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Inaugural fellows Avi Amon, Nemuna Ceesay, William DeMeritt, Rebecca S'manga Frank, Benji Kahn, Lilach Orenstein, and Daniel Terna along with The Workshop founder Kendell Pinkney.

Fellowship for Diverse Jewish Artists Names 7 Inaugural Fellows

The new fellowship is designed to support, nurture, and develop professional Jewish artists of color at the intersection of Jewish art and identity.

NEW YORK CITY: The Workshop, a new program sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), has announced the inaugural cohort of its fellowship, designed to support, nurture, and develop professional artists and culture makers who identify as JOCISM (Jews of color, Jews of Indigenous backgrounds, and Jews of Sephardic and/or Mizrahi heritage). Fellows will receive a participation stipend, a production/presentation stipend, and free access to performance space and workspace.

The Workshop fellowships are sponsored by JTS and its Hendel Center for Ethics and Justice, itself supported by producers Ruth and Stephen Hendel. Artists will have regular opportunities throughout 2022 to strategize about creative and professional challenges and present works in progress and final works to the public. Additionally, the Workshop founder and artistic director Kendell Pinkney will lead a monthly Jewish text study, and each artist will be paired with a mentor through Reboot, a Jewish arts and culture organization with a network of leading industry professionals in theatre, television, film, dance, music, and visual arts.

“The Workshop is bringing the stories and talents of Indigenous, Sephardi, Mizrahi, and Jews of color to life,” said Ruth and Stephen Hendel in a joint statement. “As theatre producers, we are eager to embrace and be inspired by these often under-represented voices. We are grateful to JTS’s Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay (executive director of the JTS Hendel Center), Kendell Pinkney, and supporters for initiating this innovative arts program. We’re very much looking forward to the creativity and inspiration that emerges from our cohort of artists in the months ahead.”

The Workshop’s seven inaugural fellows are:

  • Avi Amon (Discipline: Music, Theatre) is a Turkish-American composer, sound artist, and educator. 
  • Nemuna Ceesay (Discipline: Theatre) is an actor, producer and MFA graduate of American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T. of San Francisco).
  • William DeMeritt (Discipline: Theatre; Film) is an actor, writer, voiceover artist, and a graduate of the Yale School of Drama. 
  • Rebecca S’manga Frank (Discipline: Theatre) is an actor, writer, filmmaker, educator, and activist.
  • Benji Kahn (Discipline: Theatre; Film) is a Black/Biracial queer non-binary New York-based playwright and screenwriter who draws upon their own experiences as a total outsider growing up with a white family in some very small towns. 
  • Lilach Orenstein (Discipline: Dance) is a choreographer, performer, and producer best known for combining diverse types of arts from multiple disciplines into poetical synergies.
  • Daniel Terna (Discipline: Visual Art; Photography) is a Brooklyn-based photographer and filmmaker whose work focuses on family history and inherited trauma, as well as diverse subjects related to public and private boundaries.

“These are extremely talented, accomplished artists who happen to belong to racial and ethnic groups that have been marginalized or overlooked in the larger Jewish community,” said Pinkney, who, in addition to being a professional theatre artist and creative producer, is first Black rabbinical student to attend JTS, in a statement. “We want to put their stories and their work front and center, to support them in multiple ways so they can interrogate, expand, and revitalize notions of Jewish art and identity.”

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