Vital Matters: Doikayt is Hereness
We welcome visual artist Julie Weitz and UCLA art history PhD student Benjamin Kersten for a conversation about Weitz’s art practice, Yiddish visual culture, and Jewish diaspora. Incorporating aspects of Weitz’s live performance, archival imagery, and visual art, this multifaceted talk will challenge nostalgic representations of Yiddish culture in the face of historical violence, cultural erasure, and rising antisemitism. Weitz and Kersten will discuss how early 20th-century Jewish artists navigated diaspora and developed visual strategies that crossed national borders. They will also address how contemporary artists are engaging Yiddish culture, transforming memories of genocide and displacement into reparative tools for healing in the present.
For centuries, mythological figures like tzadiks, dybbuks, and golems populated the Yiddish folktales of Eastern Europe, animating the dreams and waking life of Ashkenazi Jews before the Holocaust. The tzadik is a holy figure often disguised as a beggar; the dybbuk is a wandering spirit that possesses a living body; the golem is a clay creature brought to life to protect those in danger. Weitz’s multimedia project Doikayt (Hereness) stages live, character-driven performances at Jewish sites across Eastern Europe to explore themes of loss and healing through a diasporic lens. The project seeks to reanimate Yiddish folktales and revitalize Ashkenazi traditions in the lands where Yiddish culture once flourished but was nearly extinguished by genocide.
5:30–6 pm: Opening remarks and reception, courtyard
6–7 pm: Talk, Lenart Auditorium
This program is generously supported by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.
Co-sponsors include Der Nister, Yiddishkayt, UCLA Jewish Student Union, UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, and UCLA Art History
Julie Weitz is an award-winning interdisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles. Working across film, performance art, installation, drawing, and photography, she synthesizes elements from Yiddish folktales, feminist performance art, clowning, and silent film to make powerful, and often political, statements about the world and the project of humanity’s survival. Weitz’s artwork has been featured in Artforum, Art in America, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, BOMB, and Hyperallergic. Her solo exhibition GOLEM: A Call to Action debuted at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, CA in 2021–22. Weitz is a Fulbright Scholar (2023–24), a Wallis Annenberg Helix Fellow at Yiddishkayt (2020–23), and a Cultural Trailblazer of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (2020–21).
Benjamin Kersten is a PhD student in UCLA’s Department of Art History. Their research focuses on the visual art of Yiddish culture with particular attention to geographical imaginaries and ideas of diaspora. They are currently the Leve Fellow at the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA. They also organize with Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA.
Vital Matters programs explore works that arouse devotion, awe, or serenity; mediate relationships between human and spiritual realms; and are of vital importance to the cultural heritage of individuals and communities. This series will form part of the forthcoming digital initiative Vital Matters—an educational platform for sharing different perspectives on material expressions of belief at the Fowler Museum.