The crowd filled the room wall-to-wall, but the only sound heard was the gentle strum of a banjo and the slight flicker of flames from shabbat candles.
A single spotlight illuminated the stage as performers made their way one-by-one to the microphone, turning a quiet Friday night into a musical gathering of cultural connections.
The community came together to break bread at “An Evening with Brivele and Other Jewish Anti-Fascists,” hosted by Western’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace at the Alternative Library on March 8.
“To us, this event is about reconnecting or introducing ourselves to music and words passed down and created through the Diaspora,” Jewish Voice for Peace said in a statement. “This event is about building and revitalizing radical, anti fascist [and] anti-zionist communities.”
The show featured readings by poets Elaina M. Ellis, Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman and Deborah Woodard. The event also featured a musical performance by Seattle-based group Brivele, a folk-punk trio that combines Yiddish language with various contemporary and old-country musical mediums, according to the group’s website.
Sniderman, a poet and performer, assisted in organizing the event, he said. The night was inspired by a similar show in Seattle which featured a performance by Brivele, and after seeing them play, Sniderman immediately wanted to bring them to Bellingham, he said.
“[In this show,] you’re seeing an interest in revitalizing the Yiddish language and the tradition of the Yiddish left,” Sniderman said. “Singing songs and telling stories that respond to the antisemitism, racism, islamophobia and ethnonationalism of our current political moment, this will bring people together.”
All of the performers spoke to this theme, drawing from their experiences as Jewish people in the United States as well as their relationships to history, Sniderman said.
Deborah Woodard, one of the featured poets, gave a reading from her book “No Finis; Triangle Testimonies, 1911,” which spoke about first-hand accounts of the triangle shirtwaist factory fire: A historical occurrence that killed many Yiddish-speaking immigrants.
Jewish Voice for Peace consultant and poet Elaina Ellis read some original pieces, ranging in topics from her curly hair to her sexuality to the Old Testament.
“JVP is a very important organization in my life and in the world, I have seen it over the years grow exponentially, and I’m so proud and thrilled that there’s a force here in Bellingham,” Ellis said during her performance. “It is a place where there is Jewish joy and all the things that a cultural community needs to be able to share.”
Other groups came to spread awareness and show support, including the Racial Justice Coalition, an organization in Bellingham dedicated to ending systemic racism by advocating for people of color through education, legislation and community-led action, according to its website.
“We think that racial justice means we are in solidarity for the anti-oppression and liberation of all marginalized groups,” member Junga Subedar said. “So we’re here to support those groups.”
Similarly, Maia Brown of Brivele said she and the group chose to attend because they were really excited to support the work of fellow activists.
“I’m really happy to see this community come together around justice,” Jewish Voice for Peace member Kate Rayner Fried said. “I just feel so much love and warmth in this room.”