February 21, 2013
By Rebecca Guber, Director of the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Artists. With the help of an ROI Micro Grant Rebecca had the opportunity to be a Facilitator and Cultural Curator for the Shifting Thought Shifting Action Retreat in Berlin in February 2013.
I spent much of my time in college searching for some understanding of post-war Europe through the German art of Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, and Anselm Kiefer while simultaneously exploring the art of Jewish artists in American like Ben Shahn and Barnett Newman, trying to piece together my own identity through the art of others. This was the beginning of my virtual, imaginary engagement with Europe and its own legacy of the events that shaped my family so deeply. As the first member of my family not born in Europe, I’ve often felt not completely American, and I’ve appreciated the distance this has given me in my work with others in the Jewish community do not fit a Jewish dominant cultural narrative.
In my involvement with ROI and through other professional connections, I’ve had the opportunity to meet my European peers who are doing parallel Jewish community development, which began my exploration of Jewish community across the ocean. Aided by an ROI Micro Grant, from February 3-5, I was a Facilitator and Cultural Curator for the Shifting Thought Shifting Action Retreat in Berlin, run by Anneli Radestad and Anja Walenson to bring together European community organizers. The event was tremendous, and it has profoundly impacted my understanding of European Jewish life and gave me a glimpse of the hopes and dreams of those working deeply in their communities to create change. Meeting the diverse and enthusiastic participants complicated my notion of Jewish identity, drawing the threads of European and American Jewish life together while learning from the deep conversations that arose at the gathering. I am far more aware of the overlaps and dissonance between contemporary Europe (both as a whole and as individual countries) and the mythic and historical places in Jewish cultural and personal memory. I listened to the justly made comments about American cultural hegemony in European Jewish communal conversations, particularly in countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain, and my own commitment to keep my American assumptions in check became even stronger.
I’m walking away with both a more complex understanding of my own American Jewish identity and its relationship to all of those working in Europe in ways that align with the values I bring to my work. I look forward to continuing to follow and support my friends and colleagues who are working to redefine (and in some cases create from scratch) a contemporary vision of European Jewish life, in all of its complexity and diversity.