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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

Jewish Heritage Month Spotlight: Richard Hall

Richard Hall amplified and humanized the LGBTQ+ community through his words. Born as Richard Hirshfeld, Hall was born in New York, New York to Southern Jewish parents. From an early age, he faced discrimination as his family was the target of an anti-Semintic incident forcing them to uproot and change their surname. After high school, he was drafted during World War II, serving in the U.S. Army.

After WWII, Hall enrolled at Harvard University, where he graduated cum laude in 1948. He entered the advertising and public relations field upon graduating. He worked for J. Walter Thompson and Western Electric and Celanese. His time in those fields led him to switch up his life and enroll in New York University, where he obtained his master’s degree in English Education. After completing his master’s, the writer secured a faculty position at Inter American University in San Juan, P.R. He flexed his writing aptitude as the acting director of the school’s University Press.

After his career in academia, Hall pursued writing full-time and published his most famous work, The Butterscotch Prince, in 1975. He expanded his reach into the magazine industry, contributing both fiction and nonfiction essays to the growing gay and lesbian media. As a book reviewer and critic for publications such as The Advocate, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Village Voice, he became the first openly gay member of the National Book Critics Circle. Hall’s varied talents and interests have allowed him to make a significant impact in the literary world.

As a writer, Hall expanded his repertoire by creating a trilogy of plays called Three Plays for a Gay Theater. He also published several collections of short stories, including Couplings (1981), Letter from a Great Uncle (1985), and Fidelities (1992). His semi-autobiographical novel, Family Fictions, marked his return to writing longer works.

Unfortunately, Family Fictions and Fidelities proved to be his last works as Richard Hall died from complications related to AIDS on October 29, 1992. His death happened four years after his longtime partner Arthur Marceau.

Richard Hall aimed to promote acceptance and equality for the LGBTQ community. Through his writing, he gave the community a platform to express themselves beyond narrow stereotypes. Unfortunately, his contributions have been overlooked compared to other writers of his era. I will say, “Mr. Hall, we appreciate you using your words to take the otherness away from the LGBTQ community.”

Nowadays, a gay novel rarely explains, complains or apologizes.

Richard Hall

Jewish Heritage Month Spotlight: Judy Chicago

As the Foremother of feminist art, Judy Chicago placed women and feminity at the center of the art world. Born as Judith Cohen, Chicago was raised by a labor organizer and medical secretary in Chicago, Illinois. Her feminist roots were stoked at an early age by her progressive father while her love of art came from her dancer mother. Her world was devastated at age 13 by the sudden death of her father. She continued cultivating her artistic talents through classes at the Art Institute of Chicago before enrolling at UCLA.

Chicago thrived briefly at UCLA before dropping out to live in New York with her first husband. She eventually completed her BFA upon the couple moving to Chicago. After her first husband’s death, she completed her MFA in painting and sculpture. The visual artist tried fitting in with the LA art scene’s “boys club.” She eventually grew tired of this disposition by changing her last name to Chicago and putting on her first solo show in 1970. She began teaching full-time at Fresno State College at the same time. She spearheaded the first Feminist Art Program at the college. Chicago re-established the program at the California Institute of the Arts (known as CalArts) after leaving Fresno State.

This period led to her best-known exhibition called Womanhouse, where she and other female artists showcased their artwork. The project bolstered her most influential work, The Dinner Party, which highlighted women across history. Despite being a feminist art benchmark now, mostly male art critics called the exhibition and Chicago’s work “vaginas on plates.” However, due to the public interest in her work, she continued highlighting womanhood in her work in the 1980s and 1990s with Birth Project and Power Play. The artist shifted gears briefly into masculinity with The Holocaust Project.

Chicago has been active as both an artist and educator. She has experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with numerous solo exhibitions and group shows featuring artists who draw inspiration from her work. Her first retrospective was held at the De Young Museum, following her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Chicago’s feminist art is represented in several permanent collections around the world, including the British Museum and Getty Trust

Judy Chicago used her platform to showcase the art and voices of women who were overlooked by the traditional art world. Her work established a model for feminist art that has endured for years. Despite the value of her art, her contributions as an artist have not received the recognition they deserve. As Chicago continues to create groundbreaking work, I will say, “Ms. Chicago, we appreciate you bringing women out of the shadows and into the spotlight they deserve.”

I think what’s important is to give space to the range of human experience.

Judy Chicago
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