Inside Inside the Activists’ Studio

reposted from Pursue 
by Adam Levine on December 8, 2010
IAS On Sunday December 5th, Pursue New York hosted its 3rd annual Inside  the Activists’ Studio (IAS) event at the 92nd Street Y in Tribeca. Hip-hop artist and Jewish activist, Y-Love – the event’s emcee – welcomed the crowd and warmed us up for a full evening of dialogue, debate, learning and of course, eating.
I was particularly inspired by the cornerstone of the IAS experience – a panel discussion with four compelling, young, New York area-based change-makers. Tablet’s senior writer, Alison Hoffman, moderated the discussion with thoughtfulness and humor, eliciting “coming of age as an activist” stories from Karin Fleisch, Taylor Krauss, Annie Lewis and Lucas Shapiro, as well as diverse and insightful reflections on how their Jewish backgrounds did – or did not – shape their identities, careers, volunteer choices, and life paths.
Their stories were powerful and accessible – everyone in the audience could likely relate to at least one perspective or experience that the panel shared in the course of their dialogue with Alison and with each other. For example, Karin Fleisch spoke movingly about the successful letter-writing campaign she participated in during college that led to the release of Tibetan nuns from Chinese prison, and how it convinced her that, in some instances, individual actions can make a significant impact .She applies that inspiration now working at the Food Bank for NYC and serving as a compliance officer for Uri L’Tzedek’s Tav HaYosher (ethical seal), ensuring that NYC restaurants follow basic labor laws.
Taylor Krauss educated the audience on his experience documenting national and global issues including healthcare, sexual violence, the war on drugs and genocide. He emphasized the importance of showing people the truth, coming to terms with identifying unjust and inhumane practices, and taking the right steps to work towards necessary change in creating more humane societies in the United States and abroad. He also shared his unique story of growing up Reform and being among the few Jews in his Catholic high school in Phoenix.  As a result of being in that environment, he felt compelled to explore his own Jewish identity further. While in high school he traveled to South America which influenced his work both in college and in his professional career as a dedicated video journalist – for instance, filming in Rwanda where he has been building an archive for genocide survivor testimonies.  He noted that the survivor community in Rwanda feels a sense of solidarity with Jews because of a shared history of genocide.
Annie Lewis discussed the unique path that led her to rabbinical school after working at a women’s center in Jerusalem and a citizens’ rights center in Ashkelon. She expressed her enthusiasm for being a part of the first LGBTQ-friendly program as a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary and spoke of the challenge of spending a year in an Israeli yeshiva that had not yet embraced the same policy as part of her rabbinical program.  This perspective affirmed that change takes time, and a policy changes does not mean that the culture will automatically shift – it may take awhile.
As an experienced organizer and active voice in a number of causes ranging from political projects to building queer communities, Lucas Shapiro expressed his frustration with society’s current obsession with social networking devices. He shared with the audience his belief that social networking devices such as Facebook and Twitter often prevent individuals from connecting on a personal level, and more face-to-face contact can allow for better communication in working together to move projects forward. Lucas referenced an ambivalence about his Jewish identity, but even as he spoke, he was wearing a JFREJ (Jews for Racial and Economic Justice) t-shirt, on whose board he sits, and was participating in a Jewish event; an inspiring example of how you can constantly question and struggle with your Jewish identity and still consider yourself a proud Jew.
After participants returned from their workshops, they were greeted with a delicious Hanukkah-themed, Tav HaYosher meal provided by Café 76 of the JCC. Emcee Y-Love closed out the evening with a mini-concert, showcasing hip-hop coated with messages of social activism. With a hearty blend of panel discussions, group workshops, and a hip-hop infused social justice concert, the evening had its fill of inspiring stories and positive ideas for change in the Jewish justice world. As an individual who is new to New York and its Jewish community, I found the event to be incredibly inspiring, and am looking forward to becoming more involved in future change-making events.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.