Left to right: Nicole Raphael performs With Dream Awakened Eyes; Anna Schon dances Jane Is; Sonia Gordon-Walinsky displays her art; Lise Brown performs Ani Shalom; Nancy Abramham, Basya Schechter, and Etta Abramson perform Niggun.
The 2007-8 Drisha Arts Fellows performed and presented their work at the JCC in Manhattan on June 16th, 2008 to a packed audience of 250 people (the event was sold out), and the visual artists displayed their work at the gallery during a reception before and after the event. The performances included poetry, a clip from a film, two solo performances, dance, and music. Click here to view the program.
The evening began with the thrilling collaboration between musician Basya Schechter, dancer and choreographer Dages Keates, and poet Carly Sachs, who was quoted in The Jewish Week:
"[Poetry] is my form. I’m so concerned with the page, a tiny world not much bigger than a napkin," she says in light of her recent collaboration with performing artists. "Moses breaks the tablets and the letters fly off; that’s what it’s like to collaborate." The result is that, from an initial idea, a completely new and different experience is born. The Jewish Week, which published a front page article about the event and the Drisha Arts Fellowships Program, also wrote about Etta Abramson - writer, actor, singer, and arts educator - who is in the advanced learning program at Drisha (the Beit Midrash program) and has deepened her work since she came to Drisha: Etta "is grappling with Jewish texts, finding new meanings in ancient words and stories." The article also mentions Etta's one woman show, which came out of her studies at Drisha: "After months spent learning Gemara and halacha at Drisha Abramson chose as the subject of a new solo performance piece the biblical figure Serach bat Asher." Etta is now teaching cantillation at Drisha, Chumash at Beit Raban, interpretation of Jewish texts through Drama at BIMA, and is continuing to develop and perform her one-woman show on Serach.
The Jewish Week also wrote about arts fellow Laura Wiessen:
For documentary filmmaker Laura Wiessen, whose new film focuses on converts to Judaism, her study at Drisha helped provide a deeper understanding of the conversion process. The lesson she learned from those making the long journey to a Jewish life, she says, is that "each person has the right to read the text and argue with it, struggle with it." Wiessen is now working on how to weave Jewish text into the film; it will certainly be found in accompanying educational materials, she said. The Drisha Arts Fellowships Program helped nurture the dancer Anna Schon both Jewishly and professionally; Anna was the focus of a piece in The Forward in July, 2008:
One of this year’s arts fellows at Drisha, a Torah study center for women that is located on New York’s City’s Upper West Side, is a 23-year-old Barnard College graduate named Anna Schon. As a product of the Modern Orthodox day schools, she blends into the student body easily….But when she is not studying the Prophets or the talmudic laws about transactions in the tractate Bava Kama, Schon leads a very different kind of life. She is an active member of four New York dance companies - an unusual profession for an observant Jew, since many performances take place on the Sabbath, and since, according to the laws of tsniut (modesty), dancing with or performing before unrelated members of the opposite sex is not permitted. Although Schon struggles with these competing impulses - her passion for dance and her commitment to traditional Judaism - this has not deterred her from embracing both worlds wholeheartedly. The professional lives of visual artists, such as Lia Lynn Rosen and Sonia Gordon-Walinsky, expanded as a result of learning at Drisha. Lia moved to New York City for the year from New Mexico to learn for a year at Drisha. While in New York she presented her work at various venues including at an event hosted by Lilith, the Skirball Center, and JTS. She also brought her learning back to the Jewish community of New Mexico and continues to educate people there. The Jewish Week wrote:
As one of only three visual artists in the Drisha program, Lia Lynn Rosen combines Jewish elements with European and Native American artistic traditions of ceramic art. She also brings a unique perspective as a Jewish woman living in Albuquerque, NM. Her work consists mainly of ritual objects, chanukiot, ceremonial goblets and prayer bowls for anything from a wedding to breast cancer survival, as well as mezuzot and an indigo women’s tallit-poncho. Her Web site, ClayKodesh.com, is "making a holy place for the visual, ceremonial arts," Rosen said. "My work is more about the ceremonial, the practice and prayer, tradition than halacha." Rosen’s work is also creating "grounded-ness" for Judaism. "This is a way to say we have a corporeal culture that’s going to last," she said. "Living in the Southwest, the people who made pottery stayed in one place, creating. Now it’s as if we have a landed past." Rosen sees herself as continuing the long Jewish tradition of "taking from where I live," adding Jewish calligraphy to the art methods she observes in her surroundings. As an artist-educator, Rosen will use the knowledge she gained at the Drisha program in her work with students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and even beyond if she is hired as director of education at her local synagogue. "I want to teach what I’ve learned. You can teach Hebrew, Talmud, through the arts," she said. She sees her work as "keruv [Jewish outreach] through art." This month, she returns to the East Coast to teach a course about Pueblo pottery at New Jersey’s Montclair Art Museum. One of the most exciting things that have come out of the Drisha Arts Program is the explosive collaborations between students. The Jewish Week wrote that poet Carly Sachs (who moved to New York from DC to attend the Drisha Arts Fellowships Program) worked with two other fellows - dancer and choreographer Dages Keates and composer Basya Schechter - in a work that incorporated passages from the steam sequence [her award winning book of poems] along with music and dance. Last year’s program was so nurturing and successful that eight fellows have returned. (See bios of 2008-9 fellows below). The Jewish Week wrote: Sachs reports that her experience at Drisha was so moving and helpful to her work that she’s applied to extend the fellowship another year. "It’s not often that you look around the room and see so much talent and energy. "That’s why I want to stay."
About the Artists
Nancy Abraham is a singer and composer. She teaches Hebrew, Jewish Studies, and cantilation at the Westchester-Fairfield Hebrew Academy and at the Westchester Reform Temple. She is in training to be a cantor with the Renewal Movement. She received a BA from Tufts University in French Studies and an MA in Education from Sarah Lawrence College. She has studied at Cambridge University and at the WUJS Institute in Arad, Israel.
Elana Bell is the recipient of a 2008-2009 Jerome Foundation grant in Literature and was selected as the winner of the 2004 Stephen Dunn Poetry Award. She holds a MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and has been a featured poet at Bar 13, the NuYorican Poets Cafe, Hunter College, Teachers and Writers Collaborative, The Bowery Poetry Club, Cornelia Street Café, the Bronx Council on the Arts' First Wednesday Series, and at the Indian Institute for Advanced Studies in Simla, India. Her poems have appeared in Words and Images Magazine, Houston Poetry Festival Journal, Parse, Clamor, and Poetz.com. Elana serves as the writer-in-residence for the Bronx Academy of Letters, and sings with the a cappella trio, Saheli.
Etta Abramson graduated with honors from Toronto's York University with a BA in Theatre Studies, finishing an undergraduate degree that included one year at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Etta is writing a one-woman show about Serach bat-Asher entitled The Consistency of Flour, which she recently presented as a work in progress at the JCC in Manhattan. Etta is a vocalist and a first-class honors student with the Royal Conservatory of Music. She founded and directed York University's first Hebrew a cappella choir, Kol Neshama. Etta has worked as an arts educator for the past three summers at BIMA, a Jewish arts program for high school students, where she taught interpretation of Jewish texts through drama.
Lise Brown attended the Berklee School of Music where she was an arranging major and performer on flute and saxophone. She has performed with Celia Cruz, Mongo Santa Maria, and many other luminaries on the Latin music Big Bandemonium, which is a nine piece band featuring her own original tunes and arrangements. She has performed at many music festivals and camps throughout the U.S. including Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Old Songs Folk Festival, Swannanoa Gathering, Pinewoods, and Dance Flurry Festival. Most recently, she has been performing, arranging and writing klezmer and Jewish music. She plays in a traditional format and incorporates Jewish music into contra dance, swing, and Latin music. Her work can be heard on recent recordings including "The Big Bang," "Between Two Worlds," and "A Little Shop of Horas." This is Lise's second year learning at Drisha as an arts fellow.
Miriam Leah Droz - producer, actor, and singer - has a BA in English and Theater from Barnard College and an MA in Jewish Studies from Touro College. She performed and trained in Pennsylvania in musical theatre, and now creates opportunities for religious Jewish women to perform in the New York area. She is founder and director of ATARA (Torah and the Arts), a professional organization for Torah observant artists.
Amy Gottlieb is a fiction writer and poet. She has a BA from Clark University and an MA in comparative literature from The University of Chicago. Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have been published in Lilith, Forward, Puerto del Sol, Other Voices, PresenTense, Nashim, Zeek (forthcoming), and elsewhere. She is a recipient of a 2008 Bronx Council on the Arts BRIO Award for poetry. She was nominated for a GE Foundation Younger Writers Award in fiction and held a residency at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony. She works as director of publications for the Rabbinical Assembly and editorial director of Aviv Press. This is her second year as a Drisha Arts Fellow.
Sarah Heller received her BA from Bard College and her MFA in poetry from NYU. She currently works as the Executive Director of the Authors League Fund. She has work published or forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, Pembroke Magazine, RealPoetik, The Temple/El Templo, Thin Air, and Hayloft, and she is on the board of directors of Nightboat Books. She has received fellowships or awards from the MacDowell Colony, Virginia Council for the Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, and the Soul Mountain Retreat. She was the recipient of the Nadya Aisenberg Fellowship at the MacDowell Colony for 2005-2006.
Susan Kaplow received a doctorate from Columbia University in history and has taught at Empire State College and The University at Albany. In her thirties, she made a career shift, returning for an MSW at SUNY/Albany. She has been in full-time private practice since 1983. Kaplow is a jewelry maker who has studied with various teachers at the JCC in Manhattan. She works with both metal smithing and glass fusing, creating pieces that include images from Jewish tradition.
Dages Keates is a professional dancer and choreographer. She received her BA in dance from Bard College after attending Interlochen Arts Academy. She has most recently been seen in venues such as Saint Mark's Church, Construction Company, Dance Across Borders, and Bulldog Studios in works by choreographers Susan Osberg, Noemie Lafrance, and The High Cliff Project, of which she is a founding member. Dages is also a board-certified Holistic Health Counselor (American Association of Drugless Practitioners) and is the founder and director of Delicious Dialogues.
Nicole Raphael received her BA in Theatre from Smith College and her MA from The Actor’s Studio. She is the Artistic Director of The Mesaper Theatre, dedicated to producing Jewish themed plays. As an actor, she has appeared in the independent feature film, House of Women, and has appeared in numerous theatre productions including Glyn Maxwell’s Wolfpit with The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, The New World Theatre Project’s production of Carcass, and Bonnie Culver’s award winning play, Sniper. She played the role of Anne Frank three times (Meadow Brook Theatre, New American Theater, and Penobscot Theatre); Juliet twice (New American Theater and Riverside Shakespeare Festival.); and Alice in You Can't Take It With You at The Arkansas Repertory Theatre. She spent two summers at The Shadowland Theatre playing in the British farces, Perfect Wedding and What the Butler Saw. She tours in Ellen W. Kaplan’s With Dream Awakened Eyes, a one-woman play about the German Jewish painter, Charlotte Salomon. She was invited as a guest artist at Manhattan Day School where she held the workshop "Anne Frank in Performance" and also ran a theatre club for students at Ramaz Lower School which culminated in "A Shabbos Play". She is currently in The Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre’s production of Gimpl Tam adapted from the short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Lia Lynn Rosen is a potter and art educator specializing in custom-made ceremonial clay objects. Her work fuses traditional Jewish aesthetics, ancient pueblo pottery, and evolving women’s rituals. She earned an MA in Art and Art Education at Columbia Teachers College, and she is a licensed K-12 Art teacher and works as a consultant with schools, museums, arts organizations and congregations. She teaches at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center.
Carly Sachs has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School University. She has taught creative writing at George Washington University among other places. Her book of poems, the steam sequence won the 2006 Washington Writers' Publishing House first book prize, and she is the editor of the anthology of poems, the why and later (deep cleveland press, 2007). She is currently at work promoting creative healing and community for those affected by rape and sexual assault. Her poems have recently appeared in nextbook.org and PresentTense. Read Carly's blog.
Anna Schön has a BA in dance and European History from Barnard College. She also studied African dance in South Africa. Anna is currently dancing with Michel Koukaou and Reggie Wilson, and has danced with Gabri Christa, Danielle Gwirtzman, and Ori Flomin in the past.
Basya Schechter is a Drisha Arts Fellow for the second year in a row. She grew up in Boro Park and received her BA in English Literature from Barnard College. Schechter is the band leader of Pharaoh's Daughter, which blends a psychedelic sensibility and a pan-Mediterranean sensuality. She leads her band through swirling Hasidic chants, Mizrachi, and Sephardi folk-rock, and spiritual stylings filtered through percussion, flute, strings and electronica. Her sound has been cultivated by her Hasidic music background and a series of trips to the Middle East, Africa, Israel, Egypt, Central Africa, Turkey, Kurdistan and Greece. Pharaoh's Daughter has toured extensively through the U.S., Eastern and Western Europe, as well as Greece and the United Kingdom, and has had the honor of debuting at Central Park's Summer Stage series. The band has played on such prestigious stages as Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park and Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Over the past two years, she was the recipient of numerous compositional and project grants from the New York State Council of the Arts, American Composers Forum, and the American Music Center. She collaborated with educator and Sephardic composer, Galeet Dardashti, and visual artist, Siona Bengamin, on a song cycle recording project of compositions about biblical women. She is now recording Pharaoh's Daughter's fifth album, Hagar.
Joelle Wallach (Fall 2007) grew up in Morocco and now lives in New York City where she composes music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, choruses, solo voices, and instruments. She earned bachelors and masters degrees at Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University. Her String Quartet was the American Composers Alliance nominee for a Pulitzer Prize in Music. The New York Philharmonic Ensembles premiered her octet, “From the Forest of Chimneys,” written to celebrate their 10th anniversary; and the New York Choral Society commissioned her secular oratorio, “Toward a Time of Renewal,” to commemorate their 35th Anniversary Season in Carnegie Hall. Wallach's ballet, “Glancing Below,” a Juilliard Dance Theater showcase production, was commissioned by the Carlisle Project, premiered in Philadelphia, and quickly became part of the repertory of the Hartford Ballet. Her choral work, “On the Beach at Night Alone,” won first prize in the Inter-American Music Awards. The Manhattan School of Music, where she studied with John Corigliano, granted her its first doctorate in composition. She is a pre-concert lecturer for the New York Philharmonic where she speaks on a broad range of musical subjects.
Sonia Gordon-Walinsky is a Judaic artist working in New York City. She creates original ketubot and artistic renderings of blessings, prayers, and verses from Tanakh and other Jewish texts. Her unique artwork is an integral component of life cycle experiences, deepening and enriching the meaning of these events as well as promoting a spiritual process of learning, reflection and growth. She is a graduate of List College, the Joint Program between Columbia University and The Jewish Theological Seminary where she earned a BA in American History and in Jewish literature with a focus on liturgy.
Laura Wiessen is a writer, producer and filmmaker whose work has appeared on such networks as PBS, MSNBC, The History Channel, and Bravo. She has a BA from Wesleyan University, and she earned a Master's Degree in History from the University of Chicago. She has spent the last two years living in Jerusalem, where she wrote for the Jerusalem Post and Israel21c.org while researching two upcoming documentary projects.
For more information about applying to or supporting the program, please contact Lori Leifer, Arts Fellowship Coordinator.