Erin Zaikis’s work demonstrates the same truism: big ideas for social change start modestly. Now 27, the Massachusetts native is the brains behind Sundara, a three-year old non-profit organization that hires unemployed and underemployed women in India, Uganda and Myanmar to recycle hotel soap using a zero-waste process, and makes them hygiene ambassadors in communities that suffer from high rates of death from diarrhea, pneumonia and other hygiene-related maladies.
We’ve done a lot to demonstrate how comedy can create social change: peace talks between Israeli and Palestinians comedians, a roast of the city of Jerusalem, a summit that brought together head writers of the world’s best satire shows to discuss how senses of humor differ across cultures. We broke the world record for the most international writers’ room, with 15 writers from 15 different countries writing a sketch together—which will hopefully be featured in the next season of Eretz Nehedert.
“It was really my first exposure to this idea and reality that there were Jewish communities that were living and dynamic and exciting in Europe, and outside of Israel and the United States,” said the 31-year-old New York City resident. What he found in those communities was far different from what he’d grown up with in his suburban, Conservative Jewish household: overseas, he was caught off-guard by his peers’ stories of not knowing they were Jewish until a grandparent disclosed the information.
Growing up, Demby played violin and piano, and as he grew older he came to realize “how music can be the voice for the voiceless and music can heal the world, and I really stand behind that. I try to do things that use music to unify people,” he said. In many ways, that philosophy is one with the Sacred Music Festival, which aims not just to introduce people to new genres, but to use art, sound and creativity to foster moments of grace and forge connections.
“I was a part of an experience where 50,000 people lived together in complete harmony and respect and acceptance of each other. It’s really a place where each of us can be whatever he or she dreams to be and society around you accepts it and encourages you to be who you truly are. And the feeling of being part of that experience—not reading about it or watching a YouTube video, but physically being there—just became part of my DNA. I felt soaked in it.”
For many people, the onset of summer camp season is a reminder to arm your kids with bug spray, get that Sharpie out to write their names on the insides of their collars and acquire cherished care package fixings. For Rabbi Becky Silverstein, the Education Director at Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center and the first transgender rabbi hired by a Conservative congregation, the season means something a little different: it’s represents an opportunity to keep chipping away at alienating binary gender distinctions in the Jewish community and beyond.
“It was really an art project with the intention to think about how the community could gather in a way that was not divided by alcohol, mean bouncers, and a digital divide…The idea was borne out of this frustration around nightlife and desire to bring community back in a real positive way.”
What can Judaism and Jewish tradition teach us about love and intimacy? We asked Israel-born educator, writer and performer Amichai Lau-Lavie, who talked sex and relationships at Rekindle: A Shabbat Studio last month, to tell us.