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AAPI/Jewish Heritage Month Spotlight: Rabbi Mira Rivera

Mira Rivera is all about spreading the word of Judaism to those who seek it. Rivera was born in Michigan to Filipino immigrants. Despite being born in the U.S., she was raised by her grandmother in the Philippines before being educated in Varanasi, India. She developed a love for dance early in her childhood.

Rivera eventually found her passion for dance led her back to the U.S. as she enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She graduated with a BFA in Film and the Founders Day Award. Following her time at Tisch, the rabbi danced for the Martha Graham Dance Company and Ensemble under renowned choreographer Yuriko Kikuchi. She spent some time performing in Broadway and off-Broadway productions through the Actors’ Equity. She taught school-aged children through National Dance Institute and the Irene Diamond Summer Institute during her dance career.

Rivera pursued her passion for dance while also exploring her Jewish faith. She taught young children at local synagogues and also practiced yoga and meditation while attending services at B’nai Jeshurun. This love for Judaism led her to enroll at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where she became officially ordained in 2015 and earned her MA in Jewish Studies. She was the first Filipino-American woman to earn this degree. Her studies eventually led her to a chaplain residency at Mount Sinai Hospital after being accepted into Romemu Center’s Jewish Emergent Network Rabbinic Fellowship.

Rivera was an Associate Rabbi and Board Certified Chaplain at Kehillat Romemu in NYC from 2018 to 2022 after completing her residency. During her tenure, she took charge of several initiatives such as the Community Kitchen, Morning Minyan, and Social Action Committee. Later, she took a break from her duties to serve as Rabbi-in-Residence for The LUNAR Collective and JCC Harlem, which cater to Asian American Jews and Jews of color, respectively.

Rivera’s work as a rabbi has extended to social justice causes. She collaborated with the Rabbinical Council of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and the National Council of Jewish Women. Recently, she co-founded a safe space for Jews of Color called the Harlem Havruta and also established the Jewish Women of Color Resilience Circle following the events of 2020.

Rabbi Mira Rivera has been using her platform to promote unity between the Jewish and BIPOC communities. Her efforts have brought attention to those who have been underrepresented in the faith. Rivera has demonstrated strong leadership by empowering and uplifting others. I will say, “Rabbir Rivera, we appreciate you representing and serving marginalized communities.”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable, My Rock and My Redeemer.

Mira Rivera

AAPI Heritage Month Spotlight: David Henry Hwang

David Henry Hwang showed that Asian American voices are a necessity on Broadway. As the eldest of three children, Hwang was born and raised in Los Angeles, California to a banker father and a piano teacher. His parents were avid supporters of the Asian American theatre company East West Players, which rubbed off on the young writer. He began writing short stories at age 12 to comfort his ailing grandmother. With his family’s support, he pursued a writing career by enrolling at Stanford University.

During his time in college, he kickstarted his writing career by creating his first play called FOB. This was the first of his “Trilogy of Chinese America” series and was inspired by his studies with award-winning playwright Sam Shepard and attending Padua Hills Playwrights Festival. He ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in English before enrolling in the Yale School of Drama’s graduate program. However, he dropped out once his first play began workshopping in New York. Following the success of FOB, he went on to write The Dance and the Railroad and Family Devotions. His career in the theater continued to flourish with his reimagining of M. Butterfly, which made him the first Asian American to win the Tony Award for Best Play and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

While achieving success in the theater world, Hwang also made a name for himself in film and TV. In 1985, he wrote his first TV movie, Blind Alleys, which starred Cloris Leachman and Pat Morita. He went on to write a film adaptation of M. Butterfly, as well as a romantic drama, Golden Gate, featuring Matt Dillon. Additionally, he contributed to an early version of the 2002 mystery Possession. Hwang’s accomplishments extended to Broadway, where he achieved two major successes – the Tony-winning musical Aida and the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song.

Without revealing any details about the author, it can be said that they have a remarkable career in theatre and opera. They have written several plays, including Yellow Face, which earned them a second opportunity to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In addition, they have co-written the books for Disney’s Tarzan and an operatic adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The author’s prolific writing continued throughout the 2000s and 2010s, with notable works such as Chinglish and Kung Fu, a play based on the life of Bruce Lee. Their most recent achievement, a timely musical called Soft Power, written in collaboration with Jeanine Tseori, earned them their third Pulitzer Prize finalist nomination.

Hwang has made a name for himself in the film and TV industry by writing screenplays for animated films. He also worked as a writer and consulting producer on the critically acclaimed Showtime drama The Affair from 2015 to 2019. He has several exciting projects lined up, including a live-action adaptation of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and an Anna May Wong biopic featuring Gemma Chan from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He will be returning to TV as the showrunner for the upcoming series Billion Dollar Whale.

David Henry Hwang was a trailblazer in promoting Asian and Asian American culture on Broadway. He skillfully combined Eastern and Western influences and used his platform to showcase diverse storytelling. Although his contributions as a theater impresario have not always been recognized, I will say, “Mr. Hwang, we appreciate the diverse storytelling you brought to the stage.”

You can’t be a playwright without believing there’s an audience for adventurous work.

David Henry Hwang

AAPI Heritage Month Spotlight: Bernice Bing

Bernice Bing spent most of her life reflecting Eastern and Western culture through her work. Bing was the eldest of two girls born in San Francisco, California. She and her sister spent their childhood bouncing between foster homes, the notorious Ming Quong orphanage, and their grandmother’s home, following the loss of their parents. Her grandmother fostered her love of the arts, leading the academically challenged Bing to enter local and regional competitions. After graduating high school, she briefly attended the California College of Arts and Crafts before transferring to the San Francisco Art Institute, where she received an MFA in painting.

Following graduation, Bing continued to merge her love of calligraphy and Chinese philosophy in her work. She was heavily involved in the Bay Area Beat Era art scene, participating in several exhibitions during her graduate and post-graduate studies. At the same time, she maintained a studio in San Francisco. The visual artist failed to gain traction with her work and disappeared for a few years. She reemerged in the late 1960s for an exhibition in Berkley before joining the Esalen Institute’s first residential program to continue her philosophy studies. Her involvement in the arts wasn’t affected as she worked with organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts, the Neighborhood Arts Program, and the San Francisco Art Festival. Her activism expanded into her local community as she organized an art workshop with the Chinatown gang, the Baby Wah Chings, in the wake of the 1977 Golden Dragon Massacre.

Bing continued working in arts administration as the first executive director for the South of Market Cultural Center (now known as SOMArts) from 1980 to 1984. Her tenure as director led to the program expanding significantly. Her time as an arts administrator ended after she returned to her first loves – painting and philosophy. She traveled throughout China, Japan, and Korea from 1984 to 1985 to get closer to her culture. She studied traditional Chinese ink landscape painting and calligraphy while presenting lectures on Abstract Expressionism.

In her later years, Bing took on menial jobs to support herself after her Southeast Asian trip. Things took a turn for the better as the mixed media artist found a sisterhood with Asian American Women Artists Association (AAWAA). Fostering this association helped Bing to create later works like the “Cosmic Gap” series and Lotus Root. The painter died on August 18, 1998, after a battle with cancer.

Bernice Bing skillfully incorporated her Chinese heritage into her art as a way of celebrating the culture that had been denied to her for so long. Despite her exceptional talent as a painter, her work was largely overlooked during her lifetime. However, the art world is now beginning to recognize and appreciate her contributions. I will say, “Ms. Bing, we appreciate you skillfully blending your artistic talents and ancestral roots epically.”

Art has really been the way I have been able to understand both cultures, and to undo the wrongdoing of both cultures.

Bernice Bing
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