22/13.
“Was the Apple a Fig?” by Sharon Anstey in the Jewish Week, 6/06/13.
“Modern Day Manna,” by Eitan Kensky in the Forward, 3/22/13.
“Drunk Art,” by Haley Tamir on Jewish Art Now, 3/21/13.
“Drinking in the Texts,” by Tajlei Lewis on website in the Jewish Week, 3/18/13.
“The Art of Getting Drunk,” by Jillian Scheinfeld on Jewcy.com, 3/15/13.
“Getting Intimate at the Airport,” by Gabrielle Birkner in the Forward, 5/16/12.
“The Roots are in LABA,” by Yasmin Shemesh on Ynet, 5/15/12. (Hebrew)
“Noah Meets Katrina in ‘Watershed’,” by Elke Reva Sudin on Jewish Art Now, 5/7/12.
“An Unexpected Paradise,” by Maya Klausner in the Forward, 11/11/10.
“I Sing the Body Eclectic,” by Jordana Horn in the Forward, 11/06/09.
“Laba and the Ripple Effect,” by Michael Kaminer in the Forward, 5/01/2009.
“NYC-based Jewish culture ‘lab’ expands to East Bay” by Laura Paull in the J., 8/15/19
“Getting drunk on Jewish texts and arts at LABA launch,” by David A. M. Wilensky in the J., 11/25/2019.
“East Bay Jewish arts lab seeks 2021 fellows — pandemic or not”by Laura Paull in the J., 11/11/20.
“Getting drunk on Jewish texts and arts at LABA launch,” by David A. M. Wilensky in the J., 11/25/2019.
“Pandemic isolation fosters creativity for busy dancer and choreographer,” by Maya Mirsky in the J., 9/04/2020.
“Pick a card, or let it pick you: Oakland artist Ava Sakaya Rosen’s Torah-inspired tarot deck” by Maya Mirsky in the J., 21/03/2021.
“Künstler lassen sich von der Tradition inspirieren” in Juedische Allgemeine 3/30/21.
Podcasts and Radio:
Deutschland Funk: https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/schalom-100.html