Who The Folk?! Jonathan Gershberg

Despite coming to Minnesota from the East Coast, Jonathan Gershberg has found a lot to love to about the arts community in the Twin Cities. So much, he’s taken the new position of the JCC Cultural Arts Coordinator, working out of both the Sabes and St. Paul JCCs. We talk about where his interest in the arts comes from, what he’s into outside of the JCC, and his hints at some of the big things ahead, on this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.

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As of December, you’re the cultural arts coordinator for the Twin Cities Jewish community arts program. Do I have that title right?

So close. There are so many parts to it. Twin Cities Jewish Cultural Arts Coordinator. And yes, I’ve been here since December.

You are the first new hire and that is a dual employee of both the St. Paul and Sabes JCCs right?

That’s my understanding. I have an office in both, along with my wonderful Twin Cities director of Jewish Cultural Arts, Robyn Awend. We program events and artistic experiences for both. I am excited to be part of the collaboration across the river.

What is it about Jewish cultural arts that excites you?

Well I think that one of the things about being Jewish and Jewish culture that I’m most passionate about is our long heritage of arts production and innovation in the arts. So I think of stand-up comedy, I think of visual arts, I think of music as things that are every bit as Jewish as the rabbinical tradition especially in the United States. I’m really excited to be part of that cultural production here and to be part of the heritage and in a way of defining what it means to be Jewish and how we see ourselves through arts.

Did it surprise you how active both JCCs are in the arts?

Absolutely. I came from the East Coast and went to a public school that had Rosh Hashanah off, so my formative years were around a large Jewish community. So coming to the Twin Cities while they’re there is still a very vibrant and passionate Jewish community here, is relatively smaller so my assumption was that the arts programming would be relatively smaller. But I think there’s something about the Twin Cities Jewish community that has excited people about the arts program to the to the point where there are offerings like the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival, which has been going on for over 25 years and that, to me, is something I would expect to see in New York or LA or maybe Chicago so that is just an example. The Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival, we’re doing our 10th annual, I think that’s another example of something that the Twin Cities Jewish Community has taken on.

Were you always interested in theater in high school?

I wasn’t; I am musically challenged. My entrance into the art world is through comedy. When I was young, I started doing to stand up and I’d always been obsessed with The Daily Show on Comedy Central. In 2015 I started a show called Minnesota Tonight which we built as the Minnesota version of The Daily Show. We’ve been at Brave New Workshop the last two years, and we would have monthly shows where we focused on the politics, news, and culture. We’ve also interviewed people like Secretary of State and Member of the Tribe Steve Simon. We interviewed then-gubernatorial candidate Erin Murphy, we’ve had Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.

Why do you think the Twin Cities JCC finds your and Robyn’s positions so valuable?

I think it’s similar to the Twin Cities arts community at-large beyond the Jewish community because there seems to be a focus in the Twin Cities on supporting and developing arts programming, both at the lower levels of like really early stage experimental works and also these really larger institutions that kind of define what it means to live in the Twin Cities like they Guthrie, or the Orpheum. There’s just so much arts enthusiasm here and I think that definitely is representing the Jewish community.

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