Creating the Media They Want to See: The New Film Project by and for Asian-American Jews
By: Tova Ricardo
“There’s nothing quite like hearing yourself and your experience reflected back to you in words you’ve been trying to find but can’t quite articulate,” said Gen Slosberg, one of the co-creators of Lunar: the Jewish–Asian Film Project. Motivated to showcase the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of Asian–American Jews, co-creators Slosberg and Jenni Rudolph designed Lunar to shed light on a community often overlooked and underrepresented. The film project consists of 23 individuals speaking on their experiences about being Asian and Jewish, which will be featured later this month.
Rudolph is a Chinese-American Ashkenazi Jewish woman from Southern California and a graduate from the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She is apassionate musician and artist who serves as the Creative Director of Lunar, helping to craft the image and portrayal of each story into the larger video project. Growing up, she never met anyone else who identified as Asian and Jewish besides those in her family. Even though she attended Jewish preschool when she was young, she did not have an extensive formal Jewish education. She has spent the last several years exploring what it means to identify as mixed and hold a Jewish identity while learningto name her Jewish practices and experiences.
Rudolph knew that there was a chance to make a difference when Slosberg reached out to her on social media, and they bonded over commonalities in their backgrounds. “I had previously never met anyone at all of that [Chinese and Jewish] intersection, so that was just really exciting for me and I wanted to chase that feeling of affirmation.” This connection inspired Rudolph and Slosberg to create an online platform dedicated to not only representing Asian–American Jews but showcasing the diverse and multidimensional narratives embedded in the community.
As a leader in UC Berkeley’s mixed-race community, Slosberg saidthat it is essential for Lunar to foster an environment where the complexities and fluidity of being Asian American and Jewish is honored and respected. “I wanted a space where I could have those [identities] exist and talk about those more specific experiences.”
Growing up in China, Slosberg was not exposed to Jewish culture or faith in much depth and developed a strong connection to her Chinese heritage. It wasn’t until she became a part of UC Berkeley’s club for Jews of Color that she felt safe and comfortable expressing Judaism. She and Rudolph hope that Lunar demonstrates that not everyJewish-Asian story is identical or fits into the “typical”story of American Jewish upbringing.
As Rudolph and Slosberg worked to develop Lunar, they wanted to be mindful of accessibility for a Jewish community that does not always feel a sense of belonging.For example, they asked themselves, “how do we create and showcase our content in a way that doesn’t seem inaccessible to someone that doesn’t speak Hebrew?” said Rudolph, who also noted that not all Asian American Jews have felt left out of the Jewish community. She acknowledges the tension of representing an entire community who cannot be summarized neatly into the binary of othered versus unconditionally accepted.
A camera is a powerful storytelling tool, and the Lunar co-creators explain that their project is an “unconventional” form of Jewish engagement that does not ask anyone to pick up a prayer book or have a liturgical background. Instead, they will gauge their impact and reach based on criteria such as a Facebook “like” or comment—a seemingly small action that will represent their resonance with community members. According to Slosberg, the Jews of Color Initiative empowered their goal and ability to build a team driven by creativity, diversity, and representation. Particularly, she explained that JoCI’s grant enables Lunar to financially compensate those involved with the project in various capacities, “I would not be able to pay any of my team without the Jews of Color Initiative,” Slosberg said.
Though their project has yet to premier, Lunar is already producing engaging, entertaining, and informative content on social media. Their trailer gives a lookinto the many ways Lunar merges the deeply emotional side of being an Asian-American Jew—from encounters with racism and exclusion to the metaphysical sense of connection found among other Asian-American Jews—withthe fun side of holding these multiple identities, such as humor andstories of combining cuisinesfor uniquely Jewish-Asian comfort foods.
One of the reasons why Rudolph and Slosberg care deeply about highlighting Asian–American Jewish voices is because they do not want other Asian–American Jews to feel as if their stories aren’t a priority in the Jewish community. For Slosberg, this project is a medium for them to hold space for the non-linear journey of mixedness.
Both leaders directly confront the unjust higher standards to which Jews of Color are often held. Questioning the Jewishness of Jews of Color or holding higher standards for observance or belief is a common barrier to Jews of Color feeling a full sense of belonging in Jewish communities, despite the high levels of atheism and secularism in the broader U.S. Jewish community.“I’m not done discovering being Jewish and that doesn’t make me less of a Jew or less of a leader,” Slosberg affirmed.
Similarly, Rudolph is challenging the expectations of others; she is the only one who can define her relationship to Judaism and believes she shouldbe the only one who can comment on what her Jewish story looks like. “I’m Jewish, I’m carrying all these things because I’m Jewish, therefore I have the right to claim the positives of being Jewish,” declared Rudolph. “I have the right to seek out a community even thought I am also an atheist, even though I don’t check all these boxes of what many people believe that you should be.”
By sharing these stories on a digital platform, the co-creators are uncovering a new way for the Jewish world to learn about one another. Ultimately, Rudolph and Slosberg hope that the release of the Lunar project will transform how the Jewish community understands and educates themselves about Asian–American Jewish narratives.
Follow Lunar on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to learn more about their project and be the first to catch their premier later this month!
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