Maryam Chishti and Jenni Rudolph are co-executive directors of The LUNAR Collective, which cultivates connection, understanding, and community among Asian American Jews. The LUNAR Collective began as an award-winning film project that featured unscripted conversations between 23 Asian American Jews, and has since evolved into a collective that hosts community events, Shabbat gatherings, and provides healing spaces for Asian Jews to process their unique experiences.
“Because we were originally founded as a film series, I think our foundation is very much grounded in creativity and visibility,” said Rudolph. This creative foundation continues to serve the organization well as it creates more ways for Asian Jews to engage in community. “I think visibility is kind of the first step. We exist, we’re here. And then from there it’s like, okay, you see that we exist, we see that we exist, so now what does it mean to be an Asian Jew? How can we continue to engage with this and really feel connected and grounded in Asian Jewish identity?” Rudolph asked.
Having achieved unprecedented visibility for Asian American Jews with the film project, Rudolph and Chishti challenged themselves to expand LUNAR into a more comprehensive, permanent entity. This has been a process of defining and implementing foundational values, which Chishti listed as connection, belonging, and visibility. “I think those are the three things that we really would like to address for Asian Jews: connection that comes with Jewish learning events, finding belonging in Judaism in a way that feels good, safe, and comfortable, and which also meets you where you are in terms of your Judaism, but also in terms of your Asianness,” said Chishti. “How can we reinvigorate rituals and Jewish texts and history to accommodate your cultures and your identities?”
Chishti said their goal is “for people to feel like they have a community of Asian Jews that they can turn to for the good moments and the hard moments, and a group of people that they can see consistently.” Indeed, one of LUNAR’s first events was a last-minute processing space they set up after the devastating murders of Asian women at a massage salon in Atlanta, in March 2021. Since then, LUNAR has continued to provide a processing space for Asian American Jews. Cultural learning programs, community meet-ups, and storytelling workshops are just some of the offerings they create.
Rudolph and Chishti’s vision of LUNAR as a flexible space that can accommodate anyone who identifies as Asian and Jewish means that outreach is a primary goal. For this reason, they have established an open application seeking community leaders across the U.S. with a goal of expanding their national presence. The application will be “evergreen,” continually open for anyone who wants to take on this leadership role. “We want LUNAR to be a place where Asian Jews can come and find us and find a plethora of ways to access their Asian Jewish identity in ways to work for them,” said Chishti. “People can take as little or as much agency as they want, and make the Asian Jewish future and the Asian Jewish community that they’re hoping to see. It’s also a great way for our community to grow nationwide, because [Jenni and I] can’t be everywhere at once, and we aren’t on the ground in the same way that our Asian Jewish community leaders are.” Rudolph also explained LUNAR’s goal of reaching a diverse array of Asian Jews—those who are typically excluded from identifying as Asian Americans, like South and Southeast Asians, for example. “We want to reach out to Asian Jews who are minorities within this intersection of minorities, who may not immediately recognize that they belong in our community and need additional effort on our part to bring them in,” she said. This emphasis on creating truly representative communities with leaders who support and reflect their community is a central concern for LUNAR in this stage of exciting new growth.
Chishti and Rudolph’s partnership reflects the efficacy and value of investing in JoC leaders. JoCI was one of the seed funders for the Asian Jewish Film Project that set their efforts on course. They decided to grow the film project into the LUNAR Collective during their time in the JoCI Incubator. “Literally from the very beginning, JoCI helped bring LUNAR to life,” said Rudolph. “I think JoCI has really been there for us as a mentor, as a home for JoCs in this world of Jewish nonprofits that can sometimes feel very lonely and confusing, especially for somebody like me who felt disconnected from Jewish community and Jewish institutions growing up.”
In the Incubator, Chishti and Rudolph quickly discovered that they had a great rapport working collaboratively. This fostered the shared leadership style that serves as the LUNAR Collective’s foundation. Building community with one another was a crucial moment in giving both executive directors the confidence to pursue their vision. “JoCI ended up being a place that really helped me build my confidence and ability to learn how to stick up for communities of color, and specifically Jewish communities of color,” said Chishti. “I’m a lot more emboldened, and have a better understanding and framing of what this looks like because of JoCI.”
As they continue to grow and evolve, the LUNAR Collective looks forward to expanding its roster of community leaders across the country. When asked about their vision for the future, Chishti and Rudolph described a program that would help connect Asian Jewish people with more experienced community leaders—“elders,” as they described—in order to access mentorship and support, wherever they may be located geographically. “We want to bring on a new generation of Asian Jewish leaders—and in some ways Asian Jewish elders, people who’ve been in the field for a while—to kind of come on board and be with each other. I think this is an exciting way to add new voices and perspectives to LUNAR. We’re really looking forward to that,” said Rudolph.
Jenni Rudolph and The LUNAR Collective were recently featured in episode 2 of Between Black & White: Asian Americans Speak Out, part of a PBS initiative, Exploring Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and Extremism.