Written by Fray Hochstein, on behalf of Team ROI
Rebecca loves to tell the following story: “I decided I wanted to have a bat mitzvah. Now, my parents were immigrants who had been born in the DP camps in Germany. They spoke Yiddish as their first language. They were quite distant from American Midwest culture. I almost always brought the wrong lunches to school. These weren’t people who had any idea how to go about planning a bat mitzvah. It wasn’t even something they were familiar with from our synagogue, but it was a huge thing for the rest of my peers in St. Louis in the 1980s and I was determined to have one. Given the lack of model or template to follow, my parents told me to go ahead and create one – what an incredible gift to give a teenager! I was the writer, director, and star of my bat mitzvah and learned that I could create these things for myself. It was DIY – and that is how I would describe my entire approach to Jewish life. It is far more meaningful if you do it yourself and create your own models.”
As an adult Rebecca gravitated to the art world, working in the mainstream arts community before being hired as the founding director of the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists. Rebecca was a participant in the second ROI Summit and has been involved, in her own words, “in every Jewish innovation network and every Schusterman leadership program that exists” ever since.
Her highly influential Asylum Arts network was launched through a Schusterman Connection Point program. Asylum Arts creates four face-to-face gatherings a year for Jewish artists from around the world, providing them the opportunity to learn from and be in dialogue with each other. It also offers small grants to help create new Jewish art projects, seeking to connect people to Judaism through art and culture. Art supported by the organization has been seen by more than a million people the world over.
Having been in ROI almost from the beginning has given Rebecca, now a Schusterman Fellow, a broad perspective. “The most important thing ROI did was to think internationally and to understand the web of the diaspora. Artists are so important in telling that story. In any project I do in other countries I build connections with ROIers. It’s been neat to see how ROI developed from its early stages to what is now a sophisticated organization.”
She adds: “Artists have a unique power to create narratives that serve as an impetus for social change; generating a shift in public opinion that then leads to political change. This is a way of thinking that ROI has been gently pushing along.”
On a personal level, Rebecca talks about the friendships she has made through ROI. “I’ve made friends through ROI that have played a huge role in my life; a personal network of people from around the world who met in our 20s and now spend time together with our families – and that is real community.”
Photo credit of hero image: Meredith Heuer