New performance series spotlights emerging Jewish voices

There’s a new local venue for budding Jewish talent and young adults looking for a fun evening out.

Spotlight: Emerging Jewish Voices, a new series at the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, aims to showcase young Jewish musicians, poets and other performance artists who are making waves in their communities. The series premiers Thursday, Jan. 17 with a musical and theatrical performance by Sebastopol’s Joti Shephi at 7 p.m. The series will take place at the JCC’s Oakland branch.

Joti Shephi

Shephi, 35, a New York native who has also lived in Israel, says music has been central to her “Jewish soul” her entire life. “I grew up with my mother singing at the Shabbat table, and the ritual aspect of Hassidim — chanting as prayer — has absolutely influenced my music as well,” she says. Shephi will be performing with a five-piece band in a show that involves costumes and audience participation.

It will also incorporate the concept of the performer as a “badchan,” a jester of sorts that performs at Jewish weddings whom Shephi sees as connected to the Native American role of the coyote. “I’ve been influenced by the spirituality of a number of cultures,” she explains.

Alli Axelrod, the program coordinator of Arts, Ideas and Jewish Life at the JCC, says she had the idea for the series not long after being hired four months ago. “After spending a year in Israel and after several years in different Jewish communities in the Bay Area, I really felt called to provide a space for some of the interesting, moving, really brilliant young artists I’ve met,” says Axelrod, 27.

“I saw that there wasn’t really a space for younger people to share their work … and also envisioned it as a way to put out more evening programming, which we’re always wanting to do, and also as a way to put [the new Oakland location] on the map as a creative space. It just seemed to fill a lot of needs.”

Axelrod expects to offer four evening performances a year — the next one is set for April 11 (the artist has not yet been selected). Axelrod is also open to hearing from those who want to be part of the series. “We’re looking for people who have something unique to say, that is based on or stems out of their journey Jewishly in some way,” she says. “We’re looking for the young voices of these times.”

Spotlight: Emerging Jewish Voices 7-10 p.m. Jan. 17, JCC East Bay, 5811 Racine St., Oakland. $15 general. www.jcceastbay.org

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.