Shoshana Hebshi-Holt is a writer and editor living in San Francisco.
Diversity of Color Shines Through Black and White Photo Exhibit
The twenty families featured in "Many Faces, One People: A Jewish Family Album" at the Cowell College Cafe on the University of California, Santa Cruz campus do have much in common, though they are all different in their own way. They are all colorful, multiracial Jewish families, and they brought their similarities and differences to Camp Tawonga's Mosaic Multiracial Family Weekend Oct. 5-7, 2001--a place where, nestled among the evergreens around the Tuolumne River, those differences were celebrated.
During the weekend, photographer Laura Turbow captured these families in black and white images and interviewed them as a family unit to accompany the photos in the exhibit. As a past Tawonga staffer, Turbow was familiar with the camp, but this, the first Mosaic weekend ever, though near to her heart, was foreign territory.
"Some people were very emotional," the photographer said in an interview from her El Cerrito home. "For me it was a great way to learn and to hear some of their struggles of adopting and being part of a Jewish community and the strength that these families have."
One of her favorite families was the Rigler-Udo family, a blend of Russian, Romanian, Guamanian and Korean. Sara Rigler, the mother of Benjamin Eyefon Udo and Samuel Assam Rigler Udo, comes from an Ashkenazi Jewish family. The father of her two sons, whom she divorced, is Nigerian and Christian. The boys are exposed to both religions, but Rigler says in the interview that she is raising them primarily Jewish.
When asked whether they thought their family was different because of their multiracial background, Rigler says she wants the Jewish community to see that "there are more than just white Jews.
"I think our family is a challenge for the Jewish community," she continues. "I think that people don't know how to handle it sometimes. We are not a traditional Jewish family with two Caucasian parents."
Camp Tawonga Director Deborah Newbrun created Mosaic to expose multiracial Jewish families to one another, to a network of similarity. A third annual weekend is planned for Oct. 10-12.
"Our goal is to create a place where a variety of members of the Jewish community feel welcome," she said. "They can see families like theirs, see faces like theirs."
About three fourths of the families who have come to Mosaic had adopted non-white children, Newbrun said, while just one fourth married interracially, a figure which surprised her.
The weekend's name reveals its function; the families featured in "Many Faces, One People" are just as diverse as the many colors of broken tile in an actual mosaic.
The Curinblat-Graff family, for instance, argues over their ethnicity, all claiming each other's as their own. Mom Barbara Curinblat-Graff mentions the family is Filipino, Iranian, African-American, Russian, Polish and Korean. Daughter Rebecca Graff inserts, "You're Filipino, and I am Korean." Daughter Sarah Graff argues, "No, you are Filipino, and I'm Korean." Father Joe Graff says, "No, I'm Korean." Rebecca says, "I'm Polish." Barbara clears it up by saying, "Sarah is Filipino, African-American and Iranian." Sarah says, "No, I'm Korean." And Rebecca finishes the explanation, "No, I'm Korean."
"All families have struggles," Turbow said.
The Newbrun-Einstein Family (Deborah Newbrun's sister and, incidentally, the inspiration for Mosaic) has been made more aware and more conscious of other cultures because of their mixed family. Dad Steve and Mom Karen adopted Elsa and Koby, both Hispanic, and are raising them Jewish.
"It brings us out of a very white world that otherwise we would have been in, and do live in," Karen said in the interview with Turbow. "I have a hunch that they [Elsa and Koby] will be enlightened pretty soon about how much broader their background is," Steve says.
The thirty-two-year-old Turbow is interested in taking the exhibit outside of the Bay Area, where she's not sure the Jewish community is as accepting. "All Jewish communities, I used to think they're all the same, but they're really not . . . it'd be nice if they'd at least all be accepting."
Turbow would like to bring the exhibit to her hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, where she remembered going to Jewish day school with a black girl. Though Turbow said the girl was "totally accepted" by the community, she wonders what would have been different if there had been a support network for other ethnicities.
"There's such a stereotype [of a Jew]," she said. "I think that as Jewish people, we're so lucky to have so many colors, and I'd like to think that people would be accepted. All families need support, no matter what."
Newbrun said Mosaic is a place where families can come for support. And she hopes that with the exhibit of Turbow's work, the message that Judaism crosses racial and ethnic lines will spread throughout the Jewish community.
"Hopefully it will make colorful people more accepted and celebrate their differences," Turbow said. This spring, Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco will host the exhibit, but no further plans to take the show on the road have been made.
For more information on the Mosaic weekend and the exhibit, visit www.tawonga.org or call (415) 543-2267.