(photo credit: SHULAMIT SEIDLER FELLER)
NEW YORK – Robin Conrad, 30, a Los Angeles- based dancer and pole-dancing expert, had no idea she was Jewish until about two years ago, when on Christmas day she found a document that had the names of several relatives on it, including her mother. After some research online, Conrad discovered it was the boat manifest for what looked to be the last ship with Jewish refugees that came over to America from Germany in 1939.
Conrad wound up contacting a long-lost cousin online, and then found more family in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Uruguay. “Not only did my parents not want us to find out that we were Jewish and... completely conceal it for all these years,” Conrad said of her and her two brothers, “but we were cut off from all these relationships. It’s been a real journey.” She added that her father does not yet know about her discovery, and mother does know, but “we don’t talk about it much.”
When Conrad made this discovery, she was an artist-in-residence at the Skirball Cultural Center, and had another friend who eventually hooked her up with the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists, and from there, she found the Asylum Arts International Jewish Artists Retreat, which took place this year from March 23 to 26 in Garrison, New York, sponsored by the Schusterman Philanthropic Network and brought together 70 Jewish artists from around the world, including around 20 from Israel as well as from Tunisia, Colombia, and Hungary. The retreat was three days of workshops, skills sessions, classes and jam sessions. Additional support for Asylum Arts is provided by Genesis Philanthropy Group and Righteous Persons Foundation.
“The din of creativity of the Asylum Arts participants with all of their creative energy make a larger imprint for both those at the gathering and the world at large,” said Rebecca Guber, director of the Asylum Arts global network of Jewish artists, in a statement. “We believe that empowering Jewish artists from around the globe to advance their careers helps to broaden Jewish culture and the collective Jewish narrative in the world.”
One of the Israelis at the retreat, composer and violinist Nitsan Khen-Razel, 38, from Azriel, said the program was unique in that it brought together artists in all different fields from so many places in the world to learn together and from each other.
“The fact that we can have this retreat, and the quietness to really be together brings out these very close connections, and a lot of opportunities open up,” Razel said. “It was really empowering. I think the whole idea of creating a community of Jewish artists in so many fields is a really powerful idea.
True collaboration can really do great things.”
Razel’s first album, Motse Makom, release in 2013, was nominated for best Jewish Music album of the year. Razel added that he “definitely” came away from the retreat inspired with new project ideas, had his first album In her professional life, Conrad has worked with the likes of Sophia Coppola, Kate Moss and the White Stripes, and for TV shows like Sean Saves the World and Suburgatory.
“My work has always had some Jewish identity to it,” Conrad said, “Or at least I felt like it was coming from Jewish place. People have been amazingly welcoming and helpful, it’s been incredible, supportive, unbelievable life journey.”
Conrad said she’s “thrilled” about her new identity, and was glad that the Asylum retreat helped her further explore it and network with other young Jewish artists. “Some of the themes I’m dealing with are certainly feelings that I grew up on the outside of something,” she said. “Now, I feel a sense of grounding and connection to history. This definitely opened up this whole world of Jewish identity issues, which are not unique to me, as I found out at the retreat. There are other artists coming at it from different angles.”
“Each of us on their own level or place has their own Jewish identity questions,” Razel said. “I wasn’t very religious growing up, so I discovered the religion through synagogue and through community and through Jewish music. It’s not just a beautiful culture and beautiful music, but part of a big and long chain of generations. A musician needs roots, any artist that knows his roots can grow his own tree, to give fruit and shade.”