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Author Archives: Eleanor J. Bader

The Lilith Blog

March 26, 2020 by

Feeding People in Virus-Stricken New York

It’s Monday morning, the start of the second week of New York City’s attempt to contain the coronavirus, and Alexander Rapaport, founder and Executive Director of MASBIA, (MASBIA.org) New York City’s only kosher food pantry and feeding program, is gearing up for an exceptionally busy week.

“Shortly after Hurricane Sandy, City Councilmember Brad Lander said—and I’m paraphrasing—that in times of crisis some people will fall apart while others will be brave and help out,” Rapaport begins. “We are trying to be the helpers in this time of COVID-19. In the face of all odds, we are plowing ahead. But it’s not easy.”

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The Lilith Blog

March 15, 2020 by

A Jewish Journey to Montgomery

Between 1877 and 1950, approximately 4400 African American women and men were lynched in the United States. Billie Holiday sang of them, “strange fruit hanging from the sycamore tree,” in Abel Meeropol’s iconic 1939 song, but it was not until 2018 that civil rights activist and attorney Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative raised enough money to open the commemorative Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. 

Both sites are intended to acknowledge the racism at the heart of America’s story and address the many ways that the heritage of bigotry continues to fester and poison the body politic.

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The Lilith Blog

March 4, 2020 by

The New Organization Uniting Allies to Combat Racism

When the National Anti-Racism Alliance (NARA) began to come together in Spring 2019, its purpose was explicit: “a nonviolent community of people who think racism is out of control in this country and who are publicly willing to identify themselves as anti-racist fighters.”

NARA’s founder, Mark Naison—an African American Studies and History professor at Fordham University—welcomed any-and-all but emphasized that “the NARA label is particularly important for anti-racist whites to display, as it lets our friends of color know that they can count on us in a crisis to stand with them.”

Rhode Island activist Nomi Hurwitz is one of NARA’s moderators, facilitating a largely-online discussion—on Facebook—between members who share information, debate strategy and tactics, and address the many ways that racial bias poisons our lives.

She and Eleanor J. Bader spoke by phone in mid-February.

Eleanor J. Bader: What drew you to NARA?

Nomi Hurwitz: I have known Mark Naison for a number of years. I met him through friends on Facebook and have benefited from reading his work. When I heard that he had started NARA, I wanted to join.

I’ve been fighting against racism for a long time. I started at 18. Now, more than 30 years later, I want to learn more about how to undo it, how to confront it when I see someone being harmed or hear a derogatory comment.

In Providence, where I live, I’ve heard white people say things that are disrespectful to African American or Latinx people, things like ‘They only have their positions because of affirmative action.’ I’ve heard white people blame their lack of success—that they can’t get published, for example—on the fact that they’re white. These comments are racist. And they can be lethal. Twenty years ago, Providence off-duty police officer, Cornell Young, Jr., an African American, was shot and killed by two white officers who did not recognize him in plainclothes when he attempted to intervene and stop a crime that was then in progress.

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The Lilith Blog

January 30, 2020 by

The Compulsive Photographer of The Unnoticed: An Interview with Lori Azim

Azim

When Lori Azim (Instagram: @Cheeseburger_earmuffs) was growing up in Kansas, her father–a professional photographer who took portraits of people like jazz great Duke Ellington and President Harry Truman—made it clear that he did not want his daughter to make camera work her profession.

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The Lilith Blog

January 7, 2020 by

How Women Can Get Over Our Fear of Asking for Money

“People will go to jail for things they believe in, but they’re often afraid to ask someone for money,” Marjorie Fine says. This is why she travels the country, teaching grassroots, social justice activists the ins-and-outs of raising money from both foundations and individual donors. For women in particular, asking for money and raising it can provide unique challenges, making Fine’s expertise particularly useful.

Fine learned her craft as a development staffer at a host of organizations: The National Council of Jewish Women, The North Star Fund, the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, The Center for Community Change, and the now-defunct Reproductive Rights National Network.

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The Lilith Blog

December 27, 2019 by

After Loss, a Devotion to Those Afflicted by AIDS

Not long after nurse and public health activist Elena Schwolsky’s husband, Clarence Fitch, died of AIDS in 1990, she left her job at a Newark, New Jersey, pediatric AIDS clinic, enrolled in graduate school, and went to Cuba to study the island’s AIDS treatment protocols and meet people living with the virus. The result of her six-month stay is the recently released Waking in Havana: A Memoir of AIDS and Healing in Cuba (She Writes Press).

Both deeply personal and deeply political, the book is a reflection on the challenges of living with HIV/AIDS and what it means to deliver humane medical care. The impact of the US embargo on Cuba and the collapse of the Soviet Union are part of the story, but Schwolsky’s focus never wavers from the individuals who are working to eradicate the disease. Likewise, people living with the virus are front-and-center in her moving, and often surprising, account.

Schwolsky sat down with Eleanor J. Bader in mid-December to discuss Waking in Havana, her ongoing AIDS work in Cuba, and the pervasive and persistent misconceptions about the island that continue to be promulgated.

Eleanor J. Bader: After working in a pediatric AIDS clinic and losing your husband to the virus, what made you want to do a deep dive into Cuba’s AIDS crisis?  

Elena Schwolsky: I did ask myself if I really wanted to put myself in a Cuban sanitorium, where every resident had the virus and would likely get sicker and sicker. But Clarence had been on the frontlines and it somehow felt comforting to share in this work. It seemed like an important battle. I also think that I had survivor’s guilt.  The universe had given me a pass and I felt committed to using my life in a way that had meaning.  It gave me an identity, and the camaraderie in the AIDS service community had an urgency that bound us together. Plus, I was curious and wanted to see how the epidemic was handled in a different place.

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The Lilith Blog

December 9, 2019 by

Art in Exile Showcases Work by Artists Who Escaped the Nazis

“Old Walls by the Sea” by Mina Krocherthaler, ~1968 Art in Exile, LBI

“Old Walls by the Sea” by Mina Krocherthaler, ~1968
Art in Exile, Leo Baeck Institute

Dispossession has been an historical constant, but during World War II thousands of German Jews with the means to escape Hitler’s rule found sanctuary in countries throughout the world. Of course, there were challenges aplenty; still, many thrived, finding personal and professional toeholds wherever they landed. 

Some found solace in creativity, something that is showcased in Art in Exile: Paintings by German-Jewish Refugees, an exhibition now on display at New York City’s Leo Baeck Institute (LBI). The show homes in on the creativity of 11 artists who used painting, drawing and collage to explicate their refugee status and illustrate feelings of gratitude, fear, joy, loneliness, and apprehension. Four of the 11 are women.

Dr. Magdalena M. Wrobel, project manager at LBI, notes that in choosing the art, the curators sought a range of styles. But, she adds, they also wanted to illustrate a range of life trajectories. The goal? “To cumulatively demonstrate how an oppressive regime, exclusion, persecution, and finally exile can influence the artistic creativity of those afflicted in various ways.” In addition, Wrobel adds that in order to be included, the works had to be in good condition despite the passage of time and be available for the six-month duration of the show.

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The Lilith Blog

November 18, 2019 by

Through Her Lens: Documenting Crypto-Jews, Brooklyn Life, and More

gloriagolden.com

gloriagolden.com

When Gloria Golden was growing up in Brooklyn, New York – first in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and later in Borough Park and Gravesend — her father carried a camera everywhere he went. But his daughter did not follow his example. 

Unlike her dad, Golden did not begin to take photographs until 1994, when she took a course at Queensborough Community College during a sabbatical from her job as an elementary school teacher. 

Since then, Golden has taken thousands of shots and has published five books of photos and text: Remnants of Crypto-Jews Among Hispanic Americans (2005); Desaturated Soul (2009); Brooklyn Revisited (2012); Photography: An Intimate Approach (2016); and Metallic Metropolis (2019). 

Now living on Long Island, the award-winning photographer discussed her career with Lilith’s Eleanor J. Bader in early November.

 

Eleanor J. Bader: Let’s start by talking about your early years as a public-school teacher, before you found a foothold in photography. Did you like teaching?

Gloria Golden: Let’s go back even earlier. I was born in the 1940s and attended New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn. When I began studying there, I was in the commercial education program, training to be an office worker, because I did not think my parents could afford to send me to college. When I explained this to one of my teachers, she was shocked and called my parents in to discuss my future. After this conversation, I was put on the academic track.  When I graduated, I enrolled at what was then called the Uptown City campus of City College. I’d originally assumed I’d teach business classes since that was what I’d focused on during high school, however, I ended up taking classes in elementary education at Uptown City to prepare me to teach elementary school. Martin Luther King spoke at my college graduation. Can you believe it?

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The Lilith Blog

November 15, 2019 by

Fresh Art for Social Change…and Healing

Beverlys monkey 1 edited-1_edited-1There is a photocopied sign on the wall of art administrator Suzanne Kreps’ cluttered office: “Change will not come if we wait for another person or some other time…We are the ones we’ve been waiting for…We are the change that we seek.”

The quote, attributed to former President Barack Obama, reinforces Kreps’ commitment to using art to promote social justice. She’s done this for 16 years, as the executive director of fresh art, a small, New York City-based non-profit that organizes fine art and craft workshops for underserved and disadvantaged adults— seniors, women and men in recovery from chemical dependencies, the homeless, the mentally ill, and people with HIV, AIDS, mental illnesses and physical and emotional disabilities. It also organizes exhibitions of their work. 

As Kreps prepares to retire at the end of 2019, she sat down with Eleanor J. Bader to look back on her work with the organization.

 

Eleanor J. Bader: Let’s start with history. How and when did fresh art begin?

Suzanne Kreps: Wendy Grossman founded fresh art in 1997 and started its programming in 1999. Wendy had been working as a recreational therapist at the now-defunct John Heuss House, a drop-in center for homeless men and women living with mental illness, that was located in Lower Manhattan. This was in the late 1990s. Wendy’s job included organizing group activities as well as art classes, other recreational programming, and activities emphasizing daily living skills. In 1997, she mounted “Inside Out”, a show of works created by the participants. My partner, Clarke, who also worked at John Heuss House, suggested that Wendy contact me since I was working at OK Harris Gallery. I knew a fair amount about arranging exhibitions, so he thought I could help.  I assisted in the installation of that show and later became a member of an Advisory Board that helped Wendy form fresh art.

The idea of starting a non-profit arts organization had been with Wendy for some time. She envisioned an organization that would provide programming to a wide-range of underserved and at-risk populations—including disadvantaged youth, homeless and formerly homeless individuals, people with disabilities, and low-income and isolated seniors.

Girl 101317Wendy eventually left Heuss House and with the help of the New York Foundation for the Arts– the fiscal sponsor of the organization while it waited for its 501(c 3)  status — she was able to get the fledgling organization off the ground. She began running the organization out of her family’s fifth floor walk-up apartment in the East Village. 

From the beginning, fresh art arranged exhibitions to showcase the creativity of artists from the populations I just mentioned. One of the first was called “Wild Kingdom” and every piece had something to do with animal life. The art came from programs at the Bowery Residents Committee, St. Francis Residence III in Manhattan, Harlem Hospital, The Point in the Bronx, and five additional NYC organizations.

In April of 1999 the exhibition was installed at CB’s 313 gallery space on the Bowery, located next door to CBGBs. During the next two years, exhibitions were planned at other venues.

Then, in the summer of 2001, Wendy found a rental space in the basement of Washington Square United Methodist Church, another site that no longer exists. It opened in August 2001, a month before September 11th. The space was part office, part gallery, and part gift shop where artworks and crafts by artists affiliated with other non-profit agencies were for sale; fresh art stayed open in this spot until 2003.

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The Lilith Blog

November 3, 2019 by

Toxic Tango: Site-Specific Art for Environmental Crisis

Scarlett Wardrop

Scarlett Wardrop

When artist Julie Laffin and writer-teacher Jennifer Natalya Fink talk about environmental degradation, they focus on more than rising sea levels, polluted air, fouled waterways, and animal extinction. In fact, their site-specific art project, Toxic Tango, asks viewers to draw connections between our physical, emotional, and public domains, in essence making the personal political and vice-versa.

Performed just twice, in South Bend, Indiana, and Washington, DC, Toxic Tango aims to raise consciousness, unsettle viewers, and provoke debate about how best to promote tikkun olam, the healing of our devastated planet.

Laffin, based in Illinois, and Fink, based in Maryland, spoke to Eleanor J. Bader by phone in early October.


 Eleanor J. Bader: Where did the idea for Toxic Tango originate?

Julie Laffin: I have a long history of making gowns and inserting myself into public spaces to promote a particular idea, but after I became disabled 15 or so years ago, I could no longer do this. I have environmental illness. Unfortunately, not much is known about these things. Is it a brain injury? Is it an endocrine disorder? Toxic overload?  No one knows. What I do know is that these illnesses are idiosyncratic. People with them have a lot of different symptoms including respiratory difficulties and food sensitivities. Since I can’t easily go into public spaces anymore, but still want to make art that intervenes in public life, I’ve looked for surrogates, other women, who enact the performance pieces I co-create.

Jennifer Natalya Fink: Julie and I went to graduate school together at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1988 to 1990. We connected again over disability – I have a daughter on the autism spectrum and, as she said, Julie has environmental illness. We started talking about doing a performance that addressed environmental contamination and found an opportunity to collaborate in the fall of 2018. I was going to &NOW, a conference at Notre Dame University. The city of South Bend, Indiana, where Notre Dame is located, is very flat, with areas of extreme wealth and areas that are poor and largely African American. LaSalle Park is in the African American neighborhood and was built on a toxic waste site. It looks like a huge mound in an otherwise flat landscape.

Julie and I devised a performance for this park. I wore a beautiful, glamorous, 100-foot-long red dress which played into the spectacle of the female body. The performance involved me running up a huge hill, then rolling down until I was bound up in the dress. At one point I inserted dirt into my stomach via a hidden pouch. As I moved up and down the mound, Julie read the government’s Super Fund Report about the site’s contamination. She was audible through my cellphone. At the end of the performance, we gave out leaflets that explained the context for what we were doing. We informed people that the Park was designated as a Super Fund site in 2013, but that both state and federal officials had known that the land was contaminated as early as 1984. Why, we asked, hadn’t it been cleaned before the park was constructed?

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