Power and privilege often dictate whose stories are told, leaving people with marginalized identities, well, in the margins. The Braid, a Jewish story company formerly known as Jewish Women’s Theatre, aims to democratize storytelling. We spoke with David Chiu, The Braid’s marketing and communications manager, who is working with a team of creatives to bring Asian Jewish stories to the stage.
Chiu has an academic background in history and film and professional experience in screenwriting. He identifies as a Chinese Litvak Asian-American Reform Jew and was first involved with The Braid as a writer for their 2019 show, True Colors. True Colors hires professional actors to perform true stories by Jews of Color. This ongoing show remains one of The Braid’s most successful productions.
“It was the first time I was really exposed to people putting the stories of Jews of Color on stage and getting that attention,” Chiu said. True Colors exemplifies the genre of Salon Theatre, which Chiu described as “a fascinating art form at the intersection of storytelling and theater” in which actors hold binders with the script and use no props. Hiring professional actors allows more stories to be told, as writers are not required to have the skill or desire to perform their work. “Our bread and butter are really a lot of ordinary people telling their extraordinary stories,” Chiu said. “It really democratizes theater in terms of what gets out there for the public to interact with and consume.”
The Braid was founded by Ronda Spinak to add more nuanced portrayals of Jewish women to the canon of Jewish theater, which often reduced Jewish women to stereotypes such as a nag or overbearing mother. “Over time, we started moving from just Jewish women’s stories to more stories from across the Jewish spectrum, all genders and Jewish identities,” Chiu explained. “Then we expanded into other previously marginalized or untold corners of the Jewish world.” The Braid has featured stories of Persian Jewish women, Iranian Jews, Latinx Jews, Russian Jews, Jews of Color, and just put on a production of stories from the queer Jewish community. “Our motto is ‘Leave no Jewish story untold.’ And that takes us to a lot of really interesting places. We tell Jewish stories regardless of religious observance or affiliation, race, gender, sexual orientation.”
After contributing to True Colors, Chiu began envisioning a show highlighting the experiences of Asian Jews. He was further inspired to do so when he saw The LUNAR Collective’s documentary web series, LUNAR: The Jewish-Asian Film Project, which launched in 2020. Once Chiu learned about JoCI’s grantmaking, this dream began to shift to a reality.
“I always knew I wanted LUNAR to be involved,” Chiu said. As a LUNAR Community Leader in Los Angeles, he was already directly engaged with LUNAR’s leadership and community. His interest in collaborating was furthered by the JoCI team, who recommended that Chiu partner with The LUNAR Collective for the grant. Jenni Rudolph and Maryam Chishti, LUNAR’s co-executive directors, and Vanessa Bloom, a LUNAR Community Leader, reciprocated Chiu’s interest, recognizing this as an excellent opportunity to advance Asian Jewish stories through a new mode.
Building on The Braid’s democratized storytelling approach, this grant includes a series of writers’ workshops to support community members of all skill levels in developing and submitting their stories. Chiu and his team see this as an essential part of the community-building that sits at the center of this project.
“We are realizing that the actual process of creating the show is itself a work of community organizing. It is its own artistic creation,” Chiu said. “The wonderful thing about sitting down together to develop a plan and write the grant was realizing that this was actually going to put the four of us on a journey—and the entire community on a journey—that, regardless of where any of it ended up, would itself be transformative.”
Through the process of engaging with the Asian Jewish community and developing the grant proposal, Chiu’s world has opened up to a belonging he never knew. “What I’ve loved about this process is not only realizing that there are so many other Jews of Color and Asian Jews, but that this is a community that really looks out for each other and helps each other and wants everyone to succeed in a beautiful way that’s not driven by competition.” This profoundly impacts Chiu’s Jewish identity and connection. “Going back in time to when I was a kid thinking, ‘oh, I’m the only Asian Jew. I’m so alone,’ now I have an answer in 2023: ‘I’m so not alone! I have such a wonderful community.’”
If you are an Asian Jew who wants to contribute your story, go to https://the-braid.org/submit and submit to the show What Do I Do with All This Heritage?