AUSTRALIA’S biggest Jewish arts festival, FOJAM, which was scheduled for Melbourne in October, has been postponed due to the impact of COVID-19.
Artistic director Lior Albeck-Ripka said: “In March we were ready to announce the 2020 FOJAM festival with the theme of ‘Exodus’ when the coronavirus pandemic hit.”
At the time, Albeck-Ripka and festival producer Jesse Lubitz had been working on FOJAM for six months and hoped to exceed last year’s program that featured more than 135 local and international artists in a variety of events.
Despite the postponement of the one-day festival until next year, FOJAM will embark on an online program of events, starting on June 4 with a monthly series titled Homeward Bound.
“We are excited to continue showcasing and exploring Jewish arts and culture and music in a different way,” Albeck-Ripka told The AJN.
“We don’t have to be restricted by what a live music and arts festival used to look like – we can now celebrate the diversity of Jewish culture in people’s living rooms.
“We are a multiform arts platform celebrating Jewish music, performance, dance, talks, storytelling and anything creative that sparks discussion, empathy and curiosity.”
FOJAM’s Homeward Bound online series debuts with a panel discussion titled “Unorthodox – Stories of Escape”, exploring what it takes to break away from a religious environment.
The panel features author Deborah Feldman, who wrote the book that inspired the recent Netflix series Unorthodox about a young woman who flees married life in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Satmar community for freedom in Germany.
“There’s probably not many people who haven’t heard of the Netflix series Unorthodox by now, especially at this time when everybody’s looking for TV series to binge on,” said Albeck-Ripka.
Also on the panel is Abby Stein, who attended a New York yeshivah and completed a rabbinical degree in 2011.
“Abby is the first openly transgender person to come out of the Chassidic community and she has also written her story in her memoir Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman, published last year.”
The third panellist is Dassi Erlich, who grew up in Melbourne’s ultra-Orthodox Adass community, and has been campaigning for many years to bring to justice Malka Leifer, the former principal of Adass Israel School who is facing extradition from Israel to Australia. Erlich is writing a book about her life.
The Zoom discussion will be moderated by media personality and author John Safran, whose latest book is Depends What You Mean by Extremist.
“We have three incredibly brave women on the panel who will be telling their stories,” said Albeck-Ripka.
Earlier this month Feldman, who lives in Berlin, took part in a Zoom discussion with Michaela Kalowski for Shalom and the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival.
FOJAM’s Homeward Bound will feature panel discussions and performances for at least six months.
“The first event is free, but people need to register as the number who can watch is limited,” said Albeck-Ripka.
“The launch event is being presented as a gift to the community, with the option for those in the position to donate.
“The music and arts communities have been devastated by the coronavirus. For many their income stream has been cut, so FOJAM is supporting the artists by paying them industry rates.”
Register for the June 4 Zoom event at www.fojam.com.