Hello, world. I am Chanan Ben Simon—vocalist, multimedia artist, and Director of LABA NY. For those unfamiliar with LABA, it is a Jewish house of study and culture laboratory that uses classic Jewish texts to inspire the creation of new, innovative art. For a year, we work and create new Jewish Culture.
LABA Fellow Creative Explorations
I was a LABA fellow myself exploring the theme of BROKEN. By anointing my pieces of creative exploration in glittery gold, the fellowship bridged the gap between my background as a religious Jew, my present as experimental artist, and added another level of depth to me as an artist and a human.
This year, LABA fellows grappled with the concept of TABOO: the collective, unspoken boundaries that we should not cross; forbidden fruit we are not allowed to taste, the same forbidden fruit placed in the middle of the garden that sings a taunting melody, “Do not eat me! Do not eat me!”
As the director of LABA NY, I try to understand every artist and their creative needs, as well as help them to discover the next phase of their work. Art asks for time, support, a home, and feedback. This is the framework LABA tries to provide.
Our study sessions are colorful and fascinating. Ahead of our gatherings, I set up the space and find food and drinks suitable to the text.
For example, when we studied about the forbidden fruit, we had figs and a brain-shaped Jell-O cake. When we dove into the Leviathan and the creatures of the sea – we ate smoked fish. When we studied about the drunkenness of Noah and the ‘Meshumar Wine’, of course we had different kinds of grapes and wine.
Once the fellows arrive, our LABA scholar, Ruby Namdar, opens the text, and for three hours, something in the air transforms and fireworks appear.
LABAlive Performances and Fellowship
In September, we celebrated our first night of LABAlive performances, “Homeland Taboos,” and we have two more shows to come! The next one is “Sweet Taboos” on October 19, followed by “Family Taboos” on November 30. Some of the Taboos explored in our performances are sexuality, queerness, blood lines, abortion, circumcision, immigration, violence and more.
Take our promo code for the LABAlive performances—LABAfriend—and stay for the post-show receptions to say hello and mingle with our downtown creative community.
For some of you, being just a “LABAfriend” may not be enough, and you’re ready to be a LABA fellow yourself! We are now taking applications for the 2024 group of LABA cohorts exploring the theme of mysterious, quiet, dreamy, luscious, scary NIGHT. Applications are open until October 31.
The 14Y Arts + Culture team also supports the work of others in our creative community. We are currently hosting the STAV Festival, and I am happy to be performing my piano-looper songs with my talented friend Noa Fort. Come see us on Friday, October 13, at 9:00 PM at the 14th Street Y Theater. Use promo code chanan&noa for $10 tickets.
We look forward to seeing you at the theater, getting to know you, and diving into the contours of TABOO alongside you.
Photo credit: Basil Rodericks