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'PEW-ISH' offers Broad(er)way for Jewish engagement

PEW-ISH participants
PEW-ISH participants
Photo courtesy of David Shmidt Chapman

PEW-ISH, an unusual new project expanding the conversation about Jewish identity, especially among unaffiliated Jews, launched with a special dramatic production of 10 new plays on June 26 at the Loft at Judson Memorial Church in New York.

Participating playwrights included Bekah Brunstetter (ABC's Switched at Birth, upcoming “Cutie and Bear” at Roundabout Theatre), Jonathan Caren (“The Recommendation” at the Flea), and Anna Ziegler (“Photograph 51” at Theatre J). Additional playwrights included Matthew-Lee Erlbach (“Eager to Lose” at Ars Nova), Ken Weitzman, Emily Chadwick Weiss, Zohar Tirosh-Polk, Warren Hoffman, Jonathan Karpinos and Jacqueline Goldfinger. Actors included Megan Ketch (CBS’s Blue Bloods), Lynne Rosenberg (“High Maintenance” web series) and Nathaniel P. Claridad (“Here Lies Love” at the Public). PEW-ISH was presented in association with Form Theatricals (Anthony Francavilla and Zachary Laks), Judson Arts and Jake Goodman.

PEW-ISH was created following the 2013 release of the Pew Research Center's “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” which overwhelmingly showed that Jewish Americans feel pride in being Jewish, but also underscored a changing Jewish identity.

“When Pew was released, it sparked endless debate inside the organized Jewish world,” David Shmidt Chapman, a theatre director who initiated the project, said in a statement. “But among my Jewish artist friends, few even knew the study existed, let alone that a debate was raging about their Jewish identity. PEW-ISH will bring new, creative voices into the conversation.”

The June 26 launch event featured Jewish playwrights, while future PEW-ISH programming will also engage artists working in music, dance, visual art, film and other media. PEW-ISH will work closely with other Jewish arts initiatives, including Asylum Arts and the Jewish Plays Project.

Chapman's directing work has been seen at Castillo Theatre, 59E59, Joe's Pub, and in theatres worldwide. He is a member of the Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab, a Drama League alumnus, and a Jonathan Alper Fellow at Manhattan Theatre Club. Chapman has worked in theatre on a Fulbright in Hungary, and as a Luce Scholar in Vietnam. He is also a member of ROI Community, an international network of Jewish activists and change makers.

PEW-ISH is supported in part by a micro grant from ROI Community, which provides its members with a small professional development budget each year as part of its broader investment in enhancing their leadership skills and impact. ROI Community is an initiative of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, a global organization that seeks to ignite the passion and unleash the power in young people to create positive change in the Jewish community and beyond.

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