“EAT” is an irresistible imperative. Jews around the world are defined by our foods. So eager anticipation was tangible last Saturday night at the 14th St Y where a supportive audience had come to encounter works by LABA fellows exploring texts centered on food.
LABA is a “study and culture laboratory” where, emulating Ruth Calderon’s example in Israel, texts are explored in a non-denominational, non-religious setting. LABALive is the culmination of a year’s work by the artist fellows invited to participate. Ruby Namdar of the LABA faculty, introducing the evening, said: “Food is always more than food. It is about passion and taboos. We seek endlessly to regiment what we put in our mouths; yet we are craving it all the time.”
Namdar asked what was it exactly that Eve gave Adam? It was not an apple — you won’t find “tapuach” in Bereshit/Genesis 3. And then he explored a tractate from the Babylonian Talmud which offers grapes, wheat and figs as possibilities. Ruby made a very strong case for why the “apple” may indeed have been a fig. Next time you eat a fig, touch it and you may discover what Namdar meant.
The artists roamed widely: Eli Valley, the cartoonist, presented a provocative strip on the Akedah, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Diana Spechler, the novelist and poet, read “Girl at a Bar,” drawing from a verse in Proverbs. Playwright Karen Hartman developed a short “playscript” centering on an affluent suburbanite struggling to conceive. Her character alludes to the secularism that dominates our culture: “People who vote the way we vote don’t read the Bible. Yet it is in the Bible that we learn about miracles.” Her protagonist, like the biblical Hannah, was waiting for a miracle.
The setting in the 14th St Y’s theater was relaxed and seductive with informal seating. Bread (from Erin Patinkin’s Ovenly in Greenpoint, Brooklyn), figs, peppered candies and wine were on each table, reminiscent of a seder. Each taste during the evening was very deliberate.
LABA is predicated on the “crazy notion that ancient texts can animate our lives today.” I found myself consulting the texts that had inspired the works, from the Lepers’ Feast to Isaiah to Bereshit – just to check on that “apple.”
Next year, the focus is “Mother.”
Sharon Anstey is a business consultant and writer.